JAMES JOYCE by Edna O'Brien


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This new entry in the Penguin Lives series is a thumbnail portrait of the artist, from brash young man to old master of Modernism, from the acclaimed author of the Country Girls' Trilogy. On the edge of exile from Ireland in 1904, Joyce wrote to a dismissive Lady Gregory, ""Now I will make my own legend and stick to it,"" and so does O'Brien, with obvious passion for her subject. Told in compressed pocket-edition form, Joyce's life has a raucous picaresque atmosphere about it: penurious childhood, rebellious adolescence, ambitious youth, acrimonious exile, and notorious publication, along with ah impassioned marriage and a few literary masterpieces. O'Brien's description of Joyce's education by Jesuits and Dubliners deftly foreshadows his eccentric wandering character. Writing about Joyce, O'Brien often succumbs to the temptation to write like Joyce, which is fine for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but not Finnegans Wake (""icky licky micky red-light district""?). Nonetheless, between quotes and pastiches, she does provide a reasonable flavor of multifarious Joycean prose. For such a thin book, however, there are ah annoying number of inconsistencies and errors. For example, O'Brien misidentifies Henry Carr as playing ""a minor part"" when he was in fact castas Algernon in Joyce's ill-fated Zurich production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which led to legal action all around and a hilarious episode in Ulysses. Also, the apparently apocryphal origin of Joyce's stream-of-consciousness technique--arising from the author and his brother Stanislaus talking in their sleep--is presented at face value in one place, while elsewhere O'Brien also gives the more traditional antecedent, Edouard Dujardin. Joyce's eventual marriage to Nora Barnacle in 1931, 27 years after their elopement, goes unmentioned, although their union otherwise gets plenty of juicy detail. Just as Ulysses spawned numerous short guides, O'Brien's brief biography reads like a crib to Richard Ellmann's magisterial life: a quick, colorful outline for those about to tackle the real thing.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: ---
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Lipper/Viking