With all the earthy sensuality and majestic storytelling that have made her one of Ireland's preeminent writers, award-winning novelist Edna O'Brien paints the most passionate, personal, and sensuous portrait of her fellow countryman yet written. James Joyce is a return journey to the land of politics, history, and the saints and scholars that shaped this creator of the twentieth century's most groundbreaking novel, Ulysses.
In her beautiful, poetic telling, O'Brien traces Joyce's early days as the rambunctious young Jesuit student; his falling in love with a tall, red-haired Galway girl named Nora Barnacle on Bloomsday; and his exile to Trieste where he met with success, love, and finally, despair. Only Edna O'Brien, with her deft, supple prose, her rebel Irish heart, and her kindred spirit, could capture the brilliance and complexity of this great modern master.
About the Author
Since her debut novel The Country Girls Edna O'Brien has written over twenty works of fiction along with a biography of James Joyce and Lord Byron. She is the recipient of many awards including the Irish Pen Lifetime Achievement Award, the American National Art's Gold Medal and the Ulysses Medal. Born and raised in the west of Ireland she has lived in London for many years.
Read an Excerpt
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time there was a man coming down a road in Dublin and he gave himself the name of Dedalus the sorcerer, constructor of labyrinths and maker of wings for Icarus who flew so close to the sun that he fell, as the apostolic Dubliner James Joyce would fall deep into a world of words-from the "epiphanies" of youth to the epistomadologies of later years.
James Joyce, poor joist, a funnominal man, supporting a gay house in a slum of despond. His name derived from the Latin and meant joy but at times he thought himself otherwise-a jejune Jesuit spurning Christ's terrene body, a lecher, a Christian brother in luxuriousness, a Joyce of all trades, a bullock-befriending bard, a peerless mummer, a priestified kinchite, a quill-frocked friar, a timoneer, a pool-beg flasher and a man with the gift of the Irish majuscule script.
A man of profligate tastes and blatant inconsistencies, afraid of dogs and thunder yet able to strike fear and subordination into those he met; a man who at thirty-nine would weep because of not having had a large family of his own yet cursed the society and the Church for whom his mother like so many Irish mothers was a "cracked vessel for childbearing." In all she bore sixteen children; some died in infancy, others in their early years, leaving her and her husband with a family of ten to provide for.
"Those haunted inkpots" Joyce called his childhood homes, the twelve or thirteen addresses as their financial fates took a tumble. First there was relative comfort and even traces of semi-grandeur. His mother, Miss May Murray, daughter of a Dublin wine merchant, versed in singing, dancing, deportment and politeness, was a deeply religious girl and a lifelong member of the Sodality of Our Lady. She was a singer in the church choir where her future and Rabelaisian husband John, ten years her senior, took a shine to her and set about courting her. His mother objected, regarding the Murrays as being of a lower order, but he was determined in his suit and even moved to the same street so as to be able to take her for walks. Courtships in Dublin were just that, through the foggy streets under the yellowed lamps, along the canal or out to the seashore which James Joyce was to immortalize in his prose-"Cold light on sea, on sand on boulders" and the speech of water slipping and slopping in the cups of rock. His father and mother had walked where he would walk as a young man, drifter and dreamer, who would in his fiction delineate each footstep, each bird call, each oval of sand wet or dry, the seaweed emerald and olive, set them down in a mirage of language that was at once real and transubstantiating and would forever be known as Joyce's Dublin. His pride in this was such that he said if the Dublin of his time were to be destroyed it could be reconstructed from his works.
James Augustine Joyce was their second son, born February 2, 1882. An infant, John, had died at birth, causing John Joyce to indulge in a bit of bathos, saying, "My life was buried with him." May Joyce said nothing; deference to her husband was native to her, that and a fatality about life's vicissitudes. John Joyce's life was not buried with his first son; he was a lively, lusty man and for many years his spirit and his humor prevailed. But sixteen pregnancies later, and almost as many house moves, impecunity, disappointments and children's deaths did make for a broken household. His enmity toward his wife's family and sometimes toward his wife herself was vented at all hours-the name Murray stank in his nostrils whereas the name Joyce imparted "a perfumed tipsy sensation." Only the Joyce ancestry appeared in photographs and the Joyce coat of arms was on proud display. He was a gifted man, a great tenor, a great raconteur and one whose wit masked a desperate savagery.
James, when young, was known as "Sunny Jim" and being a favorite he would steal out of the nursery and come down the stairs shouting gleefully, "I'm here, I'm here." By the time he was five he was singing at their Sunday musical parties and accompanying his parents to recitals in the Bray Boat Club. By then too he was wearing glasses because of being nearsighted. That he loved his mother then is abundantly clear, identifying her with the Virgin Mary, steeped as he was in the ritual and precepts of the Catholic Church. She was such a pious woman that she trusted her confessor more than any member of her own family. She was possessive of Sunny Jim, warning him not to mix with rough boys and even disapproving of a valentine note which a young girl, Eileen Vance, had sent to him when he was six:
His mother with her "nicer smell than his father" was the object of his accumuled tenderness and when he was parting from her he pretended not to see the tears under her veil.
Reprinted from James Joyce by Edna O'Brien by permission of Viking Publishing, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Edna O'Brien. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Table of Contents
|Once Upon a Time||1|
|Kith and Kin||149|
|Himself and Others||161|