On this day 2nd of February 1882, James Joyce, was born an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. He is regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century.
Here’s 18 facts to celebrate James Joyce’s birthday:
- James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in West Rathgar, Dublin, on the 2nd of February, 1882, one of ten children, he attended Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries meant they could no longer afford to send him there.
- Much of Joyce’s childhood was influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval.
- He began his writing career at age 9. The story goes that in 1891, after his father lost his job, Joyce penned a poem that the elder Joyce loved so much he had it printed and distributed to all their friends.
- Joyce attended University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studied modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he went to Paris with a view to studying medicine, but discovered, on arrival, that he did not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggled for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.
- He returned to Ireland in 1903 after his mother fell ill; she died in August 1903. Joyce refused to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later felt is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him.
- On 16 June 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spent the rest of his life. By autumn, Joyce was convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuaded Nora to travel with him; they arrived in Paris on 9 October 1904. Joyce would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivated a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zurich, Rome and Paris.
- By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, travelled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence.
- As well as learning Norwegian as a teenager in order to read Henrik Ibsen’s work in its original language, he studied French at university and spoke Italian with his children. He also studied Irish, German, Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Finnish, Polish and possibly other languages too.
- Joyce’s first publication in 1907 was the poetry collection Chamber Music. When Joyce sent Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranged for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915.
- Joyce then began work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel was serialised between 1918 and 20, but full publication was delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work was finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles was first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926.
- The first edition of Ulysses had a print run of only 1,000 copies. In 2009, one of these copies sold at auction for £275,000.
- British war censors, who read a serialised version of Ulysses before the main publication date, apparently thought that it was a spy code, as the text was so bewildering.
- He had bad eyesight. Throughout his life Joyce would suffer from both monetary and medical discomforts. One of his biggest struggles were his eyes. Joyce had around two dozen eye surgeries during his life and often had to wear eyepatches—which forced him to use a red crayon when writing so he could see his work clearly. His eye issues were the inspiration behind his daughter Lucia’s name—Saint Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.
- He was friends with Ernest Hemingway. Joyce lived in Paris at the peak of the Roaring Twenties. Artists of the Lost Generation were drawn to Paris following World War I, and many, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, made their names and fortune there as writers. Hemingway met Joyce at the famed Shakespeare and Company and they often went out drinking together. Hemingway speaks of Joyce in his book about his own Paris years, A Moveable Feast. The younger writer greatly admired Joyce and believed that Ulysses was a masterpiece.
- Many writers (like Hemingway) looked at Joyce as a literary genius and someone to aspire to. Even today, Ulysses is considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.
- Yet not everyone was a fan of Joyce, fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf compared his writing to “a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples,” and said that “one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely.” She wasn’t the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover—said of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.” Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?.”
- Joyce’s works were forbidden in China under Mao, as he was considered decadent and bourgeois. However, Finnegans Wake became an unexpected bestseller in 2013 and Ulysses has also enjoyed Chinese success.
- In January 1941, at the age of 59, Joyce found himself admitted to a hospital in Zurich due to a perforated ulcer. These would turn out to be his final days as he soon slipped into a coma and died on January 13th. The literary titan’s supposed final words were as confusing and vague as some of his work: “Does nobody understand?”