|A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: (A Modern Library E-Book)
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Published in 1916, James Joyce's semiautobiographical tale of his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, is a coming-of-age story like no other. A bold, innovative experiment with both language and structure, the work has exerted a lasting influence on the contemporary novel.
'Joyce dissolved mechanism in literature as effectively as Einstein destroyed it in physics,' wrote Alfred Kazin. 'He showed that the material of fiction could rest upon as tense a distribution and as delicate a balance of its parts as any poem. Joyce's passion for form, in fact, is the secret of his progress as a novelist. He sought to bring the largest possible quantity of human life under the discipline of the observing mind, and the mark of his success is that he gave an epic form to what remains invisible to most novelists.... Joyce means many things to different people; for me his importance has always been primarily a moral one. He was, perhaps, the last man in Europe who wrote as if art were worth a human life.... By living for his art he may yet have given others a belief in art worth living for.'
- Highly moving coming of age story
This is the semi-autobiographical coming of age story of Stephen Dedalus. I read it about 10 years ago when I was an undergraduate and found it fairly hard to get through, so I thought I'd give it another go. On my second reading I found I was able to relate far more closely with the protagonist and appreciate the quality of Joyce's prose. The story, which is told mainly in the third person, recounts several stages of Stephen's youth. The beginning of the book is written in almost childlike prose as it depicts Stephen's experiences as a schoolchild at a Catholic boarding school. I was able to relate to Joyce's depiction of a very precocious yet sensitive young boy, full of childlike curiosity and terrified of the harsh discipline meted out by the priests. The latter part of this chapter also contains an interesting discussion between Stephen's father and his colleagues about Parnell and Irish politics. Not being an expert on Irish history, I couldn't follow this debate as intelligently as many readers will be able to, yet through it Joyce depicted the sharp political cleavages dividing Ireland at the time.
The next two chapters follow Stephen at a Catholic high school. He has become increasingly alienated from society and emotionally withdrawn. He also begins visiting prostitutes, which leaves him feeling disgusted with his sinful nature. Perhaps the most amazing part of the book is in chapter three, which details Stephen's religious conversion and subsequent renunciation of his faith. This chapter contains a sermon on the torments of hell which terrorizes Stephen and leads to his initial spiritual immersion. This sermon carries on for about 15 pages and is given in the most lurid, evocative prose that one can imagine. The sermon is explicitly designed to terrorize young minds and lead them to renounce their sinful ways. It really resonated with me, as I myself grew up in a conservative church where I was reminded every Sunday of the unimaginable horrors that awaited me if I did not turn my back on the sinful world. While Stephen, shaken with guilt and terror after this sermon, initially tries to immerse himself in the rites of the church, he continues to be assailed by doubts and skepticism, which ultimately lead him to renounce his faith. Joyce vividly describes the joy and freedom that Stephen feels upon freeing himself from the reins of religious doctrine and proclaiming his independence from all such confining systems of thought.
The last part of the book shows Stephen as a university student. There were parts of this chapter that were hard for me to relate to. First, there is about a ten page section in which Stephen elaborates to a friend his theory of aesthetics. Art scholars and philosophers might find this fascinating, but it was somewhat hard for me to follow. There is also a very peripheral romantic interest that is never fully fleshed out. Joyce's ultimate aim here, though, was to depict Stephen as a highly independent young man. Stephen refuses to lend his support to the various faddish social and political movements of the day, whether it be Marxism or Irish nationalism. In the end, Stephen makes the decision to leave Ireland, finding that his artistic aspirations will never be fulfilled if he stays.
Overall, this book clearly deserves its reputation as one of the best works of literature in the English language. Although several aspects of the story are hard to relate to for those who are either not Irish or experts on Irish history, there are also a number of universal themes that resonate more widely. First, this story can be read as a sort of free-thinker's manifesto. While it is admittedly hard at times to fully relate to Stephen (he is depicted as elitist and anti-social), many will be able to relate to his feelings of alienation and his independence of thought. Finally, one cannot properly review this work without noting Joyce's prose. Joyce reminds me of Nabokov in the sense that, although he is often longwinded, one can forgive him his longwindedness because it is simply a pleasure to read his beautiful prose. This is one of those books that contains passages that I will go back and read over and over again....more info
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man relates the mental growth of Stephen Dedalus, who represents the author James Joyce. Very little actually happens in this book. It is almost completely a reference to the changes that occur in Dedalus as he grows from an innocent, somewhat oblivious boy, to the psychologically restless young man all too aware of the forces that buffet the Ireland of his day. It is a remarkable work that should not be missed by the serious reader.
