James Joyce: A deft biography of one of the greatest voices of 20th-century literature

From The Telegraph:

Joyce-cover_1916618f “Sunny Jim” was James Joyce’s boyhood nickname in Victorian Dublin, and “Herr Satan” was the epithet by which he was known in Zurich during the final phase of his life. It is Gordon Bowker’s task, in this deft, accomplished biography, to explain how Sunny Jim became Herr Satan.

…Bowker begins with a vivid, elegant prologue focusing on three epiphanies in Joyce’s life: the evening in 1898 when the 16 year old was seduced on a towpath by a woman he had never met; the Dublin street scene in 1904 when he met Nora Barnacle, the muse who helped to change 20th-century literature; and a Sunday in 1932 when his daughter burst into madness on a Paris railway platform. Bowker ends with an equally stylish recapitulation of Joyce’s life story: a pious schoolboy who became an apostate and was persecuted by his fellow Catholics; an Irish nationalist who never revisited Ireland after the age of 30; a Modernist who drew his insurrectionary ideas from the past; a medical student, operatic tenor manqué, bank clerk, Berlitz language teacher, and the ill-starred pioneer of the first cinema in Ireland. Joyce was a shatteringly frank man who could be shockingly devious; a clown who was prone to livid indignation; an encyclopedist who lived in chaos; a man of staid habits who was condemned as a pornographer. Like many Irish when they were ruled by Englishmen, he could be sly and ingratiating with those with authority over him before suddenly turning angry, ungrateful and destructive. These jarring contradictions made Joyce’s “literary genius”, Bowker argues.

More here.

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