JAMES JOYCE–why did Ireland refuse to accept his dead body.


Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    James Joyce is a 20th-century writer. His full name was James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (life span: 2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and a literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde, and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (written in 1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness (a narrative mode). In literature Ulysses was also the hero of Homer’s Odyssey.

    Other well-known works of James Joyce are the short-story collection ‘Dubliners’ (1914), and the novels, ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (1916) and ‘Finnegans Wake’ (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism. Apart from writing he also had an accomplished tenor and therefore could sing well.


    He was born on 2 February 1882, in Dublin, Ireland. Joyce’s father was John Stanislaus Joyce and his mother was Mary Jane “May” Murray. He was the eldest of ten surviving siblings; two died of typhoid. James was baptised according to the rites of the Catholic Church.

     In 1887, his father was appointed rate collector by Dublin Corporation. The family subsequently moved to the fashionable adjacent small town of Bray, 12 miles from Dublin. Around this time Joyce was attacked by a dog, leading to his lifelong cynophobia (fear of dogs). He also suffered from astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning).


    Joyce had begun his education at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school near Clane, County Kildare, Ireland, in 1888, but had to leave it, in 1892, when his father could no longer pay the fee. Joyce then studied at home and briefly at the Christian Brothers O’Çonnel School, on North Richmond Street, in Dublin, before he was offered a place in the Jesuits’ Dublin school, Belvedere College, in 1893.

    Joyce later enrolled at the established University College Dublin (UCD) in 1898, studying English, French and Italian. He became active in theatrical and literary circles in the city. Joyce wrote a number of articles and at least two plays (since lost) during this period. Many of the friends he made at University College Dublin appeared as characters in Joyce’s works. Joyce was first introduced to the Irish public by Arthur Griffith in his newspaper, United Irishman, in November 1901. Joyce had written an article on the Irish Literary Theatre and his college magazine refused to print it. Joyce had it printed himself and distributed it locally. In 1901, the National Census of Ireland listed James Joyce (19) as an English- and Irish-speaking scholar living with his mother and father, six sisters and three brothers at Royal Terrace (now Inverness Road), Clontarf, Dublin.

PERSONAL HABITS: A lot has been spoken about his drinking habit. His father John Joyce too, was into, heavy drinking and even lost his job because of that and the habit was imbibed by his son James Joyce. James occasionally even got into brawls because of his drinking habit. He also had a very restless life.


    After graduating from University College Dublin in 1902, Joyce left for Paris to study medicine, but he soon abandoned it. This may have been because he found the technical lectures in French too difficult. Joyce had earlier failed to pass chemistry in his own English language in Dublin. But Joyce claimed ill health as the problem and wrote home that he was unwell and complained about the cold weather. He stayed on for a few months, appealing for finance which his family could ill-afford. His mother was diagnosed of cancer, when his father sent him a telegram that read, “NOTHER DYING COME HOME FATHER”. (Nother—a non-standard spelling for another) Joyce returned to Ireland. Fearing for her son’s impiety, his mother tried unsuccessfully to get Joyce to make his confession and to take communion. She finally passed into a coma and died. James and his brother Stanislaus refused to kneel with other members of the family praying by her bedside. After her death he continued to drink heavily, as a consequence conditions at home grew quite appalling. He scraped together a living by reviewing books, teaching, and singing.


        In 1904, while in his early twenties, Joyce emigrated to continental Europe with his partner (and later wife) Nora Barnacle. They lived in Trieste—Italy, Paris, and Zurich. Although most of his adult life was spent abroad, Joyce’s fictional universe centres on Dublin and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the city.

    In 1891 Joyce wrote a poem on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father was angry at the treatment of Parnell by the Catholic Church. The elder Joyce had the poem printed and even sent a part to the Vatican Library.

    On 7 January 1904, Joyce attempted to publish ‘A Portrait of the Artist’ an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, only to have it rejected by the free-thinking magazine Dana. He decided, on his twenty-second birthday, to revise the story into a novel he called Stephen Hero. It was a fictional rendering of Joyce’s youth, but he eventually grew frustrated with its direction and abandoned this work. It was never published in this form, but years later, in Trieste, Joyce completely rewrote it, as ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ The unfinished Stephen Hero was published after his death.

    In 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Galway city, Ireland, who was working as a chambermaid. On 16 June 1904 they had their first outing together, they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend, where Nora masturbated him sexually. This event was commemorated by providing the date for the action of Ulysses (as “Bloomsday”).

    Joyce and Nora went into self-imposed exile, moving first to Zürich in Switzerland, where he ostensibly taught English at the Berlitz Language School. Later he was sent to Trieste, which was then part of Austria-Hungary (until the First World War), and is today part of Italy. He later taught in Pola, part of Croatia today. He stayed there, teaching English mainly to Austro-Hungarian naval officers stationed at the Pola base, from October 1904 until March 1905. Later he moved back to Trieste and began teaching English there. He remained in Trieste for the next ten years.

