James Joyce: The Revolutionary Writer Nobody Wanted to Publish

“I have written it to keep literary experts busy for the next three hundred years,” he said. James Joyce right after posting Ulises (1922), one of the novels on which contemporary literature is based. Not a third of this time has passed and critics continue to investigate the gears of one of the first texts to translate the mechanisms of the unconscious into written language.

James (1882-1941) was the oldest of ten children. His father, John Joyce, civil servant and drinker, squandered the rich family estate (raised by the writer’s great-great-grandfather) and reached the top of the saga in failed investments. The family was forced to move house almost every year and the children, from school. But John adored his son and spent long hours with him talking about Irish nationalism; he even bought her books when they barely had enough to eat.

James Joyce at the age of eight.

Public domain

His mother, Mary Jane Murray, the daughter of a liquor merchant, took refuge in the Catholic faith. A) Yes, nationalism and religion guided the writer’s life into adulthood. In fact, James was always educated in Jesuit schools. In them he incubated the guilt complex that would accompany him and suffered the repression of sexuality that he would later turn into literature.

At seventeen he entered University College Dublin, run by the same religious order, to study modern languages. that’s when definitely broke with the Christian faith. Not even her mother, dying on her deathbed a few years later, managed to retrieve it for the Church. Neither James nor her brother Stanislaus of hers – to whom she was always very close – pleased her in this painful trance. In return, her remorse would always be with him.

his muse

After graduating, Joyce met Nora Barnacle, a humble Irish girl who had traveled to Dublin to serve. She would never understand him intellectually. “I haven’t read any of your books, but I’ll have to. They must be good if they sell so much”, he told her when he was already an established writer.

Many saw in him a very promising writer and some began to send him money

However, Nora gave joyce everything she needed, even became the muse from which its protagonists were nurtured. The letters that Nora wrote to Joyce, for example, without periods or commas, are a carbon copy of the final monologue of the fictitious Molly Bloom in Ulises.

Nora would have wanted a more conventional life, but a few months after meeting Joyce, he agreed to accompany him on his travels to become a great writer. First it was Zurich, then Trieste, London, Rome, Paris… Joyce seemed to have inherited from his father the difficulties of putting down roots; also his Irish talent to tell anecdotes and be the attraction of the cafes.

rocky beginnings

For more than a decade, the couple and their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, lived in squalor, often supported by Stanislaus. Joyce survived as an English teacher, although spent his salary getting drunk, embittered by his difficulties in publishing. Despite them, many continued to see him as a very promising writer and some began to send him money, sometimes anonymously, as initially the socialist American Edith Rockefeller McCormick.


James Joyce photographed in 1918.

Public domain

In 1917 Joyce was able to concentrate on writing, although that year also his vision problems beganwhich would require more than ten surgical operations and the characteristic patch on his left eye that he wore since 1926.


The hardest thing for him, however, was Lucia’s schizophrenia. She was unleashed after the marriage of her parents (by which Lucia felt relegated) and after receiving the sentimental rejection of the playwright Samuel Beckett, one of the last great friends of the writer. Beckett visited Joyce almost daily.. This dictated finnegans wakehis last work.

Some critics consider that Joyce and her daughter were soul mates, although he was able to channel his eccentricity towards literature. Lucia’s illness and her own blindness, which prevented her from continuing to write, plunged her into depression. A perforated duodenal ulcer ended his life in January 1941 in Zurich. He was buried in the cemetery of this Swiss city.


Playwright Samuel Beckett was Joyce’s great friend.

Public domain

genius looking for editor

Joyce’s difficulties in publishing were a constant throughout his life. Her works, today recognized as essential in the revolution of modern literature, lived through one and a thousand rejections until they could see the light:

Portrait of a teenage artist: twenty printers from England and Scotland refused to compose this autobiographical novel, as the law of the time gave them the same legal responsibility as the author and publisher. The story appeared episodic in the London magazine selfish between February and September 1915.

Dubliners: the first English printing (from 1906) of this volume of stories was destroyed. The second (from 1912), too; this time by the publisher, George Roberts, and the printer. Only one copy out of a thousand was saved. The book came out in London on June 15, 1914 thanks to Grant Richards. Gone were an investment of 3,000 francs, 40 publisher rejectionsdealings with seven lawyers and 120 publications.


James Joyce with the bookstore Sylvia Beach, his main support for publishing Ulysses in Paris.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Ulises: Joyce began the writing of this novel in 1906, in Rome, where he traveled to work in a bank. the american magazine Little Review he began serializing it in 1918. Its owners, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, turned to a Serbian-born printer who understood almost no English. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which deemed the material immoral and pornographic, stopped publication in 1920.

Before, some deliveries had already been confiscated and burned. The editors were sentenced to pay 50 dollars per head. the american bookstore Sylvia Beach edited the work in Paris in 1922 with a repeated ruse: a printer from Dijon who did not understand English. In the United States the veto would not be lifted until 1933. In 1934 the first edition appeared, two years before the English one.

This article was published in issue 454 of the magazine History and Life. Do you have something to contribute? Write to redaccionhyv@historiayvida.com.


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James Joyce: The Revolutionary Writer Nobody Wanted to Publish

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