A revealing biography of one of the twentieth century's towering literary figures
James Joyce is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, foundational in the history of literary modernism. Yet Joyce's genius was not immediately recognized, nor was his success easily won. At twenty-two the author chose a life of exile; he battled poverty and financial dependency for much of his adult life; his out-of-wedlock relationship with Nora Barnacle was scandalous for the time; and the attitudes he held toward Ireland, England, sexuality, politics, Catholicism, popular culture―to name a few―were complex, contradictory, and controversial.
In James Joyce, Gordon Bowker, draws on material recently come to light and reconsiders the two signal works produced about Joyce's life―Herbert Gorman's authorized biography of 1939 and Richard Ellmann's magisterial tome of 1959. By intimately binding together the life and work of this singular Irish novelist, Bowker gives us a masterful, fresh, eminently readable contribution to our understanding both of Joyce's personality and of the monumental opus he created.
Bowker goes further than his predecessors in exploring Joyce's inner depths―his ambivalent relationships to England, to his native Ireland, and to Judaism―and uncovers revealing evidence. He draws convincing correspondences between the iconic fictional characters Joyce created and their real-life models and inspirations. And he paints a nuanced portrait of a man of enormous complexity, the clearest picture yet of an extraordinary writer who continues to influence and fascinate more than a century after his birth.
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Gordon Bowker has written highly acclaimed biographies of Malcolm Lowry (Pursued by Furies, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), George Orwell, and Lawrence Durrell, and articles and reviews for The Observer (London), The Sunday Times, The Independent (London), The Independent, The New York Times, and The Times Literary Supplement. He lives in Notting Hill, London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1Past Imperfect(1800-1882)'The past is not past. It is present here and now.' Joyce, ExilesIn a class-conscious society like British Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century, family origin was the main determinant of social status. For John Stanislaus Joyce and his son James, identity was inseparable from family - its historical line and ramifications. The ancestral presence reminded them of who they were and reinforced their sense of social distinction. As James's father began to squander his inheritance and the family descended into poverty, asserting claims to a distinguished ancestry became ever more important to him. Family associations, escutcheons and portraits became more meaningful, and the family legend passed on to his children became increasingly colourful and inventive.Two ideas were very important to James Joyce - that the Joyce family had distant Scandinavian origins, and that Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, was a paternal ancestor. From his father he inherited portraits of various ghostly forebears, to which he added family portraits of his own. He had a close relationship with his mother and his bond with his father was strong and formative enough for many of the old man's eccentricities to shape his own personality. But he had very little time for his siblings, except Stanislaus, his next-eldest brother, George who died young, and Mabel who suffered the same fate. Consequently for him, as time went by, the past was more immediate than the present, and became the chosen playground of his fiction.His family had its Irish roots, he claimed, somewhere in the so-called Joyce country of County Galway, in the far west of Ireland, whence, it is said, come all Irish Joyces. They had migrated from Normandy to Wales following William's conquest of England, and thence to Galway following Cromwell's conquest of Ireland. For any imagination haunted by ghosts, here was a rich legendary past to inhabit and explore - as Joyce did in Finnegans Wake.1 But his immediate branch of the family, the historically present Joyces, had by the very late eighteenth century gravitated southwardsto County Cork, 'a southern offshoot of the tribe', or so he claimed.2The Joyces' recorded history originates with a certain George Joyce of Fermoy who begat the author's great-grandfather, James, born in Cork and married to Anne McCann, an Ulsterwoman. Great-Grandfather Joyce, a lime burner by trade, was by repute 'a fierce old fire-eater' and probably a member of the Whiteboys, a secret terrorist group operating in Munster during the 1820s, attacking the larger landed properties and acting to defend tenant farmers. He was said to have been arrested, tried, and barely escaped hanging, living on to establish himself as a successful building contractor.According to Peter Costello, unlike his strong-willed forebears, the son of James and Anne Joyce, James Augustine Joyce (1827-66), another Corkman, was 'little more than a feckless charmer; a typical man of the third generation only too happy to spend what his father and grandfather had won.'3 He was a horse-trader and reckless gambler who lost a great deal of money. Perhaps in the hope of stemming his excesses, his family married him off to a woman ten years his senior, Ellen O'Connell, an ex-nun. She was a member of the extensive O'Connell clan which included the great Daniel, MP for Clare and a dominant force in Irish politics during the first half of the nineteenth century. When James Augustine's business eventually failed, his father-in-law, Alderman John O'Connell, secured him a sinecure as Inspector of Hackney Coaches (or 'jingles'), with an office in the City Hall. Here, it has been suggested, is where the idea that the world owed the Joyces a living, which the author's father evidently inherited, first took root.4John Stanislaus Joyce, James's only offspring, was born in Cork city on 4 July 1849. James proved