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James Joyce is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, his novels and stories foundational in the history of literary modernism. Yet Joyce’s genius was by no means immediately recognized, nor was his success easily won. At twenty-two he chose a life of exile; he battled poverty and financial dependency for much of his adult life; his out-of-wedlock relationship with Nora Barnacle was scandalous for the time; and the attitudes he held towards the Irish and Ireland, England, sexuality, politics, Catholicism, popular culture—to name a few—were complex, contradictory, and controversial.
Gordon Bowker draws on material recently come to light and reconsiders the two signal works produced about Joyce’s life—Herbert Gorman’s authorized biography of 1939 and Richard Ellman’s magisterial tome of 1959—and, most importantly by binding together more intimately than has ever before been attempted the life and work of this singular artist, Gordon Bowker here gives us a masterful, fresh, eminently readable contribution to our understanding, both of Joyce’s personality and of the monumental opus he created.
Bowker goes further than his predecessors in exploring Joyce’s inner depths—his ambivalent relationships to England, to his native Ireland, and to Judaism—uncovering revealing evidence. He draws convincing correspondences between the iconic fictional characters Joyce created and their real-life models and inspirations. And he paints a nuanced portrait of a man of enormous complexity, the clearest picture yet of an extraordinary writer who continues to influence and fascinate over a century after his birth.
“In James Joyce, Gordon Bowker does an efficient job of presenting the often bleak realities of Joyce's childhood. Since that childhood became the raw material of so much of his fiction, Mr. Bowker is wise to emphasize it . . . Mr. Bowker’s endearing advocacy—‘when [Joyce] wrote, all boundaries fell before the force and sweep of his imagination’—is touching and . . . revealing of truth . . . This is a well-researched, accessible book . . . Joyce is a powerful reminder that only one thing matters: the words on the page and getting them right. He worked hard at that task. It seems only fair that his readers might be asked to meet him halfway, as Mr. Bowker does, to his credit.”—Joseph O’Connor, The Wall Street Journal
“[A] deft, accomplished biography . . . It shows Joyce’s recognition of his creative vocation as a gift to the world, though it cost so much in the way of poverty, misery and mortification.”—Richard Davenport-Hines, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“No book on James Joyce goes half as far as this one in establishing connections between passages in the classic texts and incidents in the artist’s life . . . This study will be valuable to students as a summation of our current biographical knowledge of Joyce. It captures recurring features of his art [and] shows how difficult he could be even to his greatest admirers; yet it also evokes the heroism of a man who, confronted by poverty, ill health and endless uprooting, somehow found in himself the courage to write epics in celebration of ordinary people and the intricacies of their minds. It is in its way an example as well as an account of dignified audacity.”—Declan Kiberd, The Guardian (UK)
“Both learned and readable . . . There have only ever been three important biographies of Joyce, including the present volume.”—Edmund Gordon, The Sunday Times (London)
“Wonderfully detailed and gripping . . . It is different from most literary biographies because Joyce’s life and work are so tightly bound. Bowker sets it down: there would have been no Stephen Dedalus without James’ father, no Molly Bloom without Nora, no Leopold Bloom without Alfred Hugh Hunter . . . Here we meet the models for everybody . . . And the final success of this book is that when you snap shut the final page there is nothing your hand wants to reach for except a volume of Joyce.”—Chris Proctor, Tribune Magazine (London)
“This new book extends the record—and not only the record, but the entire epistemology of the Joycean discourse. Taking previous biographies and published records as a series of knowing but politicized texts, Bowker has restored Joyce to his contradictory, ambivalent humanity. Digging deeper into personal archives, Bowker explores the complex family background . . . [A] shrewd and highly readable biography.”—Thomas McCarthy, Irish Examiner
“The biographer of Orwell, Lowry and Durrell returns with a massively detailed narrative of the life of the author of Ulysses . . . The author announces his intentions—to show the complexities and contradictions of the man—and proceeds to do so in detail that is . . . impressive . . . Our guide is wise and the journey is wondrous.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Bowker’s splendid, insightful, and witty biography illuminates the connection between Joyce’s erotic imagination and humane spirit, offering a clear-eyed celebration of his perverse comic genius . . . Drawing on material published since the 1982 revision of Richard Ellman’s classic Joyce biography, including biographies of Nora herself and their troubled daughter, Lucia . . . [Bowker] explores Joyce’s inner landscape, most of it shaped by Dublin and his Jesuit education . . . egocentric in the extreme, but far from heartless.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)