8 Best Books About James Joyce Update 05/2022

It is largely accepted that James Joyce is one of the most significant literary personalities of the 20th century and the Republic of Ireland.. With his ability to reinterpret myths for modern audiences and his love of the urban environment, Joyce became a significant figure in Modernism and his work helped to define it. We’ll take a look at some of this Dublin native’s most notable works in reverse chronological order.

‘Dubliners’ (1914)

During his lifetime, Dubliners was Joyce’s sole collection of short tales to be published in prose. At the height of Home Control, the Irish middle class was struggling to find their identity under British rule in these fifteen tales. Class, Catholicism, nationalism, modernity vs. tradition, and adultery are just a few of the pressing challenges that the protagonists in this anthology encounter. At a university professor’s yearly party and supper with his wife, the novella The Dead takes place. Michael Furey, a small kid who died tragically many years ago, was the love of his wife’s life. It becomes clear that the professor has never and will never be as close to his wife as the deceased young guy. The Dead is a short story with a poignant message about the loss of life and the loss of love, set against the stark background of a winter in Ireland. Legendary filmmaker John Huston turned the narrative into an award-winning picture.

‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (1916)

Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s creative alter ego, is the subject of this highly renowned masterpiece, the author’s first full-length novel. It’s no coincidence that the story of Dedalus’ intellectual awakening is mirrored in Joyce’s own life’s journey from Ireland to continental Europe, where he defies the orthodox customs of the Catholic Church and Irish society at large. With its sparse dialogue and prominent use of free indirect speech, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man reveals the protagonist’s inner psyche in Joyce’s growing Modernist manner. Published in 2016 by Penguin, the centenary edition has a new preface by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard.

‘Exiles’ (1918)

The Dead, Joyce’s sole play, was based on the novella. An almost identical love triangle involving writer Richard Rowan and his common-law wife Bertha, and Rowan’s best friend Robert Hand. A second love triangle involving the two men and Hand’s cousin further complicates the already complex situation. Rowan’s difficult connections with his Italian pals and his distaste for Dublin are all based on Joyce’s personal experiences. WB Yeats, one of Joyce’s most ardent supporters, turned down a performance of Exiles, which is often regarded Joyce’s weakest publication. The play had its global debut in 1919 in Germany and its English-language premiere in New York in 1925, when it was modestly successful. After a brief run in London the following year, the play was canceled and would not return to the capital until 1970, when Harold Pinter directed a variation.

‘Ulysses’ (1922)

Almost no one needs an introduction to Ulysses, which is widely considered as one of the most important works of Modernist literature and one of the finest works of fiction in human history. The reader follows Leopold Bloom as he goes about his day on the 16th of June, 1904, and gets a glimpse into the lives of some of Dublin’s other residents. A comparison to Homer’s Odyssey helps Joyce generate an epic feel in his novel, and turns Dublin’s modern, everyday landscapes into a place of legendary significance for Bloom’s voyage. Ulysses isn’t an easy novel to read or understand, yet many people from over the globe are attracted to its complexity, nuance, and distinctive stream-of-consciousness format. It’s Bloomsday on 16 June, a worldwide celebration of the life and works of James Joyce, when modern-day Dublin comes alive with scenes from his novels.

‘Pomes Penyeach’ (1927)

Despite the fact that Joyce’s writing has long been the focus of attention, this collection of 13 poems offers a fresh look at the author and his work. Poetry Penyeach, which was composed between 1904 and 1924 by Joyce, includes some of his best-known works, such as ‘On the Beach at Fontana’ and a flower that Joyce gave to his daughter. Despite the fact that many of Joyce’s works are believed to be Irish, this collection demonstrates his worldwide existence, with various European location names being cited, giving the collection an inquisitive sense. Those who are new to Joyce will like the collection’s conciseness and relative simplicity.

‘Finnegans Wake’ (1939)

Joyce spent 17 years in Paris writing this massive and difficult-to-understand work. After the author’s death in 1939, it was published and has since been regarded as one of the most difficult works ever written in the English language. As a result of decades of academic analysis and discussion, it is thought improbable that anybody would enjoy reading the book. The daring, experimental manner of the author’s writing allows the reader to catch a look inside his remarkable intellect at work, working without regard to what others think and changing the norms of literature and language in the process. For this reason alone, I consider Finnegans Wake to be a work of art.

‘Finn’s Hotel’ (1923/2013)

Even though this anthology of short stories was only found after Joyce’s death, the Ithys Press’ decision to publish it is an accomplishment in itself. There are ten superbly written “epiclets,” as Joyce himself called them, in Finn’s Hotel. They span 1,500 years and revolve around the year AD 1132, marking a pivotal era in Irish history and mythology. Many of the figures shown here occur in Finnegans Wake in a variety of forms. Be aware that the Ithys Press publication, which is the only one available in English at the moment, will set you back a few hundred dollars.

My Brother’s Keeper by Stanislaus Joyce (Faber)


In this insightful memoir, Stanislaus Joyce details the reasons for James’s (and eventually his own) emigration from Ireland to Europe, as well as his personal struggles to support his family in Trieste while James was away. Complement it with George Healy’s far more visceral Complete Dublin Diary (Cornell University Press, 1971).

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