James Joyceby Edna O'Brien
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/i>/i>
The fifth book in the bestselling Penguin Lives -- Penguin Lives pairs celebrated writers with famous Great writers on great figures individuals who have shaped our thinking.
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.
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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.
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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.
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!!!
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.