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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Joyce, Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet

james-joyceJames Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, is born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin on February 2, 1882. He contributes to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century.

Joyce is one of the ten children of Mary Jane “May” Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. He attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries mean they can no longer afford to send him there. He is temporarily home-schooled and spends a short time at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood is influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 is a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defend Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr. Casey, crying loudly with a “sob of pain,” “Poor Parnell! … My dead king!”

Joyce attends University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studies modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he goes to Paris with an intent of studying medicine but discovers, on arrival, that he does not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggles for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.

Joyce returns to Ireland in 1903 after his mother falls ill. She dies in August 1903. He refuses to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later feels is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On June 16, 1904, he meets Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spends the rest of his life. By autumn, he is convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuades Nora to travel with him. They arrive in Paris on October 9, 1904. He would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivates a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zürich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 is the poetry collection Chamber Music. When he sends Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranges for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but is also published in 1914.

Joyce then begins work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel is serialised between 1918 and 1920, but full publication is delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work is finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles is first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

On January 11, 1941, Joyce undergoes surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He falls into a coma the following day. He awakes at 2:00 AM on January 13, 1941, and asks a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They are en-route when he dies 15 minutes later, less than a month short of his 59th birthday. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.

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Birth of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

istepja001p1James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1880.

Stephens’ mother works in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and is adopted by them. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys as a small child and spends his childhood there. He attends school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard before graduating as a solicitor’s clerk. He is known affectionately in school as “Tiny Tim” due to his 4’10” stature. He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier if not for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual school run by Patrick Pearse. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adopted family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy solicitors’ firm.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism. He also writes several original novels, The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of “Æ” (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse.

Stephens’s influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.” Of MacDonagh he writes:

No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical ; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot.

Stephens lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they mistakenly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S, short “Jameses Joyce & Stephens,” but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons. The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of Stephens’ life he finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC. He dies at Eversleigh on Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1950.