Eighty years ago this week, on January 12, 1941, James Joyce (Dublin 1882 — Zurich 1941), a great wordsmith, an Irish writer counted among the greatest of the twentieth century, fell into a coma following an operation for an ulcer performed the previous day. On January 13th, he died. He was less than a month from his 59th birthday.
After studying with the Jesuits of Dublin (Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College and University College), Joyce established a love-hate relationship with Ireland, the Catholic Church and the sons of St Ignatius of Loyola. He left Dublin to live in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris, but made his hometown the setting of all his literary work, from his early youth essays to the most famous novels such as Ulysses (1922) and Finnegan’s Wake (1939). Revealing a masterful command of English language and literary technique, Joyce complained that he had no imagination but only memory, and his interest was not in content, but in style.
“Joyce has a most g***damn wonderful book,” Ernest Hemingway said of Ulysses (R. Ellmann, James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York 1982, p. 531). It was a book written by someone who had once planned to become a professional tenor. Joyce wrote to his younger brother Stanislaus on June 11, 1905: “Sinico, a maestro here, tells me that after two years I can do so. My voice is extremely high: he says it has a very beautiful timbre.” (Letters of James Joyce, Vol. 2, Viking Press, New York 1966, p. 91). But, due to his impatience and the failure to pay his fees, his lessons with Francesco Riccardo Sinico (1869-1949), the most famous singing teacher of Trieste, were interrupted.