James Joyce is one of the greatest writers in English. His first book, A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man, laid down the template for the coming of age novel, while his collection of short stories, Dubliners, is of perennial interest. His great modern epic, Ulysses, took the city of Dublin for its setting and all human life for its subject, and its publication marked the beginning of the modern novel. Joyce's final work, Finnegans Wake, is an experiment in narrative and language. But if Joyce is a great writer he is also the most difficult writer in English.
This Very Short Introduction explores the work of this most influential yet complex writer, and analyzes how Joyce's difficulty grew out of his situation as an Irish writer unwilling to accept the traditions of his imperialist oppressor, and contemptuous of the cultural banality of the Gaelic revival. Joyce wanted to investigate and celebrate his own life, but this meant investigating and celebrating the drunks of Dublin's pubs and the prostitutes of Dublin's brothels. No subject was alien to him and he developed the naturalist project of recording all aspects of life with the symbolist project of finding significant correspondences in the most unlikely material. Throughout, Colin MacCabe interweaves Joyce's life and history with his books, and draws out their themes and connections.
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