Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Notable Anniversary

On this day (January 13th) 1941, James Joyce, the Irish novelist and poet, died in Zurich, Switzerland. He was three weeks shy of his 59th birthday.

In what can only be described as breathtaking short-sightedness, the Irish Government reportedly declined an offer by his wife Nora to have his body repatriated to his homeland. Consequently, he is buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich.

Despite being an inveterate dipsomaniac, Joyce produced a considerable body of work in his lifetime, including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Finnegan's Wake and the collection of short stories Dubliners. Joyce's fondness of the odd drink did nothing to stem the flow of creativity nor did it adversely affect his work ethic - he once said that he spent 20,000 hours working on Ulysses, the stream of consciousness masterpiece for which he is best remembered.

Interestingly, Joyce and fellow modernist writer Virginia Woolf, the two writers most associated with stream of consciousness narrative, share more than a talent for experimental prose - they were also born and died in the same year (1882 and 1941 respectively). Unfortunately, Woolf, who read Ulysses while writing Mrs Dalloway, did not hold Joyce's offering in very high esteem. She wrote in her diary:

"I have read 200 pages [of Ulysses] so far - not a third; & have been amused, stimulated, charmed, interested by the first 2 or 3 chapters [...] & then puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples. And Tom, great Tom [TS Eliot], thinks this is on a par with War & Peace!"
A harsh critic, indeed!

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