"Mix a powerful imagination with a logic in absurdum, and the result will be either a paradox or an Irishman. If it is an Irishman, you will get the paradox into the bargain."
James Joyce is at once Dublin's most local and most international writer. In his novels the city gains a universal identity like Homer's Mediterranean or Biblical Jerusalem, transcendental, yet ruthlessly realistic. Today his name is forever linked with that of Dublin
Joyce's formative years were spent against a background of constant upheaval. Originally well-to-do, his spendthrift father swept his large family into poverty, moving from lodging to lodging around the city. Joyce's home life stood in stark contrast to the comfort enjoyed by his schoolfriends at Clongowes and Belvedere and his colleagues at University College, and much of his youth was spent roaming the streets. His determination to escape was enhanced by what he saw as the introverted atmosphere of the Irish literary revival, which he denounced in a scurrilous broadsheet, The Holy Office, on the eve of his departure for the continent in 1904.
Joyce settled in Trieste with Nora Barnacle, the Galway girl who was to become his wife. Relations with Dublin were further strained when his book of short stories, Dubliners, caused a protracted argument between Joyce and his Dublin publisher, George Roberts. On Joyce's final visit to Dublin in 1912 Roberts destroyed the entire first edition and Joyce left the country for ever the next day. Disowned, as he felt, by Ireland, Joyce nevertheless acknowledged his Irishness throughout his exile. In Dubliners (published in London in 1914) and his autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) Joyce presented a meticulous warts-and-all picture of Dublin and his own family and social background.
Taking refuge from war-torn Europe in neutral Zurich, Joyce worked on the novel which would revolutionise world literature and make Dublin eternally his own. In Ulysses he reconstructed an entire Dublin day in June 1904 and made it the stuff of a modern epic, full of real people, real places, real names and topical allusions. The modern Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, steers his way through a city which is by turns beguiling, hospitable or oppressive. Although Joyce's candid descriptions of human organs at work caused the book to be banned in Britain and the United States for many years after its publication by the courageous Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922, Ulysses earned him international acclaim.
Joyce, who had moved to Paris in 1920, was based there for nearly twenty years. He became a famous but elusive figure avoiding interviews and public appearances and resolutely maintaining his independence of any movement, political, social or literary, which tried to claim him. Devoted to his immediate family - his wife Nora, his children Giorgio and Lucia, and later Giorgio's wife Helen and their son Stephen - he also brought with him a collection of family portraits, inherited from his father, every time he changed his apartment (at least an annual occurrence).
Surrounded by a select circle of friends, he worked for seventeen years on his last novel, the complex masterpiece Finnegans Wake, in which Dublin is once again the centre of the universe and the theatre of all human history. Finnegans Wake appeared in May 1939, on the eve of the war and the occupation of France. The Joyces sought refuge in Vichy and finally got permission to return to Zurich in December 1940. A month later Joyce was taken ill, and died of peritonitis on 13th January 1941.
Source: James Joyce Centre www.jamesjoyce.ie
Samuel Beckett was born in Cooldrinagh, Foxrock, Co Dublin, Ireland into a prosperous Protestant family in 1906. His father, William Beckett Jr., was a quantity surveyor. His mother, Mary Roe, was a nurse. He was educated at the Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a B.A. degree in 1927, specializing in French, Italian and English.
In 1928 Beckett moved to France and lectured English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. It was at this time that he was introduced to James Joyce by Thomas Macgreevy. He eventually became a good friend to the older Joyce, and assisted with taking dictation and copying down parts of what would eventually become Finnegans Wake.
In 1931 Beckett returned to Dublin and received his M.A. in 1931. He taught French at Trinity College until 1932 when he resigned, moved back to France and devoted his time entirely to writing. Among his early works were: Dream of Fair to Middling Women, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy.
In January 1938, beckett was stabbed by a pimp who had solicited for money. It was while recovering in the hospital that he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil and they got married in 1961. After he had fully recovered, Beckett had visited his assailant in prison. His enquiry on the boy's reason for his action was meant with an inconsequential response: "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur" ("I do not know, Sir"). This grim state of incomprehensibility and Nihilism was to define the state of mind of Beckett's characters, who were mainly the Common man: vagrants, pimps, tramps and the dregs of the society.
Thereafter, Beckett wrote copiously. Among his many later works were the famous triology: Malloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. However, it was his plays: Waiting for Godot (1952), Endgame (1957) and Krapp's Last Tape (1959), that were to bring him world acclaim and establish him as one of the foremost masters of literature. But Beckett is most famous for Waiting for Godot.
In the traditional theatre, the style of theatre production was naturalism and realism. Then, drama, either written or performed, aimed at capturing life realistically. And for a long time, it was this realistic mode of dramatic representation that defined theatre and theatrical convention, and also the standard and criteria with which most plays were judged to be either good, or bad, or ugly. Beckettian theatre, came to challenge this realistic mode. It presents an alternative to theatre as an instrument of naturalistic and narrative conventions, and invariably become an instrument for the expressions of anti-literary attitude:
The aesthetic construct of Beckettian theatre is that it does not "rely on the traditional elements of drama. He trades in plot, characterization, and final solution.... Language is useless, for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the unexpressable. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly."
Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. The quotation above is an extract from his Nobel Prize award citation. Beckett continued to write until his death on 22nd December 1989.