James Joyce - Part I: Dublin Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 5 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of James Joyce.
This section contains 1,751 words
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Family is always an important source of inspiration for Joyce's literary works; this reality goes back several generations. In fact, Joyce's father, at one point, takes special pride in the family's coat of arms. In this chapter, Ellmann describes the family history. Joyce is a French name and there have been other Jameses in the family. His grandfather has a happy marriage, with one son: John, James's father. John is in school briefly, but has to stop because of financial problems. He then goes to work at the shipyard. He spends some time beginning medical studies at Queen's College, but, though he is athletic and a theatrical star, he has to repeat his second year and fails his third. When his father dies, John inherits the estate and brings his mother into Dublin from Cork. John buys his way into a distilling company, which goes bankrupt. John then goes into politics and eventually is named Collector of Rates for life. He marries James's mother, Mary Jane Murray ("May"), in 1880, though she is ten years younger and their families oppose the marriage. They settle in Kingston. John is a funny and witty man and gets along well with everyone; James always has a fondness for him. The first child dies and then James is born. Eventually, the Joyces have four boys and six girls, with John Joyce taking out no fewer than eleven mortgages to support his ever-growing family.

Obsessed with his birthday, James is born on February 2nd, 1882 and baptized on February 5th. At this time, his parents live in a South Dublin suburb, but quickly move to a more fashionable part of town. His great-uncle comes to stay for a time, but is very political and always evading arrest. James's governess, Mrs. Dante, has an important influence on the young man. She almost became a nun, before inheriting money eventually stolen from her by her fiancé. She speaks often of Judgment Day and is very religious.

As a child, James is well-behaved, nearsighted and self-sufficient, though he often acts as the ringleader of the neighborhood children. He goes off to kindergarten, where his pleasant voice is remarked upon, and later to school at Saint Colman's College, a Jesuit school, where he has a hard time adjusting to the older boys' hazing but eventually moves to the head of his class and becomes an altar boy. School records from this period show that he is punished for vulgar language (his literary alter-ego in his fictionalized autobiography, Stephen, has a much more innocent nature). James writes many poems and has a talent for writing, but has to withdraw from school after his father hits a period of financial trouble. Though John has a pension, he also has many properties to upkeep. James studies by himself before spending two years at the Christian Brother's School. Eventually, the former rector of Saint Colman's arranges for him and his brother Stanislaus to attend Belvedere, an excellent preparatory school. Stanislaus, several years younger, idolizes his older brother. At the age of twelve, James wins a prize of twenty pounds for his academic study. At the same time, his father's nerves begin to go and he attempts to strangle his wife.

Between 1894 and 1898, the Joyce family begins to move, which they will do often. James often takes revenge on unkind or strange neighbors in his later books. He and his brothers spend a lot of time together. Stanislaus is known as blunt, athletic, and determined; Charles is jaunty; George dies young. Joyce's sisters are subdued, and James is by far the favorite in the family. He spends time going on long walks with his father, where they have grave and dramatic conversations. Meanwhile, James excels in his studies, starting Italian and winning exhibitions in 1894 and 1895. He is named a prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though he has relations with a prostitute around this time, he confesses to a priest, ostensibly "reforming." He begins writing prose sketches, which he calls silhouettes. In 1897, he wins another exhibition; by this point, he is a voracious reader, and loves Ibsen and other dramatists. Around this time, he begins to separate himself from Catholicism.

From 1898-1900, James continues his studies at the University College, Dublin, which is an institution for Catholic students, as opposed to Trinity College, which is for Protestants. He excels at English, has a passion for Dante in Italian and goofs around in his French class. He makes many friends, the most important of whom, Byrne, will remain a friend for many years. At this time, Joyce takes a stronger anti-Church position, speaking of it with disdain. He is not academically distinguished, separating himself more and more from his studies. Due to his family's financial troubles, they have to move often and come up with a variety of strategies to avoid eviction. James continues to develop his talent and appreciation for drama, contemporary materials, myths, and the "laws of life." He eventually publishes a review of Ibsen's newest play and receives, much to his delight, a complimentary letter from the dramatist himself.

