This is the only extant play by the great Irish novelist and 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.
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.