Joyce’s Exile: The Prodigal Son


The more-or-less settled version of James Joyce’s life paints him as a bohemian iconoclast who refused to conform to the conventions of responsibility demanded by middle-class society. A reconsideration of the published biographical evidence and a number of unpublished letters (now at Cornell University) exchanged with his siblings suggest that we should regard Joyce as much more conventional. The crucial years of his growth into maturity were 1903–1906, and, by the time of the infancy of his son, Giorgio, Joyce was settled into a life reflecting him as a steady, reliable, middle-class family man. Whatever rebellion he staged was more dramatic than substantive, and he surrendered it fairly quickly. Even Joyce’s abuse of alcohol has been over-emphasized, deflecting our attention from the immense familial responsibilities he undertook responsibly and with self-sacrifice. This biographical portrait supports a political interpretation of Ulysses such as that proposed recently by Declan Kiberd, who argues that Joyce promoted the principles of a well-ordered, public-minded social democracy