Chapter 3


This section focuses on the critical responses that Joyce’s work has evoked over the years. Although the scope and complexity of Joyce’s writing has provoked a sometimes bewildering variety of interpretations, the history of its critical reception may be divided into two main phases. The first phase, broadly encompassing the period between the publication of Ulysses in 1922 and the early 1960s, comprises contemporary attempts to come to terms with the literary, cultural and political challenge of Joycean modernism and the gradual emergence of Joyce’s status as a ‘classic’ modernist writer. A considerable number of these documents are gathered in Robert Deming’s two-volume collection James Joyce: The Critical Heritage (1970). The second phase, stretching from the 1960s to the present day, is notable for the explosion of literary and cultural theory over the last forty years. Joyce’s fictive exploration of questions of textuality, gender, sexuality, colonialism, nationalism and the unconscious has made him a subject of continuing fascination for a broad range of literary critics and cultural theorists. The sheer volume of critical writing on Joyce makes what follows necessarily selective; the subsections are intended to provide a guide to landmark episodes in Joyce criticism and key examples of the different ways in which his work is currently being read.

First Responses

Considering the violent critical debate and division Joyce’s work would precipitate, the early reviews of his first publication Chamber Music are a study in tranquillity. Two of the first reviewers, Arthur Symons and Thomas Kettle, celebrated the formal control, tonal delicacy and


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James Joyce: A Critical Guide


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