13 Unforgettable James Joyce Quotes

Quotes from Irish writer James Joyce and his works

Portrait of Irish writer James Joyce
Portrait of Irish writer James Joyce. Getty Images/Culture Club/Hulton Archive

James Joyce is one of the most famous and controversial writers of the 20th century. His epic novel, Ulysses, considered one of the greatest books in Western literaturewas criticized and banned in many places upon its release. His other key works include Finnegans Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the short story collection Dubliners. James Joyce was born in Dublin, and although most of his works are set in Ireland, he spent very little time there as an adult. 

Here are a few famous lines from James Joyce and his various works.

1. "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

— "The Dead," from Dubliners (1914)

2. "'History,' Stephen said, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

Ulysses (1922)

3. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.
—"Araby" from Dubliners (1914)

4. "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."

Ulysses (1922)

5. "He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet's soul."

—"A Little Cloud," from Dubliners (1914)

6. "My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire."
Giacomo Joyce (1968)

"Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance."

Ulysses (1922)

7. "She dealt with moral problems the way a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind."
—"The Boarding House" from Dubliners (1914)

8. "The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails."
— A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

9. "The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works."
— James Joyce, by Richard Ellmann (1959). 

10. "Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

11. "When the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove."

—James Joyce, lecture: Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages (1907)

12. "Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why."
—James Joyce, letter to Fanny Guillermet, 1918.

13. "Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead."
—James Joyce, letter to Henrik Ibsen, 1901.

This is only part of our study guide on James Joyce. Please see the links below for more helpful resources.

  • 'Ulysses' Questions for Study and Discussion
  • James Joyce Biography