James Joyce Biography

James Joyce (1882-1941)

James Joyce was born into a middle-class, Catholic family in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, on February 2, 1882. He was the oldest of ten children born to a well-meaning but financially inept father and a solemn, pious mother. The family’s prosperity dwindled soon after Joyce’s birth, forcing them to move from their comfortable home to the unfashionable and impoverished area of North Dublin. Joyce's parents managed to scrape together enough money to send their talented son to the Clongowes Wood College, a prestigious boarding school, and then to Belvedere College, where Joyce excelled as an actor and writer. Later, he attended University College in Dublin, where he became increasingly committed to language and literature as a champion of Modernism.

In 1902, Joyce left the university and moved to Paris with the intention of studying medicine. However, once there he soon abandoned medical studies and devoted all of his time to writing poetry, stories, and theories of aesthetics. Joyce returned to Ireland in 1903 upon the death of his mother. He stayed in Dublin for a year, during which he met his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Joyce also began work on an autobiographical novel that he called Stephen Hero. Joyce eventually gave up on Stephen Hero but reworked much of the material into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which features the same autobiographical protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and tells the story of Joyce’s youth up to his 1902 departure for Paris.

Joyce left Dublin again in—this time for good—with Nora in 1904. They spent most of the next eleven years living in Rome and Trieste, Italy, where Joyce taught English, and he and Nora had two children, Giorgio and Lucia. In 1907 Joyce’s first book of poems, Chamber Music, was published in London. He published his book of short stories, Dubliners, in 1914, the same year A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man began to published as serial installments in the London journal The Egoist.

In 1914, Joyce began writing his best-known work, Ulysses. It maps the Dublin wanderings of its protagonist in a single day—June 16, 1904. When World War I broke out, he moved his family to Zurich, Switzerland, where he continued work on the novel. In Zurich, Joyce’s fortunes finally improved as his talent attracted several wealthy patrons, including Harriet Shaw Weaver. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in book form in 1916, and Joyce’s play, Exiles, in 1918. Also in 1918, the first episodes of Ulysses were published in serial form in The Little Review. In 1919, the Joyces moved to Paris, where Ulysses was published in book form in 1922. In 1923, with his eyesight quickly diminishing, Joyce began working on what became Finnegans Wake, published in 1939. The outbreak of World War II prompted Joyce and Nora to return to Zurich in 1940, where Joyce died in 1941.

Historical Context: The Struggle for Irish Nationalism Reflected in Joyce’s Works


Joyce’s works—especially Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—make numerous references to the politics and religion of Ireland from around 1880 until 1922 when the Irish War of Independence resulted the formation of the Irish Free State (Ireland except for six mostly Protestant counties in the north). When Joyce was growing up, Ireland had been under British rule since the 16th century, and tensions between Ireland and Britain had been especially high since the potato famine of the 1840s that led to Ireland’s population being decimated by disease and immigration to the United States, Australia, England, and elsewhere. In addition to political strife, there was considerable religious tension: the majority of Irish, including the Joyces, were Catholics, and strongly favored Irish independence. The Protestant minority that was heavily concentrated in the north of the country, on the other hand, mostly wished to remain united with Britain.

Around the time Joyce was born, the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) was spearheading the movement for Irish self-governance as a Member of Parliament in London. Parnell’s popularity with the Irish, both at home and abroad, led him to be proclaimed “the uncrowned king of Ireland.” In 1890, however, Parnell’s longstanding affair with a married woman was exposed, leading the Catholic Church to condemn Parnell (himself a Protestant) and causing many of his former followers to turn against him. Many Irish nationalists blamed Parnell’s subsequent death on the Catholic Church. Indeed, we see these strong opinions about Parnell surface in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man during an emotional Christmas dinner argument among members of the Dedalus family.

By 1900, after many years of Irish Home Rule bills being stalled in the British Parliament, the majority Irish people felt largely united in demanding freedom from British rule. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the young Stephen's friends at University College frequently confront him with political questions about this struggle between Ireland and England.

James Joyce Study Guides

James Joyce Quotes

Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.

All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul, which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light, but though I seem to be driven out of my country as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.

Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an aesthetic end.

Love (understood as the desire of good for another) is in fact so unnatural a phenomenon that it can scarcely repeat itself, the soul being unable to become virgin again and not having energy enough to cast itself out again into the ocean of another's soul.

Does nobody understand?

There is no past, no future; everything flows in an eternal present.

James Joyce Novels

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Published 1916


Published 1922

Finnegans Wake

Published 1939

James Joyce Poetry

Chamber Music

Published 1907

Pomes Penyeach

Published 1927

James Joyce Short Stories


Published 1914

James Joyce Plays


Published 1918