James Joyce (1882-1941)
The new psychological studies and scientific approaches of the century produced a shift in the narrative mode, towards that description of objective reality to a very different reality, psychological reality – that of the character of a novel –, in order to reveal reality from the character’s mind. The new matter of narration is called stream of consciousness. Joyce will embody this shift from a realistic narration towards a subjective one – to the stream of consciousness –.
The new technique employed to render this stream of consciousness is the interior monologue, whose main features can be summarised as follows:
- It is a verbal expression of a psychological phenomenon;
- It is free from introductory expressions like “he thought”, “he said”;
- It has two levels of narration, one external to the character’s mind, the other internal;
- It has no rules of punctuation;
- It has no formal logical order.
In Joyce’s works three levels of interior monologue can be distinguished:
1.First level: intrusion of the author into the character’s mind;
2.Middle level: already very extreme in Ulysses;
3.Finnegans Wake represents the most extreme level.
The idea of time goes completely lost.
Life and works
Joyce, who became worldwide known, was born at the end of Victorian age, in the 19th century.
He was fundamentally an Irish man, not an English man (Dublin and its nation, Ireland, still builds nowadays a very important cultural moment for those who are born there), who lived deeply in a typically Catholic Irish culture, but little by little abandoned it and became a more cosmopolitan artist: Joyce approached that idea of being a cosmopolitan artist and in doing so he was very modern, different from the majority of other Irish authors.
Ireland was living a very difficult moment: Irish revival was born. It was a very important movement in Ireland that Joyce considered very negative, since it meant that authors were trying to build an Irish national conscience around a sort of fantastic past: authors, poets and novelists were trying to revaluate myths, legends and fairy-tales about the past, the kind of Celtic heritage that fed the typical Irish legends and fairy-tales. They wanted to build a cultural identity of the nation.
It was instead a fundamental principle for Joyce to detach from cultural trends: the Irish revival, this great movement, was not helping Irish people to build a real national conscience about the real political problems of Ireland. In the very beginning, Joyce was not a rebel, but he became a rebel against institutions in order to stop the development of Irish individuality because people were asleep looking at the past.
Joyce was born in 1982. He became a real artist from all points of view and he succeeded in going on experimenting in literary terms what other authors didn’t succeed.
He was very poor all through his life even if he was very famous.
He was educated in a Jesuit college, where he received a classical education. Little by little, even if he liked it, he developed feelings of escape and revolt against the Catholic system and religion, which, according to him, had to keep people’s conscience sedated.
Dublin was an incredible place for him: it played for him a very similar role as Prague for Kafka, making him develop a feeling of escape and attraction. He would never leave Dublin even if he went to voluntary exile: he wanted to flee away from it because he felt that staying in Dublin would never allow him to form a conscience. He wanted to access to a more international culture.
In 1902 he went to voluntary exile in Paris.
In 1903 he had to go back to Dublin because of the poor health of his mother. He tried to leave Dublin in this period between 1903 and 1904: he stayed for short time in London, Paris and Zurich, which represented for him the real escape.
From 1905 until 1915 he stayed in Trieste. This choice had a specific reason: Trieste represented a geographical position where a lot of languages were spoken, such as Italian and German, because of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It represented the opposite to Dublin: it was opened to the most linguistic influences.
He was an English teacher in Trieste.
In 1906 he was a bank clerk (Ita bancario) in Rome.
1914 represents a Turning point because it was characterized by the outbreak of the World War I and by the publication of Dubliners.
He expected until after the war, then he went back to Trieste.
Later on, in 1920, he moved to Paris and stayed there until his death in 1941.
• When he was in Trieste, in 1905, his first work, Dubliners, had already been completed, but it was difficult to find a publisher: he had to wait for a long time until he met the right publisher, until 1914, and then he became famous.
• After this work, in 1916 he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (ITA: Ritratto dell’artista da giovane), an autobiographical novel. He wrote about himself and dealt with the continuous clash between the identity of an Irish man and the inhabitant of Ireland, therefore with the necessity to get free from this tie with Catholicism in order to become an artist: the confession of Catholicism was fundamentally stopping the artistic development. This work is about his life and his development as an artist.
Finnegans Wake was published in 1939. It represents the extreme form of interior monologue.
It was very difficult to find the publisher for Ulysses because he was sued for pornography.
It was later published in USA, in 1922.
The city of Dublin will always be the overpowering protagonist of his life: it is central in all of his work.
By leaving Dublin, he was rebelling against a series of institutions and situations:
- He rebelled against the Irish Catholic Church: according to him, it operated a specific limitation of any individual’s intellectual freedom. It was no possibility to practice one’s own intellectual freedom, a very suffocated confession full of rights and duties for the followers: it had built a superstructure of duties and values that didn’t make the individual free to express himself.
- He was very much against the English government on Irish home rule: he could not stand the suffocating English rule.
- He was necessarily rebelling against Irish culture, narrow and confining for him, since its only representation was Irish revival.
