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5 Fascinating Facts About James Joyce

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

James Joyce is perhaps most famous for penning Ulysses, a novel detailing a day in the life of a young Dubliner named Stephen Dedalus. As one of Ireland’s most well-known writers, Joyce has always been a source of fascination for people around the world.

And indeed, the Dubliners author led an interesting life. So let’s jump into 5 fascinating facts about James Joyce!

1. He began his writing career at age 9.

While young James Joyce didn’t make any money from his early writing attempt, it certainly shows that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. The story goes that in 1891, after his father lost his job, Joyce penned a poem that the elder Joyce loved so much he had it printed and distributed to all their friends.

No complete version of the poem exists today, but fragments point to Joyce equating politicians of the time with characters like Brutus and Caesar. He would later employ this concept of using old archetypes in modern literature when he wrote Ulysses.

2. He had bad eyesight.

Throughout his life Joyce would suffer from both monetary and medical discomforts. One of his biggest struggles were his eyes. Joyce had around two dozen eye surgeries during his life and often had to wear eyepatches—which forced him to use a red crayon when writing so he could see his work clearly.

His eye issues were the inspiration behind his daughter Lucia’s name—Saint Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.

3. He was friends with Ernest Hemingway.

James Joyce lived in Paris at the peak of the Roaring Twenties. Artists of the Lost Generation were drawn to Paris following WWI, and many, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, made their names and fortune there as writers. Hemingway met Joyce at the famed Shakespeare and Company and they often went out drinking together.

Hemingway speaks of Joyce in his book about his own Paris years, A Moveable Feast. The younger writer greatly admired Joyce and believed that Ulysses was a masterpiece.

4. He was considered a literary genius.

Many writers (like Hemingway) looked at Joyce as a literary genius and someone to aspire to. Even today, Ulysses is considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written. However, not everyone is a fan of Joyce’s work—many consider it top-heavy and pretentious—and it was no different back in Joyce’s day!

Writer H.G. Wells, famous for his science-fiction books, gave a rather harsh review of Finnegans Wake, decrying the heftiness of Joyce’s work and his ‘quirks and fancies,’ which Wells had no patience for.

5. He had some confusing final words.

In January 1941, at the age of 59, Joyce found himself admitted to a hospital in Zurich due to a perforated ulcer. These would turn out to be his final days as he soon slipped into a coma and died on January 13th. The literary titan’s supposed final words were as confusing and vague as some of his work: “Does nobody understand?”

Was Joyce referring to the meaning of life? His own books? Or perhaps mocking the human race? We’ll never know.

Have you read any of James Joyce’s work? What’s your favorite book or story?

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