Only someone with a classical education can understand what motivated James Joyce, for the modernist within him resisted any neat clarification. Perhaps Samuel Becket alone was capable of residing in a world inhabited by Joyce. How else to say it: Joyce hated being Irish! The shame intrinsic to colonial life was insurmountable.
The first full biography of Joyce was written in 1959, Richard Ellman’s classic ‘James Joyce’ remains the standard to this day. Ellman reveals three events that serve as epiphanies to unlock the mad genius that drove Joyce. The first event was a sexual experience as a sixteen old boy with a prostitute, ‘pulled to the ground and deftly seduced.’ That pull, that fall, was transformational in how it ushered Joyce in the life of Darkness unyielding. The second event that dominated the life of Joyce happened on June 09, 1904 when he met Nora Barnacle in Dublin. The third was the violent crise de nerfs suffered by his troubled daughter Lucia at the Gare du Nord in Paris while waiting to board the boat train for England. Heady stuff indeed.
Remember Bernard Malamud’s line ‘all biography is ultimately fiction.’ This is what is required when one tries to read anything biographical about Joyce. For any biography of Joyce must take up thread bare fabrics of a life composed of scattered correspondence, journal entries and interviews with acquaintances; a weave of strands unbecoming a great writer. This growing void only accompanies the obstructionism of the Joyce estate. Stephen Joyce, the grandson of James and executor of Joyce’s literary estate continues to provide entrenched hostility to any attempt to bridge the lacunae.
Perhaps Carl Jung’s correspondence with Joyce in light of counseling his daughter can bring much light on the dynamics that drove the madness of King James.
In the end, Joyce cannot BUT be presented as a tired and broken figure, worn down by the constant drip of domestic concerns he was unable to master: money, domestic strife, health problems, and the strain of Lucia’s increasingly uncontrollable behavior. Any true glimpse of Joyce must content with a remote, self absorbed, careless parent, completely absorbed to the devotion of writing. The social, spiritual and moral impact of such a parent in undeniable in its ruthlessness. Jung was right. The damage to Nora, Lucia and other ‘loved ones’ reveals the primacy of secular values devoid of grace. A life fit for a modernist.