When I die Dublin will be written in my heart. –James Joyce
James Joyce published ‘Portrait of the Artist’ in 1916 and caught the attention of Ezra Pound. With ‘Ulysses,’ Joyce perfected his stream-of-consciousness style and became a literary celebrity. The explicit content of his prose brought about landmark legal decisions on obscenity.
Joyce’s relationship with his native country was a complex one and after graduating he left Ireland for a new life in Paris where he hoped to study medicine. He returned, however, not long after upon learning that his mother had become sick. She died in 1903. Joyce stayed in Ireland for a short time, long enough to meet Nora Barnacle, a hotel chambermaid who hailed from Galway and later became his wife, they moved to Trieste, Italy, eventually returning to Paris.
In 1914, Joyce wrote ‘Ulysses’, the story recounts a single day in Dublin. The date: 16 June 1904, the same day that Joyce and Barnacle met. On the surface, the novel follows the story three central characters, Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, and his wife Molly Bloom, as well as the city life that unfolds around them. But Ulysses is also a modern retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, with the three main characters serving as modern versions of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope.
In 1939 Joyce published Finnegan’s Wake, his long-awaited follow-up novel, which, with its myriad of puns and new words, proved to be an even more difficult read than his previous work. Still, the book was an immediate success, earning “book of the week” honours in the US and the United Kingdom not long after debuting.
A year after Finnegan’s publication, Joyce and his family were on the move again, this time to southern France in advance of the coming Nazi invasion of Paris. Eventually the family ended back in Zurich.
Sadly, Joyce never saw the conclusion of World War II. Following an intestinal operation, the writer died at the age of 59, at the Schwesternhause von Roten Kreuz Hospital. His wife and son were at his bedside when he passed.
Though Joyce’s wife, Nora, tried to move her husband’s body to Ireland after the burial, the Irish government denied the request. Joyce’s body resides in a grave alongside his wife and son, watched over by a small statue of the poet, in Fluntern cemetery in Zurich.
Photo: James Joyce, pictured in 1904 (Original photograph from the C. P. Curran Collection, UCD Library Special Collections)