Joyce was born in Dublin, where his father was a rates collector. He was educated at a Jesuit school and University College, Dublin where he studied philosophy and language. When he was still an undergraduate, in 1900, his long review of Ibsen's last play was published in the "Fortnightly Review". At this time he also began writing his poems which were later collected in "Chamber Music", published in 1907.
In 1902 Joyce left Dublin for Paris, but returned the following year as his mother was dying. From 1904 he lived with Nora Barnacle, whom he married in 1931 (the year his father died), a son was born in 1905, and a daughter in 1918. Their home from 1905 to 1915 was Trieste, where Joyce taught English at the Berlitz school. In 1909 and 1912 he made his final trips to Ireland, attempting to arrange the publication of his first book "Dubliners", which finally appeared in England in 1914. It was during this time that he was contacted by Ezra Pound, a leading champion of modernist writers who helped organise financial payments to keep Joyce writing during his most poverty-stricken periods.
"Dubliners" is a series of short, interrelated stories which deal with the lives of ordinary people, whose actions are invested with a symbolic profundity. Joyce explores what would become central themes in his work: youth, adolescence, adulthood and maturity, and how identify is affected by these different stages in life.
The following year, Joyce wrote "Exiles", his only play, and went into permanent exile himself. He is taken, in fact, as the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it. The year 1914 was an intensely productive one for Joyce; he had two books in print and began work on his greatest achievement, "Ulysses". In 1916 "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" appeared (it had been published in serial form in "The Egoist" from 1914 to 1915), and established Joyce's reputation as a writer of genius. The fullest and most accomplished product to have emerged from the modernist movement in European literature, it presented the world of Dublin solely through the consciousness of the narrator, and charted his growth from Catholic boyhood to an early adulthood defined by a yearning to be an artist.
It was in this year that Joyce and his family moved to Zurich, where they lived in great poverty while he worked on "Ulysses," despite undergoing surgery on his eyes. It began to appear in serial form in the "Little Review" in 1918, but was suspended in 1920 following prosecution. It eventually appeared in book form in 1922 in Paris, where Joyce and his family had settled, in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, and was followed by an English edition of 2,000 copies, also printed in Paris. The first unlimited edition followed in 1924, again in Paris, but there was no American edition until ten years later, and no British edition until 1937.
The novel traces the experiences of Mr Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly (whose erotic reverie towards the book's close is what caused most of the legal difficulties) and the poet Stephen Dedalus from "A Portrait of the Artist" during a single day in Dublin in 1904. As its title suggests, however, the book is an epic, loosely analogous to Homer's "Odyssey", which is echoed in several episodes. Enormously long and complex, using a variety of styles - notably the 'stream-of-consciousness' method - "Ulysses" is one of the great literary achievments of the century, and has been described as the greatest novel ever written.
Joyce's other major novel, "Finnegans Wake", is even more uncompromising than "Ulysses", written in a language of his his own devising, a great mixture of linguistic fragments and borrowings. It was published in 1939, the year after the Joyces returned to Switzerland from France. Joyce died the following year. His reputation has grown immeasurably since his death, partly because of the growth in academia. He is the one novelist in whom we can be sure to place our absolute trust, the single figure we can also be sure will be remembered, if any are, in 1,000 year's times. As one critic famously wrote: 'James Joyce was and remains almost unique among novelists in tat he published nothing but masterpieces'.