1. James Joyce was born in the same year as another notable modernist writer, Virginia Woolf. But the similarities don’t end there. Both were born in 1882, but both writers also died in the same year, 1941. Both wrote landmark modernist novels, published in the 1920s, whose principal action takes place over just one day in mid-June (the novels in question are Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway). Both pioneered the stream of consciousness technique associated with modernist writing.
2. James Joyce was scared of thunder and lightning. Joyce’s fear of thunder and lightning – the technical name for which is astraphobia – stems from his childhood, when his fervently Catholic governess told him that thunderstorms were God manifesting his anger. This fear stayed with Joyce into adulthood. It even probably helped to inspire a 100-letter word which Joyce coined in his final novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), Bababadalgharaghtakamminapronnkonnbronntonnepronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordeenenthurnuk, which appears on the first page and is meant to designate the symbolic thunderclap that accompanied the Fall of Adam and Eve.
3. He gave us the word ‘quark’. This word for a subatomic particle was taken from Finnegans Wake, where three seabirds give the cheer to King Mark: ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark!’ Physicist Murray Gell-Mann liked the word, and so proposed it for the particle in the 1960s. One of the other suggestions, favoured by Richard Feynman among others, was ‘parton’ – though whether Dolly was the inspiration here is unclear.
4. His masterpiece, Ulysses, was published on his fortieth birthday – and wasn’t. In fact, much of the novel had already appeared in print in two magazines, the Little Review and the Egoist, by the time the novel was published by Shakespeare & Company on 2 February 1922. (Joyce very deliberately made the publication of the novel coincide with his own birthday.) And even then, only two copies actually appeared on that day: these were whisked to Paris by morning train to Sylvia Beach, who ran the publishing house. Beach kept one copy, while Joyce took the other copy out with him to mark the occasion. We covered the interesting story behind Joyce’s Ulysses in an interesting post last year.
5. Joyce met fellow novelist Marcel Proust for a disastrous dinner in 1922. This was the year that Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses was published (and the year Proust died, in November; the meeting took place in May). The two writers spent the meal discussing their ailments, before eventually admitting that they hadn’t read each other’s work. Also present at this historic dinner party – which took place on 18 May 1922 – were Picasso and Stravinsky.