James Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer and poet who is regarded as the first modernist English writer. He wrote in a great variety of literary styles such as interior monologues, but most famously in what is called stream of consciousness. He is best known for Ulysses. His other well-known works are Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (referred to as Portrait in this article) and Finnegans Wake – all written before he was forty!
As Portrait is a semi-autobiographical novel, this article often cites extracts from it as they can shed light on this extraordinary human being.
The first thing that strikes one when looking at his chart is the large Ambivalence Rectangle with a Dominant Triangle reaching out to the great heights of innovation. It brings back to memory what my late mentor once said to me: There can be no great heights without great depths. But before we go into the depths, let’s look at:
The Structures of His Consciousness
Born in Dublin into a middle-class family, Joyce was the eldest of ten surviving siblings. He was a brilliant student despite the difficult family life caused by his father’s alcoholism and unpredictable finances. When his father was dismissed from work, the family’s slide into poverty started. Joyce was taken out of his now unaffordable school and put into the Jesuits’ Dublin school in 1893 – the same year his consciousness was opposed by Uranus in the stress zone of the 9th house, as if Catholicism went against his sense of freedom. Although the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas would have a lasting influence on his life, he would turn against Catholicism as he later wrote:
“Six years ago I left the Catholic church, hating it most fervently. I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me. By doing this I made myself a beggar but I retained my pride.”
The direct Medium Learning Triangle could cast some light on Joyce’s unease. His Moon is his strongest ego planet and it longs for creative learning, as implied by the quincunx to Mercury in Pisces. In 1891 when he was nine, his consciousness encountered Mercury, that energy at one angle of this aspect structure. He then wrote a poem on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell who had been removed from leadership by the Irish Party, resulting in the failure to secure Home Rule for Ireland. The Vatican’s role in this state of affairs left a lasting impression on the young Joyce.
Mercury is activated by Pluto in the 4th house where Joyce not only transformed literary traditions, but also changed his home country. In fact, when his Age Point encountered – in 1904 – Pluto in the 4th house, he took flight from Ireland because, as he writes in Portrait, “His destiny was to be elusive of religious and social order.”
In addition to Pluto, Joyce also has Neptune conjunct Jupiter in this house, suggesting that conventions are dissolved by the first, and turned into adventures by the second. Both planets trine Uranus, as if their workings in his consciousness facilitate that innovative view his mind longs for (quincunx between Uranus and the Sun).
At the beginning of 1904, he attempted to publish A Portrait of the Artist, an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, but it was rejected by what he had thought was a free-thinking magazine. His creativity and liberal views were not acceptable. He was indeed experiencing the low point of the 4th house. Ireland was simply not free-thinking enough for him, as he wrote in Portrait:
“When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
In this structure, Mercury trines Mars in Gemini in the 6th house, which paved the way for Joyce’s achievements in his work, his writing.
The retrograde Dominant Triangle seems to sum up Joyce’s lifelong learning: the vast views of Jupiter, the aesthetics on his mind (the Sun, hand in hand with Venus) and the innovation in literary landscapes (Uranus).
The Ambivalence Rectangle adds another level to his consciousness. According to the Hubers in Aspect Pattern Astrology, this structure represents the ongoing battle between pleasure and achievement. In Joyce’s case, it is based on the opposition between his sense of aesthetics – Venus in Aquarius – closely related to his philosophical mindset – the Sun in Aquarius – and his strong feelings (his strong Moon) which were constantly refined in the 8th house of delivering the goods with his writing.
The Sun (and conjoining Venus) are activated by the Neptune square, and vice versa, suggesting that his aesthetic thought was constantly inspired by his creativity, and vice versa. A passage from Portrait illustrates this Venus/Sun conjunction perfectly:
“…the true and the beautiful are akin. Truth is beheld by the intellect which is appeased by the most satisfying relations of the intelligible: beauty is beheld by the imagination which is appeased by the most satisfying relations of the sensible.
Besides, he had the right temperament for it. The surplus of earth (senses), air (thought) and fire (inspiration) is clearly discernible in another passage from Portrait:
“To try slowly and humbly and constantly to express, to press out again, from the gross earth or what it brings forth, from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand – that is art.”
On the enjoyment side of the above aspect structure, he could discuss his life philosophies with like-minded fellow students, lecturers and later with creative people such as Italo Svevo in Trieste and Samuel Beckett in Paris, amongst countless others.
On the achievement side, he could let off some of the steam of the opposition in Saturn, the Great Teacher who resides in his 3rd house of learning and whose demands of meticulousness had to be met. (Needless to say, he was an exceptionally bright student). Only then could he relate – via the quincunx to the North Node – to people sharing in his literary philosophies, which was the right way for his soul’s journey.
The opposition between the Sun/Venus and the Moon also affects the Dominant Triangle. His mental ego, fired up by Jupiter’s expansive and Neptune’s creative energy, longs for a breakthrough in the bigger picture of the 9th house where Uranus is in the stress zone, thus putting his innovative energy under constant pressure.
