By Mary Moloney
“Why did you leave your father’s home?”
“To seek misfortune”.
– James Joyce, Ulysses.
James Augusta Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2nd 1882, the eldest of ten children. Joyce studied English, French and Italian at UCD, graduated in 1902 and travelled to Paris to study medicine. Joyce spent less than a fortnight there before his parents sent him money inviting him home for Christmas.
By January 1903, Joyce returned to Hôtel Corneille. Joyce stated that, “Paris amuses me very much, but I quite understand why there is no poetry in French literature, for to create poetry out of French life is impossible.”
Joyce returned home destitute on April 11th, 1903, having received a telegram from his father informing him of his mother’s illness. She subsequently died.
Joyce remained in Ireland until 1904. In June of that year, he met Nora Barnacle, a Galway native who became his partner and later his wife. Both Joyce and Nora left Ireland in October, 1904, for Pula (Croatia), where he secured a post teaching English. Joyce made four return visits, the last being in 1912, after which he never returned to Ireland.
From 1904 to 1920, Joyce lived in London, Zurich, and Trieste. While in London, he became acquainted with two American poets: Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
Pound was involved with The Egoist, a magazine owned and edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver. On Yeats’ recommendation, Pound had written to Joyce in Trieste seeking material for the magazine.
Between 1914 and 1916, Pound assisted Joyce to serialise A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Weaver paid Joyce £50 for its serialisation.
“I have no words to thank you for your generosity and kindness,” penned Joyce in gratitude.
In contrast, Joyce’s relationship with Ireland was famously contentious. He perceived the issues of nationality, religion and language, which defined early twentieth-century Ireland as ‘nets’ set to trap him, and Joyce was determined not to be trapped.
“When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
Yeats’ literary revival looked to Ireland’s past for inspiration, while Joyce wanted to produce “what has not yet come to the world”. Padraic Colum wrote of Joyce in 1922, “He was glad he had left Dublin – he was glad to be away from a place where ‘the reformed conscience’ had left its fetter and away from the fog of Anglo-Saxon civilization”.