Life and works
Joyce was born and educated in Dublin in 1882, but in 1904 he moved to Europe. In the 20th century Irish were fighting to obtain the Independence from Great Britain. Most of the leaders of the rebellion of the post office were either hanged or imprisoned. British anyway had a powerful army and were well trained so it was unwise to openly attack them. They proceeded through bombings and fought and eventually obtained independence. Joyce anyway didn't support the Irish independent movement. He left Ireland and never got back. He went to Paris and later he lived in Trieste, where he met Italo Svevo, and for a short period in Rome. He had some financial and family problems. He publish his first works, Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which were appreciated by critics but did not solve his financial problems. He also started writing Ulysses. He later moved to Zurich, as he was a British citizen who could not live in Austrian-occupied Trieste and was forced to leave. He could finish Ulysses thanks to anonymous donations (probably from his friends). After the war he went back to Trieste, then settled in Paris. He began to write his last work, Finnegans Wake, then he had to leave France due to Hitler’s advance in Europe. He died in Switzerland in 1941.
He criticized the Catholic Irish Church since it contributed to keep Ireland provincial and closed. Even if he wasn't happy with his country, all of his works are set in Dublin. As a matter of fact, the realism of his description (which was pretty accurate) was anyway just apparent. His relationship with Dublin was quite complicated.
He progressively lost his sight (which explains the musicality of Ulysses. As Joyce often employed the direct interior monologue (no punctuation, capital letters omitted, etc..) the novel is difficult to understand.
Joyce was a modernist writer so he focused more on the character's unconscious rather than the external facts (actually nothing really exceptional occurs). Even if his masterpiece is more than 700 pages long, the story lasts just one day.
He believed the writer had to be impersonal: he just had to show what was happening, but he didn't have to teach anything, neither he wanted the reader to get a hidden message from the novel.
He did use the mythical method all well: instead of showing the heroism of the past, it becomes more of a parody of Homer's Ulysses. Myths lost the meaning they used to have but still can show the chaos of modern society.
Joyce had studied French, Italian and German and was an admirer of European literature. The writers he preferred were
•Dante, he defined his “spiritual food”.
•D’Annunzio, because he could write lyrical prose.
•Ibsen, the Swedish playwright who had investigated what was hidden behind middle class morality.
From a broader cultural point of view he was influenced by:
•Freud: the influence of unconscious on our behavior, the pulsions of the libido, the conditioning of superego.
•James: the concept of the flow of thought, where past, present and future coexist.
•Bergson: the concept of historical and internal time.
Main features of the author and of his novels
Joyce considered himself a European more than an Irishman and believed Ireland had to open to Europe instead of closing on its past. All his novels are set in Dublin, as he wanted to offer a realistic portrait of the life of Irish ordinary people, but at the same time the Irish become the symbols of contemporary mankind. A common theme in his novels is the rebellion against the Church, which according to him had taken possession of the Irish minds. Joyce’s novels are modernist novels, because the narrative is often irrelevant in comparison with what the events cause in the characters’ minds and because the interpretations of events are subjective. Time is subjective, because Joyce tries to follow the interior time and not the historical one. Even if the narrator is 3rd person, he disappears, as he has nothing to teach or explain; he has only to show. In order to be an impersonal narrator, the artist has to detach from contemporary life.