cover image James Joyce: 
A New Biography

James Joyce: A New Biography

Gordon Bowker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-374-17872-7

I guess the man’s a genius, but what a dirty mind he has,” Nora Barnacle said after reading Ulysses. For “dirty,” substitute Joyce’s view of the human condition as comedy: Rabelaisian, rather than divine. 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. Joyce was an apostate Catholic who still considered himself a Jesuit, a permanent “exile who never left Dublin,” and an extreme egotist. 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 (Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry) 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. Photos. Agent: Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober Associates. (June)