James Joyce: Contribution as English Novelist

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      His Life : James Joyce, (1882-1941) the son of middle-class Irish parents, was born in Dublin, where, in preparation for a career in the Roman Catholic church, he was educated in Jesuit colleges and at the Royal University. He abandoned the idea of taking orders, however, and shortly after the turn of the century, he left Ireland for France. In Paris, he studied medicine and thought of becoming a professional singer. During the 1914-1918 War he taught languages in Switzerland (he was medically unfit for service), and afterward returned to Paris, where he settled down to a literary life, struggling continually against ill-health and public opposition to his work.

Joyce's style develops from the straightforward, simple writing of Dubliners to the complex allusiveness and the bewildering originality of Finnegan's Wake.
James Joyce

      His Novels : Of the later Joyce there are already signs in his first work, Dubliners (begun 1900, published 1914). The narrative technique is straightforward, but these objective, short-story studies of the sordid Dublin slums are powerfully written, and their prose style, though simple, has a distinct individual flavor. Set in the same city is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), an intense. account of a developing writer torn between the standards of an ascetic, religious upbringing and his desire for sensuousness. Though the Work is largely autobiographical (Stephen Dedalus is Joyce), the writer preserves a cool detachment in the precise analysis of his hero's spiritual life. His handling of the sexual problems involved is particularly forthright. An earlier version, much more conventional in style, was Stephen Hero, which was not published until 1944. The artistic dilemma of Stephen-Joyce was re-expressed in his unsuccessful play Exiles (1918). Stephen Dedalus appears again in Ulysses (1922), a study of the life and mind of Leopold and Mrs. Bloom during a single day. It is modeled on the Odyssey of Homer, but it is set in the squalor of Dublin's slums. There are parallel characters in the two works, and the structure is in each case the same; these likenesses are deliberately invoked to stress the sordid meanness of modern life as contrasted with life in the heroic age.

      The 'stream of consciousness' technique and the internal monologue are used with great power, and Bloom has been described as "the most complete character in fiction." The material is handled objectively and with a frankness that caused the book to be banned as obscene: the style shows clearly Joyce's mastery of language, his ingenuity, brilliance, and power. Published in the same year as The Waste Land, it presents a similar view of the hopeless dilemma of man in the post War world. It appeared in The Little Review in America but was banned after the fifth installment, and this ban was not lifted in England until 1933. Joyce's only other novel was Finnegan's Wake (1939), parts of which had appeared as early as 1927 and 1928 as Work in Progress and Anna Livia Plurabelle. In it, he has developed his technique to a point where subtlety and complexity produce incomprehensibility. It is a study of the history of the human race from its earliest beginnings, as seen in the incoherent dreams of a certain Mr. Earwicker. The use of an inconsecutive narrative and of a private vocabulary adds to the confusion, but it cannot conceal the poetic furor, the power, and brilliant verbal skill of the work.

      Features of his Novels : (a) His Subjects: Joyce is a serious novelist; whose concern is chiefly with human relationships-man in relation to himself, to society, and to the whole race. This is true also of his latest work, though his interest in linguistic experiments makes it difficult to understand his meaning. Acutely aware of the pettiness and meanness of modern society, and of the evils which spring from it, he is unsurpassed in his knowledge of the seamy side of life, which he presents with startling frankness. He is a keen and subtle analyst of man's inner consciousness, and, in common with the psycho-analysts of his day, he is much preoccupied with sex.

      (b) His Technique: In the quest of the twentieth-century novelists for a new technique by which to present the contemporary human dilemma, Joyce is a pioneer, and his lead has been followed by many major writers. He was a ceaseless experimenter, ever anxious to explore the potentialities of a method once it was evolved, and in his use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, and in his handling of the internal monologue, he went further and deeper than any other. His sensitiveness, his depth of penetration into the human consciousness, give to his character-study a subtlety unparalleled in his day, and if, in his attempts to catch delicate and elusive shades of feeling and fix them in words, he has frequently become incomprehensible, the fact remains that a character like Leopold Bloom is a unique and fascinating creation.

      (c) His Style: Joyce's style develops from the straightforward, simple writing of Dubliners to the complex allusiveness and the bewildering originality of Finnegan's Wake. In the latter, a broken narrative, with abrupt transitions, and logical sentence links omitted, together with a new vocabulary, produces writing which is often purely 'private' in its significance; for words are coined by the breaking up of one word and the joining of its parts to parts of other words similarly split, and roots of words from many languages are employed. Joyce's interest in language and his eager experimentation are unequaled in any period of our literature. He has a sensitive ear for verbal rhythms and cadences and uses language in his books as part of an elaborately conceived artistic pattern, in which much of the unity of his work lies. With the beauty of language for its own sake only he is usually little concerned, yet his writing is often of great imaginative power and has a musical quality which enables even his incomprehensible passages to be read aloud with considerable pleasure. His genius is for the comic rather than the tragic view of life, and his work is full of wit, puns (often in several languages), and startling conceits. The humor varies from broad comedy to intellectual wit, but is mainly sardonic in tone.

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