Aspiring writer James Joyce meets his future wife, Nora, a lively, uneducated woman with little interest in literature, on this day in 1904. Joyce will immortalize this day in his masterpiece Ulysses, whose narrative unfolds entirely on June 16, 1904.
James Joyce was born in Dublin, the eldest of 10 children of a cheerful ne’er-do-well who eventually went bankrupt. Joyce attended Catholic school and University College in Dublin, where he learned Dano-Norwegian so he could read the plays of Henrik Ibsen in the original. In college, he began a lifetime of literary rebellion, self-publishing an essay rejected by the school’s literary-magazine adviser.
After graduation, Joyce moved to Paris. He resolved to study medicine to support himself while writing but soon gave it up. He returned to Dublin to visit his mother’s deathbed and remained to teach school and work odd jobs. On June 16, 1904, he met Nora, whom he convinced to return to Europe with him. The couple settled in Trieste, where they had two children, and then in Zurich. Joyce struggled with serious eye problems, undergoing 25 operations between 1917 and 1930.
In 1914, he published The Dubliners, and his 1915 novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, brought him fame and the patronage of several wealthy people, including Edith Rockefeller.
In 1918, his revolutionary stream of consciousness novel Ulysses began to be serialized in the American journal Little Review. However, the U.S. Post Office stopped the publication’s distribution in December of that year on the grounds that the novel was obscene. Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, where Joyce moved in 1920, published the novel herself in 1922, but it was banned in the U.K. and in the U.S until 1933.
Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, was published in 1939. Joyce died in 1941.