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Portrait of James Joyce

James Joyce is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His works were recognized for their innovative language, unusual modernist forms and social frankness. James Joyce was born near Dublin in 1882 and attended University College, Dublin and Belvedere College. After his graduation, he moved to Paris where he lived until 1904. After returning to Ireland for short periods of time, he moved again, this time to Trieste, Italy. There he lived with his wife, Nora Barnacle and their children. The family also lived in Zurich for a long time, which is where the writer died.

James Joyce wrote novels, published many short stories and some of the most famous Irish poems collections, including Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927). His poems have been influential over the years. Many famous musicians have turned them into songs. Some of them are Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth, Ross Lee Finney and Samuel Barber. However, despite his success as a poet, Joyce became famous mostly for his novels and short stories. Here are his three most important works, which everyone should read.

The Dubliners (1914)

The Dubliners, First Edition (1914), published in London

This collection of 15 short stories paints a vivid portrait of Dublin’s society in the early 20th century. It is a masterpiece of literary realism and modernist techniques. It captures the everyday life of it characters, their struggles and their aspirations. Symbolism is one of the main features of every story and Joyce’s skills in character writing contribute to the stories’ complexity and depth. Additionally, The Dubliners is a pioneer in its genre and is considered a fundamental work in the modernist literary movement. It has a well defined structure and you can find the symbols everywhere as you read. The first three stories are narrated in first person and portray children. The next four are about young adults and the rest shift in perspective between the characters. The 15th and final story, “The Dead,” is for most, not only the best of the collection, but also a world masterpiece.

The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man (1916)

Cover of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi biographical work, following the story of Stephen Dedalus. This coming-of-age narrative follows the development of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. It explores many themes, starting from religion and family, and continues with the pursuit of career and art. Set in Ireland during the 19th and the early 20th century, the story explores in a fascinating way the Irish identity. The influence of Catholicism and the church are also discussed in the book.

Joyce reflects skillfully on the events that led to Irish independence eventually in 1921. He examines through an objective view the political and social views that shaped the personal and national identity. To this day the novel sparks discussions about identity and self discovery.

Ulysses (1922)

James Joyce and the first cover of Ulysses

Ulysses was first published as a series in the journal Little Review from 1918 to 1920. While it suggests many similarities to Homer’s Odyssey, it also has its own political, ideological and literary references. The meticulous and innovative use of language, as well as the narrative techniques make the book hard to read, but it is still considered a highly influential work. The story is set in Dublin and Joyce portrays the landmarks, streets and character of the city in a masterful way. Moreover, each episode of the book, provides the different perspectives of the characters and their experiences, as well as a vivid description of the city itself.

Historically, Ulysses takes place during significant political and social change. The most important is the end of British influence on Ireland and Irish independence which occurred in December of 1921. Joyce’s exploration of human condition and Irish everyday life reflects the concerns of the modernist movement in general.

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