James Joyce: A Life

James Joyce: A Life

by Edna O'Brien

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Overview

"Joyce fans should thank their lucky stars." -The New York Times

Arguably the most influential writer of the twentieth century, James Joyce continues to inspire writers, readers, and thinkers today. Now Edna O'Brien, herself one of Ireland's great writers, approaches the master as only a fellow countryman can. From Joyce's adolescence through his travels abroad to the publication of Ulysses-the scandalous masterpiece that was initially banned in the U nited States but later hailed as one of the most brilliant novels of the twentieth century-O'Brien traces the arc of Joyce's remarkable life. Her biography is a tribute, at once affectionate and stern, from a contemporary writer to one of our most significant literary ancestors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143119937
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/29/2011
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,179,885
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Edna O'Brien is the author of numerous books, including The Country Girls Trilogy, The Light of the Evening, Byron in Love, and House of Splendid Isolation. She is the recipient of the James Joyce Ulysses Medal. She lives in London, England.

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James Joyce 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Joyce, the phenomenal Irish writer, was born in 1882 and died in 1941 at age 59, probably a great accomplishment considering the amount he drank in his lifetime. Joyce lived mostly in poverty, partly because of the impoverishment of the family in which he grew up, and partly due to his own alcoholism and extravagance. As an adult, there were many times when he could only pay rent by the day. His life partner and later wife Nora Barnacle would sit in a café or park all day holding their first child, waiting to hear where they could sleep. (And yet O¿Brien characterizes Barnacle as morose and mopey and castigates her for ¿weakening [Joyce¿s] natural cheerfulness.¿) Once Nora delivered a letter to Joyce at his workplace complaining about their circumstances and he responded by blowing his nose in it. [Why she didn¿t leave him seems like a very interesting topic to me, but O¿Brien did not address it, perhaps because her sympathies are unquestionably with Joyce.]Joyce borrowed incessantly from everyone he could, alternately begging, flattering, and abusing would-be lenders. Somehow, he always found people willing to let him take advantage of them. Joyce, O¿Brien observes in understatement, ¿loathed responsibility.¿ Later in life, Joyce found a patron, a Miss Weaver, who loaned him close to a million dollars in today¿s money. O¿Brien writes approvingly that Miss Weaver never asked for anything in return, whereas she seems rather disgusted that Sylvia Beach (of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company) who helped Joyce get published ¿wanted a share in the glory¿¿Joyce¿s romantic relationship with Nora began on June 16, 1904, and the date of their first liaison is now celebrated around the world as Bloomsday, as it is also the date Joyce used for his circadian masterpiece featuring Leopold Bloom, Ulysses.Of Ulysses O¿Brien writes: "Language is the hero and heroine, language in constant fluxion and with a dazzling virtuosity. All the given notion [sic] about story, character, plot, and human polarizings are capsized. By comparison, most other works of fiction are pusillanimous.""He said he had all the words, it was simply a question of putting them in the right order. He would pore over each word not only for its rhythm, its sense, its aptness, its beauty, its vulgarity, its myriad associativeness, but sometimes for its prophetic core. Every word, like every image, was up for investigation. Even then he was dissatisfied. He wanted a language above all languages, he refused to be enclosed in any tradition. He wanted to be God.""He would astound his readers. he would bring them to a pitch of consciousness where they had not gone before. Not for him the 'experimentation' of Marcel Proust, of whom he said: 'Analytic still life. Reader knows end of sentence before him.' He would breach unknown frontiers."O¿Brien is merciless with detractors of Ulysses. As she points out, it took Joyce ¿seven years of unbroken labor, twenty thousand hours of work, havoc to brain and body, nerves, agitation, fainting fits, [and] numerous eye complaints ¿.¿ There is certainly no question that Joyce put a great deal of work into his book, but I don¿t think his sufferings in that regard automatically disqualify any criticisms. However, O¿Brien's sensitivity pales next to Joyce's, who not only craved flattery and appreciation, but never forgot an insult, penning the offending persons into his books as unflattering characters. O¿Brien also talks a bit about Finnegans Wake, suggesting correctly that ¿If Ulysses had angered people, this new work would send them into paroxysms¿ with each reader needing ¿to make a daring leap to construe meaning¿ from the text. In writing this book, O¿Brien said of Joyce that ¿he was determined to break the barrier between conscious and unconscious, to do in waking life what others do in sleep.¿ But when O¿Brien calls one of the characters in the book ¿the most
mt256 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Joyce was an author who could easily have been classified as mad or brilliant or perhaps both. Edna O'Brien gives us a glimpse into James Joyce's unconventional life in her novel, James Joyce: A Life. I wanted to read this book because James Joyce is on my list of authors whose books I need to read. I've had Dubliners sitting on my shelf unread for the longest time. However I have managed to read a few of his works so I didn't feel totally unprepared. Edna O'Brien touches on various points in Joyce's life from birth to death. From Joyce's dysfunctional family life to his volatile marriage to his wife, Nora. O'Brien includes many interesting facts about Joyce's rise to fame. His peculiar tendencies and his prideful nature.I think if I had read more of Joyce's novels before hand it would have helped me to decipher and make the character connections even more so. O'Brien did a fairly good job in trying to correlate the influences in Joyce's life to the characters in his novels. This is also a short biography so it doesn't go into great detail about Joyce's life. However this is a great introduction to James Joyce. Overall this is a good read. It's an insightful look into one of literature's treasures. This biography is really enjoyable and I'm so glad that I read it. Now it's time to dust Dubliners off the shelf.
