• University of York

Reading James Joyce: Life, Place, Fiction

Explore the works of acclaimed 20th-century writer, James Joyce, his life, contexts, and his place in modern culture.

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Two doors from Dublin

Reading James Joyce: Life, Place, Fiction

436 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

Explore Joyce: Portrait of the Artist, Dubliners, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake

James Joyce was an iconic figure in international modernist literature, renowned for his formal and linguistic experimentation.

On this three-week course from the University of York, explore the works of James Joyce, from his early fiction to his later modernist masterpieces. Along the way, you’ll consider Joyce’s work alongside literary, social and ethical concepts, and the controversies his writing generated.

You’ll read alongside our team of expert academics, who’ll guide you through important moments in Joyce’s work and help to develop an understanding of Joyce in his historical and literary contexts.

Examine James Joyce’s life and most well-known works

Begin this course by examining Joyce as a young man, exploring Joyce’s early life, his influences, and the contexts from which his writing emerged. You’ll also review Joyce’s short story collection, Dubliners, and semi-autobiographical work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Dissect Joyce’s experimentalist approach and influence on modern culture

Explore Joyce’s more experimental works; first, his modernist masterpiece Ulysses, and then, the multilingual achievement, Finnegans Wake.

Along the way, think about Joycean forms, including the short story, Bildungsroman, comedy, epic, and dream writing, as well as Joycean themes, such as religion, colonialism, gender, race and revolution.

Grasp challenging concepts with literary experts

Throughout this course, you’ll feel supported by the University of York’s team of literary experts, specialists in Irish fiction, poetry, and drama.

You’ll also join an international cohort of like-minded learners and readers, offering new perspectives and insights into Joyce’s works.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds (Banjo music plays) In 1904, 22 year old James Joyce met a young woman from Galway called Nora Barnacle. Nora had left home to work in a hotel. James had just returned from a failed attempt to study in Paris. He asked her for a date on Thursday, the 16th of June. They would spend the rest of their lives together. Nearly 18 years later, the day of that first date was celebrated in Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, a novel about a life and a day or day in a life - of various men and woman wandering like Odysseus and his mariners by the sea, around the streets in the pubs of Dublin.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds This course is aimed at those who would like to read Joyce, while providing ways into this fascinating and enjoyable comic artist. Ulysses will be at the centre, but a team of internationally-recognised Joyce scholars at the University of York will examine all of his work, from the short stories of Dubliners to the great experimental, multilingual work of later years, Finnegans Wake. He will explore the Joyce of everyday life, even if that is never a simple business. Histories of art and literature recur, as do the complexities of relations between men and women, governments and citizens, and competing sources of identity and nationality.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds Above all, Joyce’s work is about a society in a small city on the western edge of European culture, suffering stagnation while hoping for change. And throughout his work, Joyce presses at the limits of fiction, at how we can write and what we can say.


  • Week 1

    Early Joyce

    • Welcome

      An introduction to the course objectives and a chance to think about how you will learn. There is also an opportunity to introduce yourself and meet fellow learners for the first time.

    • Joyce's Early Forms

      We begin by taking a look at Joyce's early work with Dr. J.T. Welsch. We will consider how works like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man demonstrate Joyce's desire to experiment with conventional literary forms.

    • Joyce and Autobiography

      We continue with Joyce's early works, looking at A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and thinking about Joyce's use of the autobiographical form with Dr. J.T. Welsch.

    • Joyce and Catholic Ireland

      In this section, we consider Joyce alongside the social, political, and religious context of the Ireland of his early life.

    • Joyce and Music

      In this section, we think about the role of sound and music in Joyce's work.

    • Looking Back and Looking Ahead

      Our final activity for the week rounds up the distance travelled so far, and where we are going next

  • Week 2

    Joyce and Ulysses

    • Welcome Back

      A warm welcome back to the second week of the course

    • Joyce and Homer: Sons and Fathers

      We start our second week by thinking about the ways in which Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, influenced the writing of James Joyce's modernist masterpiece, Ulysess.

    • Israel-Ireland

      In our next section, we think about one of Ulysses's main characters, Leopold Bloom, and the role that the character's Jewish identity plays in the text.

    • Ulysses and Popular Culture

      Ulysses is a novel of the everyday and popular culture plays a particularly important role in the novel. Dr. Hannah Roche explains more in this section.

    • A Comic Novel

      In this section, we will consider Ulysses as a comic novel. How and in what ways is Ulysses funny? Bryan Radley and Hannah Roche explain more.

    • Looking Back and Looking Ahead (again)

      Our week is almost at an end once more, but here is a chance to review your learning and see what's coming up next week.

  • Week 3

    Joyce: The Modernist Monster

    • Welcome back for our final week

      This week, we will focus on Joyce's final novel, Finnegans Wake.

    • Joyce writing women from Ulysses to the Wake

      The role of women and gender in Joyce's work is a complex one. In this section, we consider the ways in which Joyce wrote women.

    • Joyce, Beckett, Paris

      Joyce first moved to Paris in 1902, and it was a city that he would return to throughout his life. During his time in Paris, Joyce became friends with Samuel Beckett. Their relationship would be mutually transformative.

    • Disability, Madness, Lucia Joyce

      Joyce's daughter, Lucia Joyce, was a professional dancer and had a huge influence on Joyce's later writing. She also went through periods of mental illness and spent much of her life in psychiatric care.

    • Translingual Joyce

      Joyce was a transnational and multilingual writer. In this activity, we think about how these two factors influenced his writing.

    • The Final Curtain

      We now move towards the end of our time together, but there's still a final chance to reflect on the learning of the last few weeks before we exchange farewells

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

If you'd like to take part while our educators are leading the course, they'll be joining the discussions, in the comments, between these dates:

  • 15 Jul 2024 - 9 Aug 2024

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the life and work of James Joyce
  • Develop an understanding of Joyce in his historical and literary contexts
  • Assess the Joycean text in its traditional and innovative aspects
  • Apply key literary, political and ethical concepts in reading Joyce’s work (history, gender ethnicity, representation)
  • Discuss Joyce’s work, question it and develop literary understanding

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for enthusiastic readers and learners of 20th-century Irish literature. No matter if you’ve read a James Joyce novel before or are exploring his work for the first time, this course will help you break down complex texts with ease.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Industries. My teaching and research focus on creative writing, modernist literature, publishing, and intersections of literary and popular culture.

Hi, my name is Laurie! I'm a Graduate Teaching Assistant in English Literature at the University of York and am currently finishing a PhD on twentieth-century Irish drama.

Who developed the course?

University of York

The University of York combines the pursuit of academic excellence with a culture of inclusion, which encourages everyone – from a variety of backgrounds – to achieve their best.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 14 Aug 2024

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