James Joyce

The Essential Works in One Sitting


By Joelle Herr

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 25, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Whether you need to get to know Ulysses in a hurry or are a long-time fan of James Joyce, this pocket-sized tome is the go-to reference, complete with comprehensive plot summaries and character profiles from his timeless works. Accompanied by illustrations throughout, the book also includes specially selected short stories and poems, reprinted in full.



James Joyce. Ulysses. Finnegans Wake. These words have sent countless shivers down the spines of even the most sophisticated (and degreed) readers for nearly a century. People tend to either love Joyce or hate him . . . well, not so much him as the, ah, let’s just say density of his works. I remember my introduction to Ulysses quite well: An English professor gave us (college freshmen at the time) a single photocopied page from it. Not a single sentence made sense, and we turned our attention back to the comparatively simplistic A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce was a modernist writer. Which means he was all about experimenting with language—with putting words together in new ways, including pioneering the whole interior monologue (Joyce didn’t like the term stream-of-consciousness) writing that both Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner would later adopt and perfect.

Joyce was also very big on puns. He liked playing with the sounds of words and, frankly, made up quite a few of them. Oh, and he knew a ridiculous number of languages. Finnegans Wake and Ulysses both feature words from more than fifty different languages. Prepare yourself for lots and lots of multilingual puns.

Of Joyce, Ernest Hemingway said, “I like him very much as a friend and think no one can write better, technically, I learned much from him.” Of course, Joyce had his critics, too. Max Eastman relegated Joyce to a group of writers he called the “Unintelligibles” (where he was kept company by Gertrude Stein and T. S. Eliot). Virginia Woolf, herself, declared Ulysses a “mis-fire.”

Like him or not, there’s no denying Joyce’s influence across all artistic media—none other than the likes of Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd, John Updike, and Salman Rushdie have all cited Joyce as a source of inspiration. Time magazine included Joyce on its list of the 100 most important people of the twentieth century, and Ulysses regularly appears near—or at—the top of lists attempting to rank the “greatest” works of English literature.

Bloomsday—June 16, the single day on which Ulysses unfolds—is celebrated the world over with readings, historical reenactments, and concerts. Earlier this year, the first Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake (just the first of four sections that make up the book) became a literary sensation, selling the first print run of 8,000 copies in less than two months.

You probably get it by now—the guy is important, and no doubt we’d all up our perceived-intelligence quotients by being able to toss out a few references to characters, quotes, or plotlines indicating an intimacy with Joyce. But who has the time to read Ulysses—or, gulp, Finnegans Wake. And, let’s face it, even if we did, we probably wouldn’t.

Today is your lucky day, folks, because you no longer have to feel guilty about never having read (or understood) Joyce. Nevermore will you need to strain to conceal a blank (or panicked) expression next time he’s brought up in your company. Perhaps you’ll even bring him up, yourself!

In this deceptively diminutive tome, you’ll find brief but thorough summaries, a couple of short stories, and some of his poems. You’ll also find interesting quotations, succinct character descriptions, and lots of fascinating facts and tidbits that’ll shoo off the cloud of intimidation that tends to hang around Joyce and his works.

Let’s get started with a little about the writer, himself.

James Joyce, ca. 1910.

The Life of James Joyce

On February 2, 1882, James Joyce was born to John and Mary Joyce in the middle-class Dublin suburb of Rathgar, eventually becoming the oldest of ten siblings. Despite the family’s dwindling wealth (due in largely to his father’s alcoholism, as well as his fantastic ability to fritter away money), Joyce was sent to boarding school at age six and went on to graduate from University College in Dublin with a degree in modern languages. (Indeed, apparently, he knew seventeen languages in all!) While his devoutly Catholic family would have loved to see Joyce enter the priesthood, Joyce left for Paris in 1902 to study medicine. (See also, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, page 128.)

When his mother’s health declined the following year, Joyce returned to Dublin. In June of 1904, he met Nora Barnacle—a former chambermaid from Galway, Ireland—and their love affair began. (Way, way ahead of their time, they would officially marry twenty-five years and two children later.)

In August, they moved to Croatia, where Joyce landed a job teaching English, but six months later, they moved on to Trieste, Italy, where they would stay for nearly ten years, during which daughter Lucia and son Giorgio were born. In 1906, his collection of thirty-six poems called Chamber Music was published in London.

1914 was a good year for Joyce—A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man began appearing in serial form in London’s Egoist, and his collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published.

Author James Joyce is shown with his wife, daughter, and son in Paris, France, in 1924.

In 1915, at the start of World War I, the family was forced to move to the safety of Zurich, where they stayed until the end of the war, at which point they moved to Paris, where they remained for nearly twenty years, palling around with fellow expats such as Ezra Pound (who had convinced him to move to Paris), Sylvia Beach (who eventually published Ulysses when no other publishers would touch it with a ten-foot pole), Ernest Hemingway (Joyce’s drinking buddy), and Samuel Beckett (who worked for a time as Joyce’s secretary).

Joyce never raked in copious amounts of cash from his publications. This, coupled with his reckless spending habits, meant that he and Nora lived a rather impoverished life, usually in cramped quarters, and often relying on the generosity of benevolent patrons who were fervent believers in Joyce’s genius. After seventeen years of laboring over it, Finnegans Wake was finally published in 1939.


On Sale
Mar 25, 2014
Page Count
240 pages
RP Minis

Joelle Herr

About the Author

Joelle Herr is a publishing industry veteran, with a bookworm’s love of literature. She has written abridgments of the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, and is now the owner of Her Bookshop, an independent bookstore. Joelle lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee.

Learn more about this author