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JAMES JOYCE by Peter Costello


The Years of Growth 1882-1915

by Peter Costello

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-42201-3
Publisher: Pantheon

 Assimilating masses of published and unpublished sources and hearsay, this ``popular'' biography, according to Costello (The Real World of Sherlock Holmes, 1991, etc.), is ``radically new'' in reconstructing Joyce's early years--the social, political, cultural, and domestic life; the family, friends, education, and economic circumstances that provided the prototypes and themes of his fiction. Although he believes that biography is ``a form of higher fiction,'' Costello offers few flights of fancy in his cautious demonstration of the relation between art and life. Indeed, he treats the life much like Joycean critics treat the fiction, assigning multiple and dark meanings to virtually everything, especially to those defining moments Joyce called ``epiphanies.'' Discussing Joyce's being bitten by a dog when he was five, for example, Costello extrapolates to the writer's lifelong aversion to dogs and ``reverence'' for cats, and his discovery--in the pharmacist who treated him--of a model for the high-school science teacher in Ulysses. And then there's Joyce's confusing pain and love, which Costello says came from the ``bizarre but not unlikely'' experience of being punished by having a toilet flushed on his head. The author offers vivid explanations of the writer's life at Bray, his Jesuit education, his sexual growth, his intellectual life, his spiritual struggles, and--detailed in a brief prologue--his life in exile following the publication of Ulysses. Costello especially admires Nora (who saved Joyce from becoming ``just another drunken failed poet''), but he depicts the couple's life together mostly as a record of places they lived and of what Joyce wrote there, of how he earned (or failed to earn) a living. The most Joycean parts of the book are in the appendices: Joyce's ``genetic make-up'' traced to his great-great-grandparents; complete genealogies, including the ``pedigree'' of Stephen, the last surviving Joyce; and a horoscope. Of interest, then, though Richard Ellmann's James Joyce remains the definitive life. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs.)