5 Fascinating (and Baffling) Facts About James Joyce

James Joyce was born February 2, 1882, and was one of the great writers of the 20th century. Described as both a "sinister genius and uncertain talent", Joyce became known for masterpieces like Dubliners, A Portrait of an Artists as a Young Man, and, perhaps his most famous (or infamous, depending how you look at it) novel, Ulysses.

Despite being a rather low-key character, James Joyce managed to transform himself into a myth through his mythological work. In honor of his birthday today, read on for 5 fascinating facts about this Irish master of prose.



1. There's a holiday based on Ulysses


Ulysses is like Moby-Dick in a lot of ways; it has a bit of a reputation, people love to talk about it, and few ever read it. Set in Dublin over the course of a single day, June 16th 1904, Ulysses is a stylistically dense modern parallel of Homer's Odyssey. Due to its exciting history (it was banned at one point for being too 'obscene') and iconic literary status, Ulysses eventually garnered its own holiday named Bloomsday after one of the book's protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Care to guess which date Bloomsday falls on? That's right, June 16th!



2. Joyce was an English teacher


Despite his status as a brilliant writer, James Joyce suffered from money problems for most of his life. Unable to support himself and his family on his writing alone, Joyce took up work as an English teacher at a Berlitz language school. Considering that languages were one of his great passions, Joyce was well suited for the job. He had a knack for languages and English was one of 17 he could speak, including Greek, Arabic, and Italian. In fact, he loved the playwright Henrik Ibsen so much he learned Norwegian just so he could read his works in their original language!

3. Joyce had terrible eyesight


Money wasn't the only thing Joyce struggled with, he had a dearth of health problems that seemed to multiply as time went on. James Joyce suffered from issues with his eyes, which led him to have 12 eye surgeries during his lifetime. His eyesight grew so bad it forced him to wear a patch over one eye and write on large sheets of white paper using a red crayon. His many struggles with his sight also inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after the patron saint of the blind, St. Lucia.



4. Ulysses was published by an unknown publisher


Initially, Jame Joyce released his masterpiece Ulysses as a serial in an American magazine called Little Review. However, before the entire book could be serialized the magazine was hit with a costly obscenity lawsuit and Ulysses was banned in the United States for the same reasons. When Joyce began looking around for someone to publish the whole manuscript, he struggled to find a publisher willing to take on the risk. It was his friend Sylvia Beach, owner of the Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, who finally agreed to publish his groundbreaking novel.

5. His final words were as confusing as his work


In early 1941 Jame Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital for a perforated ulcer. Unfortunately, following his surgery Joyce slipped into a coma and eventually died on January 13, 1941 at the age of 59. His supposed final words, just before he lost consciousness, were, "Does nobody understand?". These three words seem particularly fitting considering the abstract, modernist nature of his books—some of which continue to baffle experts to this day.



Have you read Ulysses?

What about James Joyce's other works?

Tell us your favorite work by Joyce in the comments below!

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