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-"This ought to keep the professors busy for a hundred years!"
James Joyce, after publishing Finnegans Wake. Damn it all to hell, the bastard was right.


Well hello there. I wrote you a letter.

James Joyce (Irish: 1882-1941), likely the most influential writer of the 20th century. If you think that's a bit hyperbolic, in 1998, Modern Library ranked Ulysses No. 1, and A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man No. 3, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

To those seeking a simple description of Joyce's work, "modernist" is most often applied, though Joyce more defined the term than followed it. Although he lived most of his adult life away from Ireland, his work is almost entirely Irish in tone, manner and location.

Excepting various short stories and poems, and a play called Exiles that virtually no one reads, Joyce's CV is four works long, yet all of them are considered highly important works and present in many reading lists of college literature:

  • Dubliners (1914): a collection of short stories about some Dubliners.
  • A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man (1916): A mostly autobiographical, coming-of-age story. It occasionally veers into Ulysses-like stream of consciousness, but to students who read (or try to read) Ulysses first, it's a surprisingly catchy page-turner, maybe even a "conventional" novel. (That rumble you hear is Joyce spinning in his grave.)
  • Ulysses (1922): Love It or Hate It, Ulysses is a defining novel of the 20th century. The plot? Leopold Bloom and his wife and some friends have experiences on 16 June 1904, known now as "Bloomsday". Simple, right? Ha. It's dense, delphic, hydra-headed, with multiple story lines mixed together like a bowl of spaghetti. Even Joyce himself later admitted he may have overcooked it. Nonetheless, to a determined student of literature, it can be a hugely rewarding undertaking.
  • Finnegans Wake (1939): Whereas Ulysses broke some rules and bent the rest, Finnegans Wake absolutely obliterated every single one. We would try to provide a useful description, but we'll let Mr. Joyce himself try to make the case:

 And that was how the skirtmisshes began. But the dour handworded her grace in dootch nossow: Shut! So her grace o'malice kidsnapped up the jiminy Tristopher and into the shandy westerness she rain, rain, rain.


Real world wearer of an Eyepatch of Power. He died and was buried in Zurich.

Joyce's works contain examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Farrington in Dubliners's "Counterparts", receiving a surprisingly sympathetic, Anti-Villain-like portayal.
  • Anti-Hero: Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.
  • Author Avatar: Dedalus, whose first book wasn't called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for nothing; and to a lesser extent, HCE from Finnegans Wake.
  • The City: Joyce claimed that if it was destroyed you could rebuild Dublin from the detail in Ulysses.
  • Beige Prose: Dropped in, as if from nowhere, late in Ulysses.
  • Crapsack World: It's obvious Joyce did not have a very fair opinion of his native Dublin or its inhabitants, but the exhaustive descriptions in Ulysses verge on Scenery Porn.
  • Creator Provincialism: All of Joyce's work is set in Dublin or the surrounding area, though he spent most of his adult life on the Continent.
  • Deconstruction: Novels as an entire art form and English as a language, starting small with Portrait of an Artist then going for broke with Finnegans Wake.
  • Defictionalization: in Ulysses, all the locations are real, some still exist, and real-life Dubliners crop up as characters with their real names.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: the riffs on Homer's Odyssey are integral to understanding Ulysses.
  • Gender Bender: In one of Bloom's internal dialogues in Ulysses, he is turned into a woman and raped by the Brothel Madam, who has turned into a male ringmaster.
  • Genre Shift: This trope pops up in Portrait, then rules the day in Ulysses.
  • Guide Dang It: In Ulysses and especially Wake, spoilers and annotations are often necessary to get what the hell is going on.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Wake could be the trope namer.
  • In Dublin's Fair City
  • Kavorka Man: Blazes Boylan in Ulysses.
  • Mad Artist: Carl Jung read Ulysses and concluded that Joyce was schizophrenic. (His reaction to Finnegans Wake has apparently gone unrecorded.)
  • Meaningful Name: Dedalus, Bloom, HCE, etc.
  • Mind Screw: Some of Portrait, most of Ulysses, all of Wake.
  • Oireland: Subverted, except for the ones Joyce confirms.
  • Portmanteau: Wake could be the trope namer.
  • Reset Button: Again, Wake could be the trope namer. Check out the first and last "sentences".
  • Rule of Symbolism: Used in Portrait, almost overdone in Ulysses, worn to a nub in Wake.
  • Shout-Out: At some point, to almost every major novelist and poet in the history of western literature.
  • Spiritual Sequel: Read Portrait, Ulysses, and Wake in that order.
  • Trope Namer: One of the countless throwaway words in Wake, "quark", is used in particle physics.
  • Twice-Told Tale
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Leopold Bloom and Molly.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Joyce assumes his readers possess quite a bit of intuitive insight.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: In almost everything he wrote, biblical and Homeric allusions and Shout Outs.
  • Written Sound Effect:
    • The thunderclap in Wake:


    • "mrkgnao" for the noise a cat makes, in Ulysses.