Joyce is a Dublin writer who was born in 1882 by a catholic family. He was educated at University College in Dublin. Here, he graduated in modern languages in 1902. While his father was a supporter of the nationalistic movement, Joyce was indifferent to any political movement because he saw Irish patriotism as a provincial movement which paralyzed the development of a free spirit in the country. He found it difficult to publish his works in Dublin, therefore he left Ireland and went to Paris but his mother’s illness brought him back to Dublin.
With his lifelong companion was Nora Barnacle, he moved to Italy and settled in Trieste, where Joyce began to work as an English teacher. There he met Svevo whose writing he encouraged.
He began to work on his early books Dubliners and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. The years in Trieste were difficult, filled with financial problems.
When the First World War broke out, he went to Zurich with his family. In 1920 he moved to Paris again. After the war, Paris had become the intellectual capital of Europe and Joyce met lots of expatriate American intellectuals and he was recognized as one of the most distinguished writers in Paris. He died in 1941.
Joyce thought that an artist should be “invisible” in his works, in the sense that he must not express his own viewpoint. He think that an artist must be objective and outside from conventions that society imposes because they represent paralysis, the death of any real experience.
Joyce rejected any form of constriction. In fact, he rejected Irish life “in toto”, choosing voluntary exile in Trieste, Zurich and Paris and becoming the most cosmopolitan of Irish writers.
He was interested in all aspects of modern culture, including Freud’s psychoanalysis, realism and symbolism. Joyce created a new kind of language, the dream language, a mixture of existing words and non-existent words providing a prose characterized by disordered syntax.
Joyce’s literary production is generally divided into two periods and he set his works in Ireland and mostly in the city of Dublin.
In the first period, he used a realistic technique: the plot is linear and rich in detail, the syntax is logical and the language reflects everyday speech. In this period, he write the Dubliners, a realistic work of 15 stories. They were written in 1905, when he was 23, but found it difficult to publish it because of the immorality of some passages.
The work is an analysis of Dublin’s life, his attempts was to give a realistic portrait of the life of ordinary people, doing ordinary things and living ordinary lives.
Their common theme is the decay and stagnation of a city’s life which seems the “centre of paralysis” deriving from the oppressive effects of religious, political, cultural and economic forces on the lives of the lower-middle class Dubliners. Joyce himself declared that Dublin “represented paralysis” and he organized the stories to show the effects of the city and paralysis in all age groups.
Characters want to leave, escape, discover satisfaction and fulfillment but the city prevents them.
The style of the stories is realistic and rich of details. Sometimes they are unpleasant and depressing.
Symbolism: Joyce wanted to go beyond the external details and represent the deeper meaning of objects, situation and gestures. Joyce use a new technique: the epiphany. There is an epiphany when details or moments, buried for years in one’s memory, suddenly emerge in one’s mind and, like old photos, start a long and often painful mental labor.
In the same period, he published “. A portrait of an Artist as a Young man”. It speaks of the growth of a young Irishman and his dedication to art. It is a short autobiographical work less realistic than Dubliners. The protagonist is Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego. The name refers to the first Christian martyr, who was killed for preaching the new religion. Dedalus is a character of the classical mythology, who was able to escape from the labyrinth by creating two wax wings.