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Books  >>  Biography

Gordon Bowker

James Joyce

Gordon Bowker James Joyce A New Biography
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A revealing biography of one of the twentieth century’s towering literary figures

James Joyce is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, foundational in the history of literary modernism. Yet Joyce’s genius was not immediately recognized, nor was his success easily won. At twenty-two he chose a life of exile; he battled poverty and financial dependency for much of his adult life; his out-of-wedlock relationship with Nora Barnacle was scandalous for the time; and the attitudes he held toward Ireland, England, sexuality, politics, Catholicism, popular culture—to name a few—were complex, contradictory, and controversial.
     In James Joyce, Gordon Bowker, draws on material recently come to light and reconsiders the two signal works produced about Joyce’s life—Herbert Gorman’s authorized biography of 1939 and Richard Ellmann’s magisterial tome of 1959. By intimately binding together the life and work of this singular artist, Bowker gives us a masterful, fresh, eminently readable contribution to our understanding both of Joyce’s personality and of the monumental opus he created.
     Bowker goes further than his predecessors in exploring Joyce’s inner depths—his ambivalent relationships to England, to his native Ireland, and to Judaism—and uncovers revealing evidence. He draws convincing correspondences between the iconic fictional characters Joyce created and their real-life models and inspirations. And he paints a nuanced portrait of a man of enormous complexity, the clearest picture yet of an extraordinary writer who continues to influence and fascinate more than a century after his birth.

“[Bowker] offer[s] a less awestruck, more warts-and-all account of the writer’s life and character . . . Bowker writes clearly and forcefully . . . Gordon Bowker’s ‘new biography’ is well worth reading, even if Joyce comes across as brilliant but exploitative, admirable as an artist but often mortifying as a man. It’s not always a pretty picture, but it seems like a true one.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Gordon Bowker’s life, the first significant volume for more than 50 years since Richard Ellmann’s version, is a masterly example of how to trace the life of a writer, particularly one as difficult as Joyce. Mr Bowker begins by skillfully describing his early years in Dublin, filling in the background details of an Ireland which Joyce would draw upon, for the rest of his life, as material for his fiction. Mr Bowker evokes the dark and occasionally cramped conditions of the Joyces’ various family homes, and refers to meteorological reports, school timetables and details of Joyce’s father’s various mortgages, his biography meticulously researched. Out of these facts, a picture of a brilliant but troubled writer emerges . . . It is apt, 90 years after ‘Ulysses’ was published, that Joyce is celebrated on ‘Bloomsday’, June 16th. This biography is an excellent reminder of why he deserves such a celebration.” —The Economist

“It is a great boon that British biographer Gordon Bowker, who has written lives of Malcolm Lowry, George Orwell and Lawrence Durrell, should have taken on this task, and better yet that he has produced such a fine portrait of the artist and the man who was James Joyce . . . Instead of being daunted by Joyce having in a sense got there before him, Bowker makes this a strength, as he skillfully presents incidents and experiences both as they happened in life and, suitably transformed to varying degrees, on the page . . . the reader has the best of both worlds, being informed—or in the case of those already familiar with the books, reminded—both of the glories of Joycean fiction and of their roots in his life. Never reductive, genuinely attuned to both Joyce's fictive methodology and his human qualities, Bowker manages to be immensely sympathetic to his subject while managing to preserve necessary critical distance and acuity.” —Martin Rubin, The San Francisco Chronicle

“In his unfussy way Bowker gives a sound account of Joyce’s maturation as an artist, one who could weather the many vicissitudes, rejections, and appalling bouts of ill-health with which he had to contend . . . Gordon Bowker has written a solidly readable life of one of the great figures of the twentieth century . . . If it succeeds in bringing new and younger readers to these marvelous fictions, his book is to be warmly welcomed.” —John Banville, The New Republic

“Joyce himself emerges from these pages as oddly heroic in his seriousness and perseverance . . . The distance between Joyce the man suffering and Joyce magisterial at his desk seems large and mysterious. The story of his life, told here with verve and pace, nonetheless remains a fascinating version of making it new under the most severe pressures.” —Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review

“The biographer of Orwell, Lowry and Durrell returns with a massively detailed narrative of the life of the author of Ulysses. Bowker (Inside George Orwell, 2003, etc.) begins with several of the myriad epiphanies Joyce valued—the first, a moment when he was 16 and lost both his virginity and the Virgin (he decided that was fun, and no Jesuit priesthood for me). The author then announces his intentions—to show the complexities and contradictions of the man—and proceeds to do so in detail that is . . . impressive . . . Our guide is wise and the journey is wondrous.” —Kirkus

“Bowker’s splendid, insightful, and witty biography illuminates the connection between Joyce’s erotic imagination and humane spirit, offering a clear-eyed celebration of his perverse comic genius . . . Drawing on material published since the 1982 revision of Richard Ellman’s classic Joyce biography, including biographies of Nora herself and their troubled daughter, Lucia, Bowker . . . explores Joyce’s inner landscape, most of it shaped by Dublin and his Jesuit education. Bowker captures the human comedy that surrounded Joyce, describing Ezra Pound, whose review of Dubliners in 1913 launched Joyce’s career, as ‘Literature’s own fairy godmother.’ As Joyce’s reputation grew, he retreated into a circle of friends and family and the increasingly interior world of his writing. His last years were increasingly darkened by illness and concern for his family. Joyce thought his daughter Lucia’s strangeness was untapped genius similar to his own and fought to keep her out of the hands of doctors and clinics—egocentric in the extreme, but far from heartless.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Wonderfully detailed and gripping . . . It is different from most literary biographies because Joyce’s life and work are so tightly bound. Bowker sets it down: there would have been no Stephen Dedalus without James’ father, no Molly Bloom without Nora, no Leopold Bloom without Alfred Hugh Hunter . . . Here we meet the models for everybody . . . And the final success of this book is that when you snap shut the final page there is nothing your hand wants to reach for except a volume of Joyce.” —Chris Proctor, Tribune Magazine (London)

James Joyce by Gordon Bowker is the finest biography of the year . . . but this new work is a consummate and more complete understanding of James Joyce and the source of his inspirations . . . If you care about the making of a new language by the m


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