James Joyce

A guide to James Joyce

One of Irelands’s most famous sons, James Joyce is almost synonymous with Irish literature.

Who was James Joyce?

Born in Rathgar, Dublin, Ireland on 2nd February 1882, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was a novelist, poet and short story writer. Born into working class Dublin family, Joyce was educated at Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College then University College, Dublin.

James Joyce – like many other famous Dublin literary figures – lived for a time in Mountjoy Square. His formative years in Mountjoy Square clearly influenced him, as he wrote of locations and characters from there in his later works such as Finnegans Wake and Dubliners.

Joyce initially wrote lyric poems, and his first publication was an essay on Ibsen’s “When We Dead Awaken” in 1890. He travelled to Paris after graduating and worked as teacher and journalist, but often changed jobs and was often struggling financially.

Joyce returned to Dublin because his mother was ailing, and after her death he left Dublin in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, who he would marry in 1931.

Although Joyce lived in France and Switzerland for most of his later life, he always wrote about Dublin saying, “if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.”

Joyce died on 13th January 1941 in Zurich, Switzerland.

What was James Joyce most famous for?

In 1907 Joyce published ‘Chamber Music’, a collection of poems,  then ‘Dubliners’ in 1914, and ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ two years later.

1918 saw his play ‘Exiles’ published, then arguably his most famous novel, ‘Ulysses’ was published in 1922.

Ulysses had a troubled history, as it was considered both obscene and difficult to read, due to Joyce’s use of modernist writing and different literary techniques such as jokes, stream of consciousness and parody. Influenced by Homer’s Odyssey, it follows 24 hours in the life of Leopold Bloom and it was banned for some time in different countries.

Around 1923, with Ulysses completed but not legally available until as late as 1933, Joyce commenced work on his second major novel, ‘Finnegans Wake’. Whilst writing Joyce developed glaucoma, and the first segment of the novel was published in a review in 1924. Joyce completed and published the final version in 1939, to very mixed reviews.

What legacy has James Joyce left?

James Joyce has been credited with influencing generations of Modernist writers and scholars. Ulysses for example, has been called “a demonstration  and summation of the entire Modernist movement”.

Joyce also brought a greater focus to Dublin and Irish writers and poets, and has lead to Dublin rightly celebrating his history and legacy by establishing the James Joyce Centre in his honour.

In recognition of the influence of Ulysses and James Joyce, fans even celebrate Bloomsday on 16th June in Dublin, the date the novel is set on. This event is named after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the book, and involves literary walks around locations from the book, public readings, and even participants dressing up as characters.

A number of writers have written stage adaptations of  Joyce’s novels, novellas and stories.

Ulysses, often cited as the most difficult book to read, in the English language, was adapted for stage by Dermot Bolger. It eventually came to the stage after 18 years, in Dublin, Cork and Glasgow in 2012, directed by the Tron’s Andy Arnold.

Other dramatic adaptations of James Joyce’s Dubliners by American writer David H. Klein, include a full length play An Evening with Joyce’s Women, and three one-acts 

The Dead


The Boarding House 

all published on the imprint Havescripts of Blue Moon Plays