an affable father, but Ellen a sour and censorious mother. Although John was coached by a pious aunt, who later took the veil, he eventually became anticlerical, possibly influenced by his grandfather, old James Joyce, who believed that religion was only for women.Intent on transforming his son into a gentleman able to move in the highest circles of Irish society, on St Patrick's Day, 1859, John's father entered him at the newly established St Colman's College in Fermoy, but he was to remain under priestly eyes for barely a year. The youngest boy in the college, he was said to have been spoiled, and although not much of a scholar, acquired a ready wit and gained a familiarity with the priesthood which later he came to despise. He began to imbibe ideas of Fenianism from these men of the cloth and other boys at the college, as well as from those of his relatives prominent in Irish politics. Music and singing, a significant part of college life, became a significant part of John's life. He had 'a good treble voice', it was said, and 'sang at concerts at an early age',5 acquiring a passion for operatic arias and old Irish ballads,a passion communicated to James, the son who took after him most. Some of his favourite songs, such as 'Blarney Castle', formed part of young James's repertoire, and 'The Last Rose of Summer' became Mina Kennedy's favourite song in the 'Sirens' episode of Ulysses. John's stay at St Colman's was curtailed when he was withdrawn on 19 February 1860, either because his fees were unpaid, or after a severe attack of rheumatic fever rendered almost lethal by typhoid.6 After that, most likely he completed his education under private tuition.After St Colman's, John's parents resolved to build him up, and he began a programme of cold baths, exercise, rowing and athletics, which he claimed accounted for his relative longevity. There are allusions to this Spartan lifestyle in James's story 'The Sisters', and in Ulysses in Bloom's interest in the exercises of the German strongman, Eugen Sandow.7 As part of this regime, John's father arranged for him to work aboard a Cork Harbour pilot boat. There he acquired a stomach for sea travel and what his biographers call a 'vocabulary of abuse that for years was the delight of his bar-room cronies',8 able to draw upon a whole lexicon of inventive expletives. Favourites included 'Shite and onions!', 'I'll make you smell hell!' and, when things went badly for him later, 'Curse your bloody blatant soul ... Ye dirty pissabed, ye bloody-looking crooked-eyed son of a bitch. Ye dirty bloody corner-boy, you've a mouth like a bloody nigger.'9 The story of the seaman (D.B. Murphy) encountered by Bloom and Stephen at the cabman's shelter in the 'Eumeus' episode of Ulysses, full of hair-raising stories of treacherous foreigners, has the smack of John Stanislaus, the young salt, knocking around Cork Harbour. And the songs of Italian sailors, alluded to in the 'Sirens' episode, must have passed through John's musical memory into the creative imagination of his son.Later in life he followed the hounds, a love of the chase caught presumably from his father's love of horses. 'Begor, hunting was the game for me,' he told a journalist in old age.10 This passion is given voice in Ulysses, when, in 'Circe', the hunting cries 'Holà! Hillyho!' and 'Bulblul Burblblburblb! Hai, boy!' echo between Bloom and Stephen amid the surrealistic anarchy of Bella Cohen's whorehouse. And John's habit of regular long walks around Dublin and environs, caught by his children, foreshadows the wandering narrative line which snakes through most of his son's fiction.Politics was a running theme throughout John's life. As well as the Fenianism imbibed as a schoolboy, two O'Connell uncles became town councillors in Cork, and one of his cousins, Peter Paul McSwiney, became Lord Mayor of Dublin. The 1860s saw the resurgence of a Fenian movement prepared to take up arms to liberate Ireland. Under their leader, James Stephens, they led an abortive uprising in February 1867, resultingin imprisonment for the rebels. The movement's conspiratorial air appealed to John, and while the extent of his involvement with it is unknown, escaping to university might have saved him from a stint behind bars.Although he gained entry to Queen's College, Cork, in October 1866, the death of John's father, who was barely forty, delayed his starting there until the following year. He chose to study medicine and found life as a medical student highly congenial - the conviviality, the drinking, the swapping of obscene anecdotes. Cherished memories of those carefree days were passed to his son who fed them into A Portrait of the Artist. John is said to have had 'stage presence', and the demands of student life did not prevent him from acting, singing comic songs at college concerts (including the then-popular 'Tim Finnegan's Wake'), and throwing himself into college sports. He was especially keen on field athletics and cricket, a passion his literary son inherited. In the 'Lotus-Eaters' chapter of Ulysses, Joyce recalls one celebrated Dublin cricketing hero:Heavenly weather really [muses Bloom] ... Cricket weather. Sit around under sunshades. Over after over. Out ... Duck for six wickets. Still Captain Buller broke a window in the Kildare street club with a slog to square leg.11John failed his second-year exams, and returned to college for a further year before leaving without a degree.In July 1870, at the age of twenty-one, he came into part of his inheritance, including properties in Cork yielding an annual income of some £500 from rents. Almost simultaneously the Franco-Prussian War broke out. It caused a sensation in Cork, with demonstrations and Irish volunteers rushing to the aid of the embattled Catholic French. John decided to join the fray, only to be intercepted in London by his mother and shipped straight back home. She was also alert to any female entanglements she considered unsuitable, and John's affairs were often cut ...
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