James Joyce (1882-1941)
As an undergraduate Joyce published essays on literature. His first book, Chamber Music (1907), consists of 36 highly finished love poems, which reflect the influence of the Elizabethan lyricists and the English lyric poets of the 1890s. In his second work, Dubliners (1914), a collection of 15 short stories, Joyce dealt with crucial episodes of childhood and adolescence and of family and public life in Dublin. His first long work of fiction, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), is largely autobiographical, re-creating his youth and home life in the story of its protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. In this work Joyce made considerable use of the stream-of-consciousness, or interior-monologue, technique, a literary device that renders all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of a character with scrupulous psychological realism. Another early work was the play Exiles (1918).
Joyce attained international fame with the publication (1922) of Ulysses, a novel, the themes of which are based on Homer's Odyssey. Primarily concerned with a 24-hour period in the life of an Irish Jew, Leopold Bloom, Ulysses describes also the same day in the life of Stephen Dedalus, and the story reaches its climax in the meeting of the two characters. The main themes are Bloom's symbolic search for a son and Dedalus's growing sense of dedication as a writer. Joyce further developed the stream-of-consciousness technique in this work as a remarkable means of character portrayal, combining it with the use of mimicry of speech and the parody of literary styles as an overall literary method. Finnegans Wake (1939), Joyce's last and most complex work, is an attempt to embody in fiction a cyclical theory of history. The novel is written in the form of an interrupted series of dreams during one night in the life of the character Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Symbolizing all humanity, Earwicker, his family, and his acquaintances blend, as characters do in dreams, with one another and with various historical and mythical figures. Joyce carried his linguistic experimentation to its furthest point in Finnegans Wake by writing English as a composite language based on combinations of parts of words from various languages. His other late publications include two collections of verse, Pomes Penyeach (1927) and Collected Poems (1936), and Stephen Hero, which, although not published until 1944, was an early version of A Portrait. Joyce employed symbols to create what he called an epiphany, the revelation of certain inner qualities. Thus, the earlier writings reveal individual moods and characters and the plight of Ireland and the Irish artist in the early 1900s. The two later works reveal his characters in all their complexity as artists and lovers and in the various aspects of their family relationships. Using experimental techniques to convey the essential nature of realistic situations, Joyce merged in his greatest works the literary traditions of realism, naturalism, and symbolism.