James Joyce:A Portrait of the Artist
Few people, if any, in the twentieth century have inspired as much careful study and criticism as James Joyce. His work represents a great labyrinth which many have entered but none have returned from the same. Joyce himself is a paradoxical figure, ever the artist, ever the commoner. He has been called the greatest creative genius of our century and, by some, the smartest person in all of history. His most famous novel, Ulysses, is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written. Beyond all of these superlatives lies a perfect case study in the creative mind and process.
Joyce was born in a Dublin suburb on February 2, 1882 to John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Joyce. He was the first born of ten children and, as the family grew, their financial situation worsened. With each new child John was forced to mortgage another of his inherited properties until there was nothing left. Despite his predicament, John remained a very witty man, and often used his wit to undermine that which was bothering him at the time, whether it was the church, the government or his wife's family. This distinctive trait would also be adopted by his eldest and most dear son James in later years. In September of 1888 young James was enrolled in Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit school of some prestige, but was withdrawn in June of 1891 because of his father's poor finances. This period is significant, however, since this was the first that he was separated from his supportive family for any length of time. Some of his experiences at Clongowes would later be recounted in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The rigorous Jesuit training he received appears to have been a turn off to the young Joyce and surely added to his growing contempt of the Catholic church. This anticlericalism was also fueled by his father, who constantly complained about the church and the clergy. This was a sharp contrast to Irish society at the time which was, for the most part, very devout. It is also interesting to note that John Joyce's frequency of appearance in his son's books is only second to the appearance of James himself. This demonstrates the influential role which John played in his son's life. Evidence of Joyce's early obsession with language and words can be found in his semi-autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the beginning of this book, young Stephen, the name Joyce chose for himself, wonders about the word "belt." "That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt," Stephen thinks. The dual meaning intrigues him.
In April of 1893 Father John Conmee, who had been the rector at Clongowes and was now prefect of studies at Belvedere College, another Jesuit school, arranged for James and his brothers to attend Belvedere without charge. Here he read voraciously in European literature, discovering the works of Henrik Ibsen, Dante, Flaubert and others who would remain his...