The world-famous novel Ulysses by James Joyce is celebrated every June on what has become known internationally as Bloomsday. This is because the mammoth novel is set on a single day, the 16th of June 1904. Bloomsday Societies all over the world organise parties and tours, with everyone donning their finest turn of the century garb to discuss and celebrate the great Irish novelist.
In Dublin, the home of Joyce and Ulysses, tours take place where scholars and enthusiasts alike can visit a number of the sites which feature in the novel and retrace the steps of the novel’s main character Leopold Bloom. As it is once again Bloomsday season, let’s take a look at the IrelandXO Chronicles related to Dublin’s famous author and his magnum opus, beginning with the man himself.
James Joyce short biography
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born on the 2nd of February 1882 in Dublin. He was the eldest of 10 surviving children born to Cork natives John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Murray. In Joyce’s youth his father had amassed a good deal of wealth and as such was able to send his son to the prestigious Clongowes Wood College from the age of six. However, the family patriarch was not as skilled at holding onto money as he was at gathering it and he soon squandered the family’s wealth which saw them descend into poverty. Joyce had to leave Clongowes Wood and instead educated himself at home for two years before being admitted to Belvedere College in Dublin where he excelled as a student. He later went on to study languages at University College Dublin. After graduating he went to Paris where he hoped to hone his craft as a writer.
Joyce returned to Ireland in 1903 to tend to his dying mother. At this time in his life he took up residence at the Martello Tower in Sandycove, which features in Ulysses and now houses the Joyce Museum. In June of the following year he met his partner, Galway woman Nora Barnacle, and convinced her to leave Ireland with him. Then began a lifetime of travel. Together the couple lived in Italy, France, and Switzerland. Though Joyce had been determined to leave Ireland, he found during his time living and working abroad that he missed the kindness and hospitality of the Irish people and wrote at length to his brother Stanislaus on the topic. This is where a change came in his writing. Up until then, Dublin and its people had been portrayed in a less favourable light but his newfound nostalgia for the city of his birth began to show in his writing as Dublin became as important to the stories as the characters who walked its streets.
Although he continued to write and his work is now considered to be some of the finest literature that the English language has known, at the time he had great difficulty in getting his book of short stories, Dubliners, published in Ireland. Joyce returned to Dublin a number of times to attempt to get the book published but it seemed that his genius was not immediately obvious to the publishing houses of Dublin who deemed the writing style and content unsuitable. It was on one of these trips that Joyce established the Volta Theatre, inspired by the picture houses of Italy, Joyce wanted to bring the art form to Dublin. The Volta opened in 1909 but was not the success that Joyce had hoped. It closed in 1919 before reopening 2 years later as the Lyceum Theatre.
In 1914, Joyce finally saw some recognition for his writing as his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Dubliners were finally published to great acclaim. It was due to the positive reception of this work that Joyce finally felt encouraged to dedicate himself fully to completing the novel on which he had been planning for a number of years, Ulysses.
The book was first published in Paris on Joyce’s 40th birthday, the 2nd of February 1922. Only 1,000 copies were printed and 100 of these were signed by the author. Editing the book was an arduous task as it contains a number of deliberate mistakes, not to mention the fact that the stream of conscious narrative presented its own challenges. The book follows the steps of Leopold Bloom on a journey across Dublin from south to north on the 16th of June 1904. It follows the pattern of Homer’s Odyssey and is told across 3 parts in 18 episodes. It is a notoriously difficult read, and Joyce himself was known to have remarked that he did this deliberately so that his work would achieve immortality as scholars would never be finished unravelling the many mysteries of the novel.
Legacy of James Joyce
Today Joyce is one of the most respected authors in the English language. His work is studied the world over with scholars in disagreement over practically every aspect of his writing, and nowhere is this more evident than in the study of Ulysses. Even the various editions are called into question with arguments erupting over which is the truest form of the novel. Joyce’s writing has influenced writers, both in Ireland and abroad since its publication, with noted authors and playwrights citing him as their greatest inspiration.
Though he spent most of his life outside of Ireland and died in Zurich, his influence on Dublin can be seen throughout the streets, as many of the sites visited by Leopold Bloom are still standing today, and it seems that the city left its mark on Joyce too as can be seen in one of his most famous quotes,
“When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart”
Click on the images to learn more about the entries that inspired this Chronicles Insight.
James Joyce 1882
Sandycove Martello Tower
Westland Row Post Office
National Library of Ireland
Ulysses is first published 1922
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