In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section James Joyce

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Biographies
  • Letters and Manuscripts
  • Other Writings
  • Dubliners
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Ulysses
  • Finnegans Wake
  • Politics and Political Philosophy
  • Modernism
  • Irish Studies
  • Genetic Criticism
  • Women and Gender
  • Music
  • The City
  • Theory
  • Historicism and Cultural Studies
  • New Contexts

British and Irish Literature James Joyce
Liam Lanigan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0179


James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (b. 1882–d. 1941) was a novelist, short story writer, playwright, and poet. He is one of the preeminent writers of the 20th century, regarded as one the greatest innovators of the novel form and a central figure in the modernist literary tradition. That reputation has made him the focus of an extraordinarily large body of scholarship, covering an almost limitless range of topics and contexts, and often placing him at the center of key philosophical debates about the nature of modernity and of literature. Furthermore, due to his close association with some of the most prominent writers in Irish, American, and European literature, and his influence on writers from across the world, his work is read in relation to a wide range of cultural and literary contexts. His writing is intensely focused on the details of Dublin life at the turn of the 20th century, as well as navigating a deeply ambivalent relationship with the Irish Literary Revival of which he was both a fierce critic and a participant. Living in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich for much of his life, he was also in close contact with many Modernist writers, and he was engaged with the tumultuous political and cultural life of Europe. Though he dabbled in socialism as a young man and was, privately, very critical of the rise of fascism, his own political convictions remain somewhat enigmatic and the subject of scholarly debate. Indeed, a characteristic feature of Joyce scholarship has been how amenable his work is to co-option by diverse and often conflicting ideological perspectives. In part, this may be due to the encyclopedically inclusiveness in historical, cultural, and sensory detail of his most famous works. His works were at once a scrupulous account of the city of his birth, faithfully rendering the topographical and human life of Dublin at a particular moment in its history, and one that simultaneously laid claim to the sweep of human history and knowledge, Joyce once claiming that if he could get to the heart of Dublin he could get to the heart of “all the cities of the world.” This article aims to reflect the diversity of approaches to Joyce’s work, as well as disagreements that have defined debate around his work and its significance. The topics covered reflect several major areas of study that have defined critical responses to Joyce.

General Overviews

McCourt 2009 is the best place to start the study of Joyce, as it identifies in broad terms the major issues with which Joyce criticism has dealt historically while providing new insights into these areas. Attridge 2004 takes a similar approach and is more concise in its mapping of the contours of current Joyce scholarship. However, there are many collections of this kind, including Rabate 2004, which focuses on identifying new and emerging areas of Joyce research. Some of the works recommended here, such as Levin 1971, are primarily of historical value in understanding the development of Joyce criticism in its early decades; however, they remain both insightful and, as works of prose in their own right, significant accomplishments. More than most major authors, Joyce’s work is the subject of considerable debate over its accessibility to nonspecialists, and several of the works recommended here, such as Attridge 2007 and Seidel 2002, are specifically addressed to such an audience. More advanced readers may find Senn 1995 more rewarding, although his prose always remains jargon-free and accessible.

  • Attridge, Derek. How to Read Joyce. London: Granta, 2007.

    Accessible introduction to Joyce’s works for the nonspecialist reader. Discusses all of Joyce’s major works in succession and makes the case that they are a pleasure to read, despite their intimidating reputation.

  • Attridge, Derek, ed. Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521837103

    Essays on major topics in Joyce criticism, such as modernism, Ireland, sexuality, and consumer culture, on each of his major texts. Attridge’s introduction addresses some of the wider cultural and historical impacts of Joyce’s work and its role in shaping later prose fiction. Useful starting point for readers new to Joyce criticism.

  • Levin, Harry. James Joyce: A Critical Introduction. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

    One of the earliest comprehensive critical accounts of Joyce’s work, first published in 1941, this work is historically significant for its influence on the direction of early Joyce criticism. Elaborates on some of the major thematic and stylistic complexities of Joyce’s texts.

  • McCourt, John, ed. James Joyce in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Divided into three parts, focusing on Joyce’s life and works, theory and critical reception, and historical and cultural contexts. This is a comprehensive account of critical contexts for Joyce’s work, including thirty-two essays by leading Joyce scholars. Helpful overview of the current state of Joyce criticism.

  • Rabate, Jean-Michel, ed. Palgrave Advances in Joyce Studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    Guide to a variety of critical approaches to Joyce, with a focus on how various disciplinary approaches provide new insights into his work, such as geography, politics, and science. Includes a chronology and guide to further reading.

  • Seidel, Michael. James Joyce: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470693643

    Approaches Joyce’s work by focusing on the biography and preoccupations of Joyce himself, such as language, religion, and betrayal, as well as considering the narrative strategies of Joyce’s major works. Aimed at a general reader.

  • Senn, Fritz. Inductive Scrutinies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

    A collection of Senn’s essays on Joyce from the 1980s to 1995, focusing primarily on Ulysses. Covers a wide range of topics, illustrating both the author’s broad knowledge of the texts and the possibilities that they open up for readers. Senn’s central role in the history of Joyce criticism is hard to overstate, but he works mainly in essays and articles rather than books, and so this is an important introductory collection for understanding the development of Joyce criticism.

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