From 1900-1902, Joyce begins to focus on Europe; his father gives him money for foreign books, even as the family struggles financially. Joyce travels with his father to London, where he has dinner with Archer, an important literary figure, who reads his work and finds it impressive if "impossible." Back in Ireland, Joyce undertakes a verse play, writing a long letter to Ibsen and translating works by Hauptman while writing essays and articles. He spends a lot of time with the Sheehys, childhood friends of the family. Around this time, his brother George dies of typhoid fever. James passes his courses but does not excel in them, giving talks at the college on various topics. At the end of his studies, he registers for medical school.

In 1902, Joyce begins to engage, to a certain extent, with literary and intellectual figures in Dublin, including George Russell and Lady Gregory. However, he is dismissive of famous authors and makes people uncomfortable. Russell eventually writes a letter on his behalf to Yates, though he is divided about Joyce, finding him conceited but impressive. Simultaneously, John Joyce has even more financial trouble, cutting his pension in half to buy a house, on which he takes a mortgage and eventually has to sell. James, with no money for his expenses, decides to undertake studies in Paris. He asks Lady Gregory for help; she suggests he study at Trinity, but he refuses. Eventually, she writes letters for him. Yeats begins to help Joyce with publishing his work, though he has his reservations about the young author.

In Paris between 1902 and 1903, Joyce has some trouble getting onto his feet. Yeats helps him some, as does a man called Arthur Symons, who helps him publish. Joyce tries to sign up for classes, but has a hard time navigating the bureaucracy. Finally, he is admitted, only to find that his French is not good enough and the school wants the fees paid right away. He makes some money teaching English, but not much, and goes home for Christmas, costing his parents a second mortgage on their house. At this time, he has a falling out with his old friend Byrne and replaces him with a new friend, Oliver Gogarty. He spends one month at home in total, eventually going back to Paris. There, he has lots of rejections of his work and is often hungry, receiving some help from his mother. He makes a lot of friends, taking a number of small trips and having numerous sexual relationships. His mother's ill health eventually worsens, however, and as he hears she is dying, borrows money from a pupil to return home to her.

During 1903 and 1904, Joyce's mother's illness is initially diagnosed as cirrhosis but is actually cancer. She is ill for a time, as John mortgages the house again. James makes up with Byrne and borrows quite a bit of money from Gogarty, who he helps with his writing. Both James and John drink a lot at this time and James has some problems with his brother Stanislaus, who is his rival and who never gets credit for his originality. Joyce's mother dies and the family is distraught. James reads a lot, receiving some book reviews to write, though he eventually has a falling out with his editor. He applies for a job at the National Library, which he does not get, and is offered a job at University College, which he refuses. He has the idea for "The Goblin," a newspaper he hopes to get funded by a millionaire, but which never worked out.

In 1904, the Joyce family becomes poorer and poorer. James's sister takes over the housekeeping. James, meanwhile, begins an early version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, called Stephen Hero. Ellmann spends some time describing the development of the hero, Stephen Dedalus. James shows the manuscript to some friends and spends most of his time sleeping, partying and writing. He briefly considers a singing career, entering a contest and taking lessons. However, though he excels at the contest, he storms off-stage when asked to sight read, which he is incapable of doing. Nevertheless, Joyce wins the bronze medal. On June 16th, 1904 (the date he later gives to the events in Ulysses), Joyce comes up with an important theory about Shakespeare's Hamlet, and he also has his first date with Nora Barnacle, whom he meets about a week earlier on the street. Poor and uneducated, Nora is witty and spirited. During their courtship, James nevertheless flirts with other women and confesses his (prior) sexual escapades to Nora, shocking her. Joyce keeps writing, selling some poems and working on the stories that will eventually become The Dubliners. He goes to live in the Martello Tower at Sandy Cove with Gogarty and an acquaintance called Samuel Trench. Their life there is free and easy, but James leaves after Trench takes a shot at him in his sleep, during a nightmare. Joyce walks back to Dublin. Later, Byrne encourages him to travel with Nora and James looks into teaching for Berlitz, requesting help from Lady Gregory, who gives him five pounds to get to Switzerland as soon as he proves to her that he actually has a plan. The five pounds takes him and Nora as far as Paris.

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