In continuing my series of features on the writers that have influenced my writing, I will no longer beat around the bush and get on with number one. He was an Irishman, born in Dublin, who left the island at the age of twenty-two, intent on never returning. Aside from a short trip to Galway, he kept that intention true. His works, however, suggested that perhaps he never really left.
Writer: James Joyce
My Personal Favorite Works: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Dubliners
Influenced Writers: Samuel Beckett, William Faulkner, Anthony Burgess, Sylvia Plath
James Joyce once said that he wrote about simple topics using difficult techniques. It is quite true. If we are to split daftly the topics of Joyce into three parts, they would be family, religion, and country. We can then place those three topics under one umbrella labeled "self-exile." The interesting thing about reading the four books of Joyce's oeuvre (I, like many Joyceans, leave out his play and two poetry collections) is that we can see easily the progressions of Joyce as a writer. We begin with the short story collection Dubliners, rife with feelings of discontent and disconnect from one's family, religion, and country. These stories were written in exacting prose, with no word out of place. His next work, the autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, brings the focus from the citizens of Dublin to just one citizen, a student named Stephen Dedalus. Ironically, I find this novel about a young artist to be Joyce's most mature work. Like Dubliners but even more so, Joyce observes Stephen's discontent and eventual self-exile from family, religion, and country.
Needless to say, things get interesting with Ulysses. The same topics are under the microscope but are this time examined through numerous writing styles and techniques. The progression is evident from the start, as the novel carries on the narrative style of Dubliners and A Portrait before blending in other techniques, such as interior monologue, epic drama, and the parodying of writing styles before him: Elizabethan, Anglo-Saxon, Victorian, and even the structure of classical music. By the time Joyce decided what his next work would be ("I think I will write a history of the world"), he declared that he was "done" with the English language and set about developing the style that would infamously make up Finnegans Wake. With the Wake, his topics of family, religion, and country became his characters, and through the blending, metamorphosing, and punning of language, he was able to pack multiple aspects of family, religion, and country, into every page, paragraph, and word.
Joyce's influence, most notably his execution of style, can be found in the prose of Samuel Beckett (Molloy) and William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury). Anthony Burgess has written studies on Joyce (Re Joyce and Joysprick), and Sylvia Plath even wrote her college thesis on Joyce's work.