James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882, one of a large, catholic and poor family. He was educated at Jesuit schools, then University College, Dublin. Here he studied French, Italian and German languages and literatures and graduated in modern languages. He grew up as a rebel and soon became atheist. In this period there were many movements, which had as their objective the freeing of Ireland from English dominance and the creation of national rules, but when the leader of this independence movements, Parnell, was involved into a sexual scandal and was excluded by the party, Joyce decided to leave Dublin. He spent some time in Paris, but his mother’s fatal illness brought him back to Dublin, where he promised her to return catholic, but he never did it. In June 1904 he met and fell in love with Nora Barnacle, a twenty-year-old girl who was working as a chambermaid in a hotel: she was an illiterate girl and so he taught her to write and read. They had their first date on 16 June, which was to become the ‘Bloomsday’ of Ulysses. In October they moved to Italy, settling in Trieste where Joyce began teaching English and made friends with Italo Svevo.
Joyce’s stories and novels open in medias res with the analysis of a particular moment, and the portrait of the character is based on introspection rather than on description. Time is not perceived as objective but as subjective, leading to psychological change. Thus the accurate description of Dublin is not strictly derived from external reality, I but from the characters’ minds floating.
Joyce, influenced by the French authors Flaubert and Baudelaire, believed in the impersonality of the artist. Joyce used different points of view and narrative techniques, and the facts become confused and are presented as ‘clues’ and not through the voice of an omniscient narrator .
His style are characterized by the use of the free direct speech, epiphany and interior monologue. And so language broke down into a succession of words without punctuation or grammar connections, into infinite puns, and reality became the place of psychological projections.
The relationship with his hometown is peculiar: Dublin is for Joyce as Firenze was for Dante. There is a relationship of love and hate, attraction and repulsion. From one hand he refused the Irish way of life since he considered Dublin the centre of intellectual and moral paralysis and almost a kind of prison with its constraint of family and religion; from the other hand he set all his works in Dublin, though he went into voluntary exile at the age of twenty-two. His achievement was to give a realistic portrait of his city: in his works Dublin is realistically individualized with its streets, places, houses and people and is made symbolically universal as an example of the modern metropolis: what happens in it, can happens everywhere.
Dubliners consists of fifteen short stories, that all lack actions, but they disclose human situations, moments of intensity and lead to a moral, social, or spiritual revelation. The stories are arranged into four groups: the opening stories deal with childhood and the others advancing in time (adolescence, mature life and public life). The description in each story is realistic with an abundance of external details, even the most unpleasant and depressing ones. The use of realism is mixed with symbolism, since external details generally have a deeper meaning. In fact, Joyce employed the ‘epiphany’ technique: “the sudden spiritual manifestation” caused by a trivial gesture, an external object or a banal situation. The episode described is apparently unimportant but essential to the life of the characters who become emblems of their socio-historical context. Dublin became a character in his novel: it is the centre of paralysis. The paralysis which Joyce wanted to portray is both physical and moral. All Joyce’s Dubliners are spiritually weak and afraid people, that are to some extent slaves of their familiar, moral, cultural, religious or political life and they accept their condition without rebelling because they aren't aware of it or they lack the courage to change their lives. But if they try to "escape" by this "paralysis" are destined to failure, because they are unable to break the chains that bind them to their own world.
Ulysses: During this novel don't happen very important events, but all is built around a central character, Leopold Bloom: a common man who live a common day. It takes place on a single day, 16 June 1904, which was the day of Joyce's first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife. During the course of this day, Leopold leaves his home at eight o’clock to buy his breakfast, wanders around Dublin, turning up in many streets, and meets Stephen Dedalus, a young man who is taken by Bloom at home and who becomes, momentarily, his adopted son: the son that he and his wife had never been able to have. Finally, at home, there is Bloom’s wife, Molly, a voluptuous singer who is planning an adultery.
As its title suggests, Ulysses is related to Homer's Odyssey, the tale of Odysseus and his travels after the Trojan War. Joyce used Odyssey as a structural framework for his book, arranging its characters and events around Homer's heroic model, with Bloom as Ulysses, Stephen as his son, Telemachus, and Molly as the faithful Penelope. It is divided into eighteen episodes and three parts: “Telemachiad” , “Odyssey” and “Nostos”. Each episode corresponds to one of the Odyssey, although not in the same order. For example in the chapter called "Hades" Mr. Bloom attends a friend's funeral at the Glasnevin Cemetery and meditates on death, while in the Homeric episode Ulysses visits the underworld and speaks with the souls of the deads. Or in another episode, called "Circe", he goes into a brothel, while the Greek Ulysses is in an island, where a sorceress turns his companions into pigs. The parallel between the two works allows Joyce to give is book a symbolic structure and Joyce is also suggesting that Bloom is a modern Ulysses, an archetypal hero, who can stand for humanity: the circumstances is changed, but the human quest continues unchanged.
It was a detailed account of ordinary life on an ordinary Dublin day and Joyce planned each movement of each character on each street as though he were playing chess. He placed them in houses he knew, drinking in pubs he had frequented, walking on cobblestones he retraced. He made the very air of Dublin, the atmosphere, the feeling, the place, almost indistinguishable, certainly inseparable, from his human characters. Consequently, Dublin becomes itself a character in this novel.
In this novel, Joyce combined several methods to present a variety of matters: so his technique is called "collage technique" because, quite similar to cubist artist, he depicts a scene from all perspectives and reconstructs the characters' inner life by the randomness and the confusion of juxtaposed events, presented through streams of consciousness, dramatic dialogue and the use of the cinematic technique, with the literary equivalents of close-up, flashbacks, zooms, fades-out and others.
Joyce and Woolf
Both Joyce and Woolf speaks about common men with common lives and are interested in giving voice to their characters' complex inner world of feeling and memory. So the events aren't very important and their novels haven't a traditional plot. In them the time is considered as a subjective dimension and the stories take place in only one day, full of thought and lacked of very important events. The omniscient narrator disappeared and the point of view shifted inside the characters’ minds through flashbacks and associations of ideas, as a continuous flux. Both use the stream of consciousness technique, but, differently from Joyce, Woolf limits the incoherence of the interior monologues, using also a third-person, past tense narrative. Similar to ‘epiphanies’ are Woolf "moments of being", rare moments caused by a trivial gesture, an external object or a banal situation when reality can be seen behind appearances. While Joyce was more interested in language experimentation and worked through the accumulation of details, Woolf's use of words was almost poetic, allusive and emotional. Unlike Joyce, however, Woolf does not elevate her characters to the level of myth, but shows their deep humanity behind their social mask.