The only extant play by the great Irish novelist, Exiles is of interest both for its autobiographical content and for formal reasons. In the characters and their circumstances details of Joyce's life are evident. The main character, Richard Rowan, the moody, tormented writer who is at odds with both his wife and the parochial Irish society around him, is clearly a portrait of Joyce himself. The character of Rowan's wife, Bertha, is certainly influenced by Joyce's lover and later wife, Nora Barnacle, with whom he left Ireland and lived a seminomadic existence in Zurich, Rome, Trieste, and Paris. As in real life, the play depicts the couple with a young son and, like Joyce, Rowan has returned to Ireland because of his mother's illness and subsequent death.
One can also detect hints of Joyce's interest in Nietzsche in Rowan's flawed pursuit of total individual freedom despite the stifling morals of Irish society. Though wrestling with guilt over his own infidelities, Rowan insists on this personal liberty, not only for himself but for his wife as well, who he knows is tempted by his cousin's amorous overtures.
Joyce's decision to express himself in the form of a play no doubt reflects his long admiration of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In the tense dialogue, the largely interior drama focused on the characters' relationships, the undertones of guilt, and the longing for freedom one sees similarities with Ibsen's themes. Also the spare, understated writing style - so unlike Joyce's exuberant, playful, and experimental use of language in his novels - shows the influence of Ibsen's "naked drama" (as Joyce described Ibsen's style in a published review). Above all, Joyce emulated the Scandinavian master in making the central issue of his drama the conflict between individual freedom and a demanding, judgmental society. In Exiles the protagonists struggle with the choice between living in defiance of the rigid conventions of Irish society or exile from their homeland.
Though lesser-known, Exiles, written after Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and while Joyce was working on Ulysses, provides interesting insights into the development of the creative gifts of a literary genius.
About the Author
James Joyce, the twentieth century's most influential novelist, was born in Dublin on February 2, 1882. The oldest of ten children, he grew up in a family that went from prosperity to penury because of his father's wastrel behavior. After receiving a rigorous Jesuit education, twenty-year-old Joyce renounced his Catholicism and left Dublin in 1902 to spend most of his life as a writer in exile in Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zurich. On one trip back to Ireland, he fell in love with the now famous Nora Barnacle on June 16, the day he later chose as "Bloomsday" in his novel "Ulysses. "Nara was an uneducated Galway girl who became his lifelong companion an the mother of his two children. In debt and drinking heavily, Joyce lived for thirty-six years on the Continent, supporting himself first by teaching jobs, then trough the patronage of Mrs. Harold McCormick (Edith Rockerfeller) and the English feminist and editor Harriet Shaw Weaver. His writings include "Chamber music "(1907), "Dubliners "(1914), "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man "(1916), "Exiles "(1918), "Ulysses "(1922), "Poems Penyeach "(1927), "Finnegans Wake "(1939), and an early draft of "A Portrait of a Young Man, Stephan Hero "(1944). "Ulysses "required seven years to complete, and his masterpiece, "Finnegans Wake, "took seventeen. Both works revolutionized the form, structure, and content of the novel. Joyce died in Zurich in 1941.