This book examines the life, works and critical reputation of James Joyce. The son of a dissolute Dublin election agent and rates collector who rose to become one of the brightest stars of European literary modernism, the composer of exquisite late Edwardian lyrics who subsequently created the radically new narrative styles of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and the writer who exiled himself from his native Ireland in order ceaselessly to remake it in his imagination, Joyce’s peripatetic career and complex reinvention of modern Western culture has made him a subject of enduring fascination and established him as perhaps the greatest and most enigmatic literary figure of the twentieth century. Simultaneously a defiantly parochial and fiercely international writer, Joyce’s avant-garde artworks helped to create the climate of taste by which they would be judged. His systematic transformation of the nature and scope of the novel and his protracted struggle against the legal censorship and suppression of his work extended the possibilities of modern art and helped to redraw the boundaries between the claims of public morality and the rights of artistic expression for his own and succeeding generations.
Part I of this book offers a concise narrative of Joyce’s life and literary career. It charts his inauspicious beginnings amid the disintegrating fortunes of a poor Dublin family, his embryonic artistic development as a poet and novelist, his self-imposed exile from Dublin and reinvention of himself as a modernist artist, the literary and cultural scandal provoked by Ulysses, his emergence as one of the key writers of his generation, and his sixteen-year struggle to complete his final prose epic. Part 2 provides a critical commentary upon all of Joyce’s prose works and explores the style and significance of his poetry and drama. Part 3 traces a historical overview of the critical reception of Joyce’s work, from its earliest twentieth-century reviews to contemporary critical discussion, in order to explore how particular styles of reading and modes of critical practice have influenced our understanding of Joyce.