In one of Joyce’s earliest stories, a character is described as having ‘an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense’. In his objectifying routine, James Duffy of ‘A Painful Case’ resembles Joyce; but whereas Duffy wrote concisely, Joyce doles out life sentences. His autobiographical habit imprisons his devotees, his work inviting literary biography, not on the grand scale, but, since he was obsessed with the trivia of existence, only minutely.
Joyce always knew that, by concentrating on the rhythms of daily life, he could foster those distinctive visions which he termed ‘epiphanies’. Consequently, his biographers eagerly wade through the minutiae of his urban existence: tram routes, planning applications, census returns, school rolls, old examination papers, in order to cast new