    Later that year Nora gave birth to their first child, George (known as Giorgio). Joyce persuaded his brother, Stanislaus, to join him in Trieste, and secured a teaching position for him at the school. Joyce sought to augment his family’s meagre income with his brother’s earnings. Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations while they lived together in Trieste, arguing about Joyce’s drinking habits and frivolity with money.

    Joyce became frustrated with life in Trieste and moved to Rome in late 1906, taking employment as a clerk in a bank. But he disliked Rome and returned to Trieste in early 1907. So it was either Trieste or Dublin for him. His daughter Lucia was born later that year.

    Joyce returned to Dublin in mid-1909 with George his son, to visit his father and work on getting Dubliners published. While preparing to return to Trieste he decided to take one of his sisters, Eva, back with him to help Nora run the home. He spent a month in Trieste before returning to Dublin, this time as a representative of some cinema owners and businessmen from Trieste. With their backing he launched Ireland’s first cinema, the Volta Cinematography, which was well-received, but fell apart after Joyce left. He returned to Trieste in January 1910 with another sister, Eileen, in tow. For Eva had become homesick for Dublin and returned a few years later, but Eileen spent the rest of her life on the continent.

    Joyce returned to Dublin again briefly in mid-1912 for publishing his book ‘Dubliners’ but landed into a disagreement with his Dublin publisher. His trip was fruitless and upon his return he wrote a poem “Gas from a Burner’ as an invective, against publisher Roberts. After this trip, he never again came closer to Dublin than London, despite many pleas from his father and invitations from his fellow Irish writer, William Butler Yeats.

    One of his students in Trieste, Ettore Smith Ettore Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo. They met in 1907 and became lasting friends and mutual critics. Schmitz was a Catholic of Jewish origin and became a primary model for Leopold Bloom; (the fictional protagonist and hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses) most of the details about the Jewish faith in Ulysses came from Schmitz’s responses to queries from Joyce. While living in Trieste, Joyce was first beset with eye problems that ultimately required over a dozen surgical operations.

    Joyce concocted a number of money-making schemes during this period, including an attempt to become a cinema magnate in Dublin. In 1915, after most of his students in Trieste were con-scripted to fight in the First World War, Joyce moved to Zürich.  Joyce set himself to finishing Ulysses in Paris, delighted to find that he was gradually gaining fame as an avant-garde writer. A further grant from a well-wisher meant he could devote himself full-time into writing again, as well as consort with other literary figures in the city. During this time, Joyce’s eyes began to give him more and more problems and he often wore an eye-patch. He was treated in Paris, undergoing nine operations before his surgeon’s death in 1929. Throughout the 1930s he travelled frequently to Switzerland for eye surgeries and for treatments for his daughter Lucia, who, according to the Joyces, suffered from schizophrenia. Lucia was analysed by Carl Jung a Swiss Psychiatrist at the time, who after reading U-lysses, is said to have concluded that her father too had schizophrenia. Jung said that she and her father were two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that Joyce was diving and Lucia was sinking.

    In Paris, two litterateurs or say activists nursed Joyce during his long years of writing ‘Finnegans Wake.’ Had it not been for their support this book probably would not have seen the light of the day.


    The issue of Joyce’s relationship with religion is somewhat controversial. Early in life, he gave up on Catholicism. He expressed—My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity. Six years ago I left the Catholic church, hating it most fervently. I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me. By doing this I made myself a beggar but I retained my pride. Now I make open war upon it by what I write and say and do.

    When the arrangements for Joyce’s burial were being made, a Catholic priest offered a religious service, which Joyce’s wife, Nora, declined, saying, “I couldn’t do that to him.”

    Some novelist and historians have argued that Joyce, later in life, reconciled with the faith he rejected earlier and that his parting with the faith was succeeded, by a not so obvious reunion, and that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are essentially Catholic expressions. Likewise, Hugh Kenner and T.S. Eliot believed they saw between the lines of Joyce’s work the outlook of a serious Christian and that beneath the veneer of the work lies a remnant of a Catholic belief and attitude. Kevin Sullivan maintains that, rather than reconciling with the faith, Joyce never left it. 


    On 11 January 1941, Joyce underwent a surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He fell into a coma the following day. He awoke at 2 a.m. on 13 January 1941, and asked a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They were en route when he died 15 minutes later. Joyce was less than a month short of his 59th birthday. His body was buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.   Although two senior Irish diplomats were in Switzerland at the time of his death, neither attended Joyce’s funeral, and the Irish government later declined Nora’s offer to permit the repatriation of Joyce’s remains.

    When Joseph Walshe secretary at the Department of External Affairs in Dublin was informed of Joyce’s death he remarked—‘If possible find out did he die a Catholic? Express sympathy with Mrs Joyce and explain inability to attend funeral.’ Buried originally in an ordinary grave, Joyce was moved in 1966 to a more prominent “honour grave,” with a seated portrait statue by American artist Milton Hebald nearby. Nora, whom he had married in 1931, survived him by 10 years. She is buried by his side, as is, their son Giorgio, who died in 1976.

By Kamlesh Tripathi




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