James Joyce was born in Dublin. He attended Jesuite school but not only he got free from Jesuite influence, but even conceived aversion against his former faith. He has been defined a “citizen of the world” because he lived in Paris and in Switzerland. But he remained an Irish and a Dubliner at heart.
His works is a striking combination of realism and symbolism because in depicting he aimed to express the frustration of man and the disintegration of the modern world as a consequence of the loss of the firm beliefs in which it was once safely rooted.
Joyce is primarily concerned with human relations and to analyse these he uses both linguistic and technical devices which make him the most striking experimentalist in the field of the modern novel. He is, among writers, the one who stressed the importance of language.
Joyce’s short collected in Dubliners do not point the way to what was to be the writer’s true originality. He said “my intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are arranged in this order”.
A portrait of the artist as a Young Man. In “The portrait” Stephen Dedalus passes through a succession of influences: family, academic learning, sex, the Catholic faith. The ambition to become a priest is the hardest to resist, for it offers him “secret knowledge and secret power…”.
Joyce worked for eight years, on Ulysses, the book for which he is best known, and which, in the opinion of many, is the most important work in English prose of the twentieth century. It was published in Paris. In England censorship did not lift its ban before 1933. All the action of the novel takes place in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Its main characters are Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly, Bloom’s promiscuous wife.
Stephen Dedalus (of course Joyce himself), young artist of the previous book, living in a tower on the beach with a medical student. His mother has died tragically after Stephen, an atheist, has refused to give her benediction. His father has turned into a hopeless drunkard. Stephen is thus in search of a father Ulysses.
Eventually Stephen finds a father in Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jew roaming through Dublin as an outcast on behalf of his religion. Bloom, having lost his own baby-child, needs a son to relieve his loneliness. All men are exiles in Dublin and the characters in “Ulysses” become symbolic of mankind.
The thoughts of the characters are recorded directly, with all the wanderings of actual thinking and without any narrative links or ex-planations.
Even more complex is Finnegans Wake, in which Joyce invented a “night language”. The work is comprehensible not only for common readers but also for critics.