In this leisurely and engrossing study of the connections between geography and genius, McCourt (Literature/Univ. of Trieste) traces the influence of Trieste upon James Joyce’s imagination and literature.
When the Zurich Berlitz School failed to hire Joyce in 1904, he and his (common-law) wife Nora Barnacle traveled to Trieste and remained there far beyond their initial plans. McCourt investigates Joyce’s time in the city, from his arrest with drunken sailors on his first day to his final departure for Zurich in 1920. With a majority population of Italians and a minority population of Austrians and Slavs, Trieste teemed with polyglot personality (and sometimes tension) in the years prior to WWI. Examining the details of Joyce’s life in this bustling port, McCourt describes the ways in which the city influenced the creation of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake. McCourt is a well-trained and gifted reader of Joyce, and the marriage of his nuanced textual interpretations to his historical knowledge of Trieste results in a sharp, lively, and erudite reconsideration of Joyce and the effects of his years in Trieste. Artistic and political movements, including continental socialism and futurism, wafted through the city streets, challenging Joyce’s perceptions of himself and his writing. In addition to the scholarly acumen McCourt brings to this biography, he portrays the intimate details and human foibles of Joyce with kindly and humorous sketches. Ups and downs with Nora, the children, and brother Stanislaus, trips to Dublin, Pola, and Rome, and hassles with his publishers allow the reader to meet Joyce at his best and his worst, and thus to get a rounder vision of the man.
Escaping the lure of hagiography, McCourt’s clear vision allows both the specialist and the general reader to learn from his insights in an engaging and inviting fashion.