Yeats was a poet and a dramatist who collected fairy-tales and he was one of the most representatives of this revival, which in fact represented a looking at the past, not to the future. This author was accused of vague and useless attempt to preserve and recreate the only original Irish national culture: a heritage of provincial myths and half Celtic theosophy.
- He was rebelling against his deeply catholic family, which helped this general condition of suffocation of the young artist: family represented no freedom. He was a lone rebel.
- He rebelled against the dimension of paralysis.
The cultural, political, religious, institutional, therefore moral paralysis that the town of Dublin represented, was the centre of this city: it was very difficult to rebel against this paralysis because everything paralysed the individual in the past. This moral paralysis represented by Dublin in fact penetrated in each individual, emanating such a force to reach the mind at any age: it was the only findable condition in Irish people, a condition that stopped any individual from making any choice.
This dimension, in Dubliners, is presented in this way: each individual sudden realises through associations, memories, sounds and words that there is something that shows him that he is a paralysed individual, therefore it is so wide and suffocated that the individual is bound to escape.
This dimension is therefore always linked to the attempt to escape that is yet always doomed (ITA: destinato) to fail. Paralysis - Escape - Failure.
The revelation is called Epiphany.
A subjective perception of time
In presenting Dubliners, Joyce achieved a shift from realistic narrative towards modernist narrative: his writing changed from realism towards modernism.
The stories told rely upon real facts experienced by individuals, who are presented not through a direct presentation, but through their relationship to facts: little by little, these facts and events lose objective/ factual importance in order to gain symbolic relevance that reveals paralysis of individuals, since they are in fact presented as clues, always through characters.
Facts always trigger (ITA: innescano) psychological reactions in the characters.
These facts slowly melt down with emotion of the character, with a very subjective perception of reality and time: they cause a reaction in the character that is only apparent, since it never brings to a solution of nothing. Facts are therefore presented through the introspection of the character.
Joyce embodied a progressive literary shift in the novel all through his literary career, a shift from objectivism to subjectivism, from realistic novel to modernist techniques, from the omniscient narration to the interior monologue. A shift to modernism towards the investigation of human mind.
There was a blending between realism and interior monologue.
Dubliners interprets this shift: in this work facts still hold a weigh, but in the course of the story, in its development, they lose their factual meaning and acquire psychological meaning.
Facts slowly melt down with emotions, sensations, memories and feelings and they cause a reaction in the character that is only apparent: a non-reaction, with no real change. This non-reaction reveals a truth, a condition of the character: paralysis, an intellectual, emotional, social, moral, cultural paralysis, the whole society has contributed (Church, family, institutions, policy, …) to.
Any Dubliner individual has in himself a sort of burden, made upon past events and experiences, that is so heavy in his present dimension that it makes it impossible for the individual himself to develop a future individuality: Joyce attacked the so-called Irish revival because it kept Irish culture back to the past.
Facts are presented through the character, therefore through his introspection, Joyce deals consequently with these facts through interior monologue.
Past builds a paralysis – caused by elements of society such as religion, cultural failure, family ties, … – that is analysed in single individuals because it brings to an attempt to escape in the majority of characters.
The only possibility for this attempt is failure: paralysis - escape - failure.
The Dead is a fundamental text that closes Dubliners, a sum of all the elements and a sort of completion. It has a protagonist who is a public man.
Paralysis is revealed to the character and to the reader through the moment that he called epiphany, a revelation of a hidden truth. This epiphany refers to an event or a memory and very frequently it is a revelation of a feeling, therefore this hidden truth is half real and half symbolic.
It acquires a symbolic value of failure: once the character understands something about this truth, this will make the attempt even more ridiculous, more determined to fail.
Dubliners, composed of fifteen stories bound in cycles, is the first collection of short stories.
It had already been finished by 1905: in that year Joyce had already completed this collection and was already moving forward other works, but he could not find a publisher, until 1915. This year is considered a milestone in his literary career.
Some stories are dedicated to childhood, some to adolescence, some to public life and some to mature life: it is about all the stages of human life.
Paralysis and failure to escape are always there in every period of life.
The Dead, the final short story, is totally dedicated to public life.
The origin of the collection
He declared it: 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 tried 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.
- In the beginning there are children presented. The most beautiful story in this cycle of childhood is Araby.
- Eveline belongs to the cycle of adolescence.
- The last story, The Dead, can be considered Joyce’s first masterpiece. It stands out from the other fourteen stories in the collection because, however similar in theme, it is denser, more elaborated and more remarkable; it is at once the summary and climax of Dubliners.
The use of epiphany
The epiphany is a real technique. The paralysis of the character is revealed through it to the character himself and to the reader: it is always a turning point in the story because it reveals a reality to the character – always through the interior monologue –.
The Dead is strongly symbolic as a title: the dead have a greater importance than the living in the life of the individual, because they represent an impossibility to detach from the past.