Biography of James Joyce (1882-1941)

by Sarah Fallu


Dubliners, 1914   Joyce in Zurich, 1919    Ulysses, 1922


James Joyce was born in the 19th century, on February 2, 1882.  He was the eldest of his family established in Dublin, Ireland.  His parents,  John Stanislaus Joyce  and Mary Jane Murray struggled to maintain a facade of a middle-class family, in spite of their poverty.  Joyce had been educated at two different Jesuits schools before entering, in 1898, University College, Dublin, in modern languages. Once he graduated, Joyce moved to Paris to complete medical studies. He went back to Dublin in 1903 to take care of his ill mother.  His first short stories were published in the Irish Homestead magazine in 1904.  Shortly after the death of his mother, James and Nora (his wife to be) moved to Pola (Pula, Croatia) where James taught English and started his career as an important writer of modern literature.  He only visited Ireland four times after stetting in Pula. 


Even though James learned the local dialect of Trieste, James wrote articles in Italian for a local newspaper.  He also started to give lectures on English Literature.  Yet, it is only in 1914 that James proved himself to be an excellent writer.  His first novel, A Portrait of a Young Man, appeared in a serial form in a London magazine.  In addition to this, the collection of short stories he had been working on since 1904, Dubliners, “A brilliant collection of fifteen stories,(…), in which Joyce set out to explore the political, spiritual, and social paralysis of life in modern Dublin (Pickering 1394)”, is finally published.  It is also during this year that he wrote his only play, Exiles.  Once he had accomplished all this, he started to write his most important achievement, his novel entitled Ulysses. Joyce’s extensive use of monologues and of complex networks of symbolic parallels drawn from the mythology, history, and literature, have allowed him to be “recognized as one of the truly creative geniuses of modern literature (Pickering 1395).”  He has definitely transformed fiction by his creation of a new and unique language of invented words, puns, and allusions.


Even though Ulysses was probably the work of his life, his last novel Finnegans Wake also contributed to James success.  This novel was published in 1939 and must have been his most challenging work. 


In 1940, James and his family moved to France because of the threat of World War II.  His good friend and manager Paul Léon salvaged Joyce’s possessions and manuscripts which were in his apartment in Paris.  Joyce and his family were given asylum in Zurich and Joyce died at the age of fifty-nine, on January 13, 1941.   He is buried in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich. 

James Joyce in Zurich, 1937 (Photo: Carola Gideon-Welcker)                                                  


Works Cited

Unknown author (2006). The James Joyce Center. “A Brief Biography of James Joyce”. URL address consulted on November 14 2007. <>

Unknown author (2007). The Literature Network. “James Joyce”. URL address consulted on November 14 2007. <>

Fiction 100 11th Edition. Ed. By James H. Pickering, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.