James Joyce: A Biography

Tim Parks writes:

One of the embarrassments of literary biography is that nobody seems sure how we should talk about the relationship between a writer’s life and work, despite the fact that we are interested in the life, at least initially, only because of the work. A prevailing orthodoxy tells us that novels, poetry and plays exist quite separately from their creators and can properly be discussed only in critical essays that ignore the artist’s life and give short shrift to the idea that, however indirect, a piece of writing is always a form of communication between writer and reader. On the other hand, when we see behaviour patterns as constant as those in Joyce’s life, it’s reasonable to imagine that the work stands in relation to them in some way. We might think of a writer’s novels over the years as a form of extended conversation between author and readership, in which the author naturally seeks to assume the position he is most comfortable with.

(LRB 5 July 2012)