Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Become a Writer: James Joyce's Ulysses

Marilyn Monroe Reading James JoyceImage by I, Puzzled via Flickr

Writer and Writers: Brief biographical notes

James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish catholic novelist was born in Dublin to a poor family. His early education was much influenced by the Jesuits. After college he worked as a teacher, journalist, and other odd jobs to make ends meet.  

Throughout his life, Joyce suffered from glaucoma, which rendered him almost legally blind. And like the Argentinian writer Borges, he forged ahead to overcome and conquer his illness. Some commentators have noted that since Homer was a blind itinerant poet, Joyce mimicked him in both his travels and writing.

How to become a writer

Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man appeared in 1916, which is a brief autobiographical novel. The novel focuses on the life of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, from childhood towards maturity. Two major preoccupations crowd the narrative: the problem of Irish nationalism and Catholicism. At one point he event toyed with the idea of entering a seminary.


Ulysses —published in 1922—is a novel that many readers pick up only to put it down after a few pages. Hermetic, impenetrable, and frustrating, the novel is worth reading, but not like a conventional novel. One must take human bites and then chew and digest them slowly. And like all experimental novels one must be prepared to make allowances for the many innovations and technical leaps.
One chapter — The Rocks— is narrated in what was then new: the stream of consciousness form. But the work contains much more: symbolism, mythology, history, puns, play on words, and even a plethora of neologisms, all of which adumbrated his later work Finnegans Wake.
Despite its apparent meandering, shapeless form, Ulysses is a well-structured novel, which is often described as an Irish symphony, or an ‘Un-Divine’ Comedy. It contains allusions and references to Greek and Roman writers, and many contemporary European writers.  Because Joyce knew Latin, he could insert his own translations from great writers. In fact, he translated Aquinas’ model of beauty Integritas, consonantia, and claritas as Wholeness, balance, and radiance.

Other works

His other major works are Dubliners (1914), A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (1916), and Finnegans Wake ( 1939).
To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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