The Flow of his Consciousness
During the AP/Mercury sextile in 1898, his further education was facilitated when he enrolled at the recently established University College Dublin, studying English, French and Italian. His activity in theatrical and literary circles in the city was the first step in the right direction: into the 11th house where his North Node beckons.
In 1900 when his consciousness was filled with Jupiter’s adventurous spirit, his first review (on Ibsen) was published. As his Age Point moved through the 4th house, the Irish public got to know him when the article he had written on the Irish Literary Theatre was refused by his college magazine, but accepted by an Irish newspaper whose owner decried the censorship of the student James Joyce. It seems that Joyce then knew for sure what he had intuited: that his home country would stifle his adventurous, creative energy. Yet although he later left Dublin, his fictional universe would always centre on this town, and populated largely by characters from there.
After graduating from UCD in 1902, he left for Paris to study medicine, but he soon abandoned this. He stayed on for a few months, then returned to Ireland when his mother was dying. He now experienced the low point of the 4th house. Both he and his brother Stanislaus refused to kneel with other members of the family praying at her bedside. Joyce’s disregard for Catholicism was now clear.
He had also disagreed with a Catholic priest at the Jesuit School who wanted him to join the priesthood – although he was severely tempted, particularly after the harrowing confession of his sexual act in 1898 when his consciousness prompted his Moon in the 8th house of paying for one’s sins. But joining the priesthood was not for him, as he wrote:
“My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity – home, the recognised virtues, classes of life and religious doctrines.”
The Undertow of his Consciousness
Neptune is on the IC, the lowest point in the unconscious hemisphere, and is close to Jupiter. Is this what underlay the ‘flow of consciousness’ he became famous for? A flow of words, often unrestrained by punctuation as in this passage from Ulysses:
“And then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.”
In Portrait, a real interaction with a priest or fellow students is often followed by an internal monologue delving in the unconscious, be it of a religious, intellectual or sensuous nature.
Joyce believed his daughter, Lucia, was schizophrenic and took her to see Jung who concluded that they both were, but where she was sinking, he was diving. I believe this is due in part to the dissolution of the real (Neptune on the IC) enabling his Jupiterian expeditions into the lower, ‘unreal’ layers of the unconscious. In Ulysses, for example, countless references to a character’s psychic reality rather than to his physical surroundings are evident throughout the novel.
This is what makes understanding Ulysses and Finnegans Wake so challenging for the reader, unless he too has some insight into the lower levels of consciousness. Like Joyce’s friend Svevo who wrote the first psychological novel (in Italian) at the beginning of the 20th century – a novel his contemporary Freud would have written had he been more right-brain.
The Further Flow of his Consciousness
In 1904 when Joyce was brimming with the desire to change his country, thanks to the AP/Pluto in the 4th house, he went to Europe with his partner (and later wife) Nora Barnacle. For the next ten years, while his Age Point was traversing the 5th house and part of the 6th, he would hone his creative self-expression. He left Ireland at the end of the same year first for Zurich where the Berlitz School sent him to Pola and then on to Trieste where he would spend 16 years teaching English and writing Dubliners, rewriting Portrait completely and beginning Ulysses.
His Age Point was now traversing the 5th house of creative self-expression and making an impression on the social scene, going to opera and later to cinemas, to pubs where he drank too much, but had interesting conversations with artists, singers and writers. According to Stanislaus who had joined him in Trieste, Joyce was not only drinking too much, but also being frivolous with money. In fact, Joyce would depend on his younger brother for many years. His eyes were also beginning to give him problems, a condition which would require over a dozen surgical operations and often had him wearing an eye patch.
During the low point of the 5th house in 1909, Joyce returned to Dublin aiming to get his book, Dubliners, published, but failed in his attempt. His self-expression seemed to have failed him. He returned to Trieste and continued his writing while his Age Point traversed the 6th house of work.
1914, when World War 2 started, was also the time of the first major shift in his consciousness. He left Trieste for Zurich where he lived for 6 years, and then Paris where he would live for more than two decades. (As much as he loved Trieste, it was not central enough for a writer seeking recognition.) While his Age Point was moving through the 7th house, Joyce had close relationships with many literary figures in the city, including Beckett who became his assistant. Joyce now completed his most famous work, Ulysses.
Although he was gaining fame as an avant-garde writer, he was still poverty-stricken. Fortunately, he received financial support from various people during the long years of writing Finnegans Wake. It was published in 1922, just a year before his Age Point encountered his Moon, suggesting that it made his heart proud.
Joyce returned to Zurich in late 1940, fleeing the Nazi occupation of France. He died there in 1941 (aged 59), but his literary influence has lived on for almost a century. His work and life are still celebrated annually on Bloomsday (16 June), not only in Dublin, but in several cities around the world, and critical studies of his work continue.