This first biography of James Joyce in more than a generation will serve as an important supplement to Richard Ellmann's famous study, focusing as it does on Joyce's Irish background and that of his family. Using recently discovered or previously overlooked sources, Peter Costello sheds new light on his subject while bringing Joyce - with both his flaws and his genius - to life in a vivid and memorable manner.
The theme of Costello's biography is the theme of all Joyce's work - the transformation of raw life into art. There are few writers whose early memories proved to be so rich a mine for the creative imagination that infused their work. In his fiction, Joyce's genius used the lives of the people close to him in Dublin at the turn of the century - their loves, their feuds, and their struggles to overcome hardship - to create the stories of his work. Costello has unearthed many real-life models for so much of what Joyce was to write in later years - John Casey, Emma Cleary, the Misses Morkan, and many others. Among Costello's most fascinating revelations is the discovery that one of the most famous characters in twentieth-century fiction, Leopold Bloom, derives not from a Jew but from a Belfast Presbyterian.
Costello's intimate knowledge of the city of Dublin - its culture, history, and politics - allows him to place Joyce's actions, writings, and convictions in their natural setting and to show Joyce, surprisingly, as an Irish cultural nationalist with very firm views about his country's struggle for independence.
With its startling revelations, James Joyce: The Years of Growth 1882-1915 interweaves the many strands of person, place, and time to create a brilliant new portrait of Joyce, the artist and the man. It is a major achievement, essential to our understanding of this towering figure of twentieth-century literature.
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Assimilating masses of published and unpublished sources and hearsay, this ``popular'' biography, according to Costello (The Real World of Sherlock Holmes, 1991, etc.), is ``radically new'' in reconstructing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.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
The author of an acclaimed study of Irish writing, The Heart Grown Brutal (1977, o.p.), aims in this biography "for the ordinary reader of James Joyce," to eschew the academic focus of Richard Ellmann's massive James Joyce (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1981. rev. ed.). The results are mixed: Costello traces every family connection and details all the minutiae of his subject's youth but fails to link the life lived to the genius of the works, concentrating instead on possible real-life prototypes for Joyce's characters. In trying to expand on Ellmann, Costello often spreads his facts too thin; the "Notes on Sources" don't adequately document all his conjectures. The work is buttressed by family trees, notes, bibliography, index, and illustrations (some misattributed). For general and special collections that already have Ellmann.
- Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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