Marcie77 More than 1 year ago
James Joyce was an author who could easily have been classified as mad or brilliant or perhaps both. Edna O'Brien gives us a glimpse into James Joyce's unconventional life in her novel, James Joyce: A Life. I wanted to read this book because James Joyce is on my list of authors whose books I need to read. I've had Dubliners sitting on my shelf unread for the longest time. However I have managed to read a few of his works so I didn't feel totally unprepared. Edna O'Brien touches on various points in Joyce's life from birth to death. From Joyce's dysfunctional family life to his volatile marriage to his wife, Nora. O'Brien includes many interesting facts about Joyce's rise to fame. His peculiar tendencies and his prideful nature. I think if I had read more of Joyce's novels before hand it would have helped me to decipher and make the character connections even more so. O'Brien did a fairly good job in trying to correlate the influences in Joyce's life to the characters in his novels. This is also a short biography so it doesn't go into great detail about Joyce's life. However this is a great introduction to James Joyce. Overall this is a good read. It's an insightful look into one of literature's treasures. This biography is really enjoyable and I'm so glad that I read it. Now it's time to dust Dubliners off the shelf.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Emotionally bereft, haunted by poverty, cynical of religion and politics, James Joyce spends his whole life determined to grasp every experience to its dregs. Edna O'Brien masterfully conveys how these attitudes and consequent behaviors both attracted and repulsed professional and consumer readers throughout Joyce's stressful, conflict-ridden life. In the beginning of his life, he moves from being an ardent Catholic to one who projects his hatred of his own lusts upon the priests who formerly inspired him. A fluctuating love-hate relationship exists between him and the predominant political leaders of his time as well. Yet O'Brien doesn't allow the reader to forget that he passionately loved the land he was to reject for most of his tortured life, condemning them as he wrote, "Poets were the keepers of spirituality and priests the destroyers and usurpers." Ibsen is Joyce's first love, sharing with him a hatred of hypocrisy and falsity. Joyce read voraciously throughout his whole life, and it is that knowledge as well as every facet of his own world that will fill the pages of Ulysses, the work he is most famous for crafting. Support and rejection fluctuate from Joyce's family, including his closest brother Stanislaus. O'Brien calls the relationship with Joyce's mother, as with all brilliant writers, "the uncharted deep." For Joyce it was an association of the Host of Catholicism, the prostitutes and his mother's tenderness," hardly associations yielding a good connection to family, romance, and religion. He will wed Nora Barnacle and their marriage will be full of attraction and repulsion as life becomes more ordinary when the writer can revel only in the extraordinary, unique, and almost frenetic moments that give purpose to his understanding and writing. Memory and exile are the elements fueling the pages of his novels and stories, to which one must add knowledge. O'Brien takes us through each work Joyce constructed, the reactions of individuals and Ireland and the difficulties in publishing Joyce knew, chiefly because of what was perceived to be criticism highlighted with the most obscene language and images. Sexual passion continues to fuel his life with Nora, a woman who pleased him in this one way but could never even come close to understanding his mind. His family life is even more stressed later on with the mental instability of his daughter, Lucia, a woman who finally is committed yet who remarkably resembles her father in so many of her ramblings and associations. While many know the highlights of James Joyce's life, Edna O'Brien presents her knowledge and analysis with aplomb, implying with depth the undercurrents of Joyce's mind and soul, while stating the obvious; interpreting and making connections that the average reader might miss while again implying that so few truly understood what drove Joyce's scurrilous and debasing depiction of life's grand and sordid aspects. Brief but potent,O'Brien's biography of James Joyce is a phenomenal read about an unfathomable writer - both are brilliant, indeed!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Edna O'Brien is a truly outstanding writer, and she has a great subject which she certainly has a great deal of enthusiasm for. I thought therefore that this book would be terrific. It was good, but it fell short, and in the end did not give me personally any great insight into Joyce the man, or Joyce's work. I years ago read what I believe is still the best biography, Richard Ellmann's and so know much of the story. I also know Joyce's work fairly well. O'Brien lets down here the most . I did however learn a couple of important things about Joyce's life I had not known.One is how much his connection with his father meant to him, even in the years of exile. The second is the high intensity of his sexual relationship with Nora. The book says very little about Joyce's relation to his son, Georgio. It does tell the story of Joyce's painfully sad relationship with the daughter Lucia. O'Brien again is an excellent writer with a great feel for the language. But here too I was disappointed as she did not cite so many of the truly great Joyce passages, and instead selected those ( even in Finnegan's Wake ) which it seems to me are of lesser importance.And this as if to indicate that one of the anticipated pleasures of reading a biography of a writer whose work one knows is the opportunity to meet again familiar passages, and take pleasure in them. Where in this book is ' forge in the smitty of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race' or ' epiphanies on green oval leaves ' or that most moving ending of ' carry me along taddy like you done at the toy fair 'and the great close of ' a way a lone a last a long the ' The great poetic beauty of the Joycean flow , and its riversong is however brought out in her reading of Anna Livia Plurabelle. Nothing of substance is said about 'Dubliners' or ' Portrait of the Artist' and she does not tell his story as it might be told in terms of the career in creation of his works.