James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Rathgar, a wealthy Dublin suburb. His father, John Joyce, was an avid follower of Irish politics and a Catholic patriot. However, as time went on, thanks to the father's failed distillery business, increased unemployment and heavy drinking, the family's wealth and prestige diminished and they were forced to move to ever smaller residences in increasingly bad neighborhoods.
In the late 1880's Joyce was schooled at Clongowes Wood College at Clane, the highly regarded Jesuit preparatory school, where he was an excellent student. It was thought that he had a vocation to the priesthood. However, the cerebral young man's interest in the priesthood diminished as his interest in literature increased. He was particularly interested in the Irish Literary Renaissance and became, in time, highly critical of the conservative Catholic Church's influence on the people of Ireland. As a young man, disgusted by the bigotry of Irish Catholicism, he came to the conclusion that he would have to leave Ireland to become a successful writer. Otherwise, he believed he would become paralyzed mentally and emotionally isolated-like many of the characters he was to depict in Dubliners-until he wound up a miserable failure.
In 1902, after graduating from University College, Dublin, Joyce left for Paris to work as a journalist but returned the following year to see his mother Mary Jane Murray, an accomplished pianist and devout Catholic, once more before she died. He remained in Ireland for a while working as a schoolteacher but after only a year returned to the Continent once again with a chambermaid, Nora Barnacle, whom he didn't marry until 1931.
In 1905, he completed eight short stories that he titled Dubliners. However, the stores were not printed until 1913. In the intervening years, he met Nora, the love of his life, who was to greatly influence his subsequent work. James Joyce and Nora Barnacle had one son Giorgio, and a daughter Lucia.
Joyce published Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a serial between 1914 and 1915. After this, the famous modernist poet Ezra Pound introduced Joyce to the influential Harriet Shaw who became his editor and his biggest promoter. After the publication of Ulysses (1922) which details one day-June 16, 1904-in the life of an Irish Jew named Leopold Bloom as he wanders around Dublin, critics agreed that Joyce was beyond doubt a literary genius. Written in the modernist stream of consciousness style, the novel was praised for its highly inventive narrative style. However, Ulysses was banned in England and the United States on charges of obscenity. It wasn't until 1934 in the United States, and 1936 in Britain, that it was legalized. Joyce's final and seemingly impenetrable novel, Finnegan's Wake, was at the time considered to be a dismal failure and cost the author friends, admirers and money.
Writing Ulysses took a severe toll on Joyce's eyesight.
He was to undergo eleven eye operations in an effort to save his vision. During World War II, he moved to Switzerland, where in 1941 he died of a stomach ulcer.
During his career Joyce suffered from rejection from publishers, censorship, denunciations by critics, and massive misunderstanding by readers. Today he is considered a major twentieth-century writer. His short story "The Dead," in Dubliners, is considered by many scholars to be the finest short story ever written.