The notes at the end by Seamus Deane do present points of clarification and interest, but for anyone who can't pass on a footnote without reading it (ahem), it does interrupt the flow of the narrative a great deal....more info
- the edition to get
If you're gonna buy a copy of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," you can't go wrong with the Wordsworth Classic edition. Its advantages are several:
1. It's extremely cheap.
2. It features a very long and immensely insightful (32-page) introduction by Jaqueline Belanger, which includes a biography, publishing background, sections on language structure, irony, etc. There are also many suggestions for further syntopic or critical reading.
3. The thing is complete and unabridged.
4. There are extensive footnotes at the end, which are keyed throughout in the text, explaining all the Latin and the extinct realia of Joyce's world.
In short, get it.
As for the work itself, it's a very good prepper for "Ulysses:" I started that novel without having done this one. Later I came back to this: much was made clearer. Don't make my mistake....more info
- Have a good measure of patience ready to exchange for keen insight and impeccable writing
Actually, I listened to an audio version of this book - it was the only way I was able to finish it. Even so, it still took me quite a while to get through it. The writing is very dense, and self-absorbed. The book offers many rewarding insights into stream of consciousness thought processes, and typical youthful struggles with issues like religion, good and evil, aesthetics, books and learning, family relations, nationalism and politics, sex and love, asserting one's independence, and getting along with teachers and peers. The detailed accounts of Roman Catholic dogma were a bit tedious, yet I ran into references to them in other works soon after finishing those sections. Having been brought up Protestant, I was spared a lot of the gory details created by the human imagination regarding what hell must be like.
A rather profound insight that came in handy one day while teaching was that people who work hard to live pious lives often end up with a short temper, impatient with the visible weaknesses of others. That also was confirmed in a separate context soon after I listened to that part.
I had to give this work five stars - it is acknowledged great literature - but I wasn't so sure I liked the narrator that much the further I got into it. I guess anybody can be hard to like when they make an effort to be brutally honest about their thoughts and feelings. The narrator's ambivalence about things like his teachers and his interactions with them were sometimes disorienting, but that was certainly his purpose - to show that there are many possible views of the same interaction, and you have to make your own calls. The question posed to the narrator toward the end, about whether he had actually ever loved anyone in his life so far, put the entire work in a perspective worth pondering.
I think for the razor-sharp insights and the utterly lucid writing, this work is eminently worth reading. But you may have to push yourself to make it to the end - I did, anyway....more info
- Read this book and you'll be a man, my son...
There are writers and there are artists, and what Joyce could do with words was, unequivocally, art. This book is luminous. Awe-inspiring. Stendhalian. Five stars shortchanges it. Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, and Wallace Stegner would cut off their DICKS in exchange for the talent Joyce had. This book transcends "subjectivity"...I didn't even LIKE it, being a philistine who prefers meaning over aesthetics, but I will be the nth bibliophile to say that this is a masterpiece, and that Joyce was a...genius. (I can off-hand think of only two peers for Joyce: Nabokov and Lowry.)
Portrait is a bildungsroman that follows the life of Stephen Dedalus (Joyce) from childhood to young adulthood. We inhabit his mind as he confronts his milieu, his education, and his faith. We witness him sin and repent. We witness his intellectual evolution. We witness his increasing spiritual malaise. We witness his thoughts, his perceptions, and how he translates those perceptions INTO thoughts. The results are extraordinary. Some passages escape the confines of mere talent and nudge the ceiling of sublimity. Great stuff.
Now, this book won't be easy to digest. Know that going in. You're gonna need to be PREPARED. This isn't something you absent-mindedly take to the can with you. This book demands effort, attention, concentration, and latitude. You'll need to roll with some punches. You'll need to hike up a few steep hills. You'll need to strap yourself in. You'll need to be able to keep up with the cognitive pace demanded...but take your time, and all will be fine. Joyce vacillates between prose and verse at times, and the deft treatment of language--of words qua words--will cause some stress and confusion. You have to push on through.
The MLA got one right (mirabile dictu!) by anointing Portrait as the third best novel written in the 20th century. (NB: "Best" doesn't necessarily mean "fun to read.") This book is truly on another level. Give it a go--skip the worthless, pedantic Introduction by a nondescript egghead--and enjoy the ample rewards, richly deserved......more info
- Should be called "Downfall of a Young Man"
I read the book because it was listed as a great classic in English Literature. If this is a great classic, I am on the wrong planet. The main character, the artist as a young man, is insipid and disparaging to life itself. James Joyce emasculates the title of author and great classic. After reading the b ook, I threw it away. I do not recommend this book. ...more info
- Challenging but rewarding
James Joyce's fascinating novel takes us into the mind of Stephen Dedalus, a young Irishman longing to understand and express himself despite his ennui and nagging dissatisfaction over nearly every facet of his life: his social class, his education, his religion, his sense of morals.
Every now and then I take down one of those venerable volumes of the English lit canon written mostly by dead white European males and, more often than not, I find that there is a good reason that they have been enshrined by generations of English professors. The most extraordinary thing about this novel is the way Joyce evokes the sense of a soul struggling for freedom beneath layers of received cultural baggage, breaking the shackles one by one until the conclusion, when Stephen has found the courage to set off into the world to express himself as fully as he can. I think that some other reviewers on this page have overemphasized the importance of preparation and study for appreciating this work. I read a bare bones edition and, while I don't deny that the experience would probably have been enhanced by more information, I did not find it to be essential. I found some sections toward the end of the book, when Joyce describes a more self-aware Stephen's developing theories of literature and aesthetics, to be somewhat boring, but I've always been impatient with literary theory. On the other hand, Stephen's internal struggles with religious convention are riveting. All in all, this novel will reward you for the effort you put into reading it.
- Signet Classic!
If you're considering purchasing this book, or if it's being forced upon you and you are having a difficult time, or if you are like me and want to read and actually understand writers like Joyce, purchase the SIGNET CLASSIC edition of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." There is an absolutely fantastic introduction by Hugh Kenner that is, IMHO, indispensable. You can get all the SparkNotes and whatever else you want, but Kenner's intro is very concise, to the point, extremely clear and better than anything else I've ever seen as far as beginning to understand this classic.
Plus it's less than 5 bucks!...more info
- A Classic-?
This book contains some of the most horridly tedious prose in the English language. Joyce is known for his stylistic innovations, yet his books go mostly unread because they art monumentally dull. Allegedly, the author could account for every line in his books. Unfortunately, he could not account for how soporific his prose is. This is one of those books that makes people hate literature--even people who like literature....more info
- A Portrait of 20th Century Literature as a Young Form
James Joyce is the single most important writer of the 20th century. Simply put, the form of the novel exists in two stages - pre-Joyce and post-Joyce; no other novelist approaches the impact on the literary landscape that Joyce acheived in perfecting his style. The story behind the actual writing of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (originally entitled Stephen Hero) is that Joyce began writing basically a semi-autobiographical account of his childhood up through his early adulthood. He then decided that he wanted to convey the events of his life in a form other than direct disclosure. The rest, as they say, is history. Enter stream of consciousness. Enter free association. Enter Freud, Shakespeare, Greek mythology, the Bible, Catholicism, the complexity of man, the simplicity of man, social class,and Irish lifestyle (to name a tiny portion of what this novel presents) without ever having to mention many of these influences by name. What it really boils down to is that this novel began a revolution in the way literature is read and written. Sounds over the top I know, but think about it. What Joyce experimented with here he later advanced in Ulysses (which is even better than A Portrait) and totally submitted to in Finnegan's Wake (of which I didn't understand a single word). His direct influence ranges from Faulkner to Proust to Nabokov. For those who are just getting into literature and may not know those names, those three are heavy hitters. Like sumo-wrestler heavy.
The content of the novel itself reveals the inner character of Stephen Dedalus and, in turn, of James Joyce himself. As I said before, this novel is both largely biographical as well as psychological, perhaps more important in what it says about the human mind in general than what it says about the Irish mind of early 1900s Dublin. And frankly its just beatifully written. This is not Joyce's finest work (that would be Ulysses), but it is certainly one of the foundations upon which modern literature stands. And for that reason, even if you don't like Joyce's work (which is your loss to say the least) you have to respect it. To respect it is to at least read it. It's a tough style, but it's worth it. Trust me. ...more info
- Charting your own course in life
The narrative point of view of this book was very innovative for its day. Its not a traditional driving narrative where the author weaves together elements of a plot that leads the characters to a telling conclusion. The point of view is interior to the main character, but in the third person not the first, and the language changes as the character changes.
The narrative follows the growing up and coming to age of Stephen Dedalus from his earliest memories. It shifts from exterior events to interior reflections and fades in a disconnected way into dream events. Some of the exterior events are quite striking and memorable, such as Stephen getting whipped for something he did not do, the bird-girl on the shore, and a long priestly harangue about going to hell. Many signs along the way acquire a mythic or symbolic significance. There are frequent references to birds and flying, which signify Stephen's growing intention to leave Ireland.
The heart of the book is the story about a struggle against authority. The ability to rebel against dire warnings of everlasting punishