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JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941)

    - Ulysses

      James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Rathgar, a fairly prosperous southern suburb of Dublin. His father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was from Cork, where the Joyce family had been merchants for some generations, and where they had married into the O'Connell family, who claimed a connection with the famous Daniel O'Connell, "the Liberator." The earliest Joyces were Norman, but later established themselves in the West of Ireland near Galway, where a large area is known as "the Joyce Country." John Joyce insisted upon the family's noble descent, and indeed a Joyce coat of arms is registered, with the motto, "Mors aut honorabilis vita" ("An honorable life or death"). Colbert Kearney, who has researched the Cork background, reports that family myth asserted the gentlemanly Joyces of Cork, such as John Joyce's father James Augustine, were dragged down by the shopkeeping O'Connells. Like all Irish Catholics, the Joyces inherited a tradition of legal and cultural repression. Having suffered invasions by Vikings and by Normans in medieval times, Ireland was more programmatically conquered by the British, beginning in the Elizabethan period; successive waves of invasion and settlement established an "Anglo-Irish" aristocracy who controlled much of the land, while during the eighteenth century the "penal laws" effectively barred Catholics from social advancement. Even the Irish language spoken by Joyce's ancestors was prohibited.
    A series of reforms culminating in the Emancipation Act of 1829 allowed the growth of a Catholic middle class, but the hopes of the Catholic peasantry--and many of the middle class as well--remained firmly tied to the establishment of an independent Irish nation.
    When John Joyce moved from Cork to Dublin in his mid-twenties he was a man of some means, including property in Cork; by the age of forty he had lost his final job as tax collector and was never again regularly employed. He was a man of considerable charm, a fine tenor and storyteller, but also an improvident spendthrift and drinker. A friend, Constantine Curran, described him as "a man of unparalleled vituperative power, a virtuoso in speech with unique control of the vernacular." In many ways a disastrous father, he nevertheless fathered twelve children, of whom eight survived to adulthood. Whatever strain this may have put on his resources, the strain of a pregnancy virtually every year following her marriage was far worse on May Joyce, who died at forty-four. James Joyce was the eldest surviving child; two of his siblings died of typhoid, a disease encouraged by the family's poverty.
    But in 1888, when James Joyce was sent to board and study at Clongowes Wood College, most of these embarrassments and tragedies lay in the future. Clongowes, run by the influential Jesuit order, was perhaps the best preparatory school in Ireland (sons of the wealthier Anglo-Irish families were often sent to still better schools in England). Despite the repressive picture he paints of the school in Portrait, Joyce later spoke warmly of his experience there; unlike Stephen, whom we only see unjustly punished, Joyce received punishment that he admitted he deserved on several occasions, including once for bad language. Joyce was a good student at Clongowes despite his youth, and in some ways never abandoned the habits of thought with which the Jesuits inculcated him. But public events in Ireland were equally important to him, at least as they reached him through the talk of his parents and their friends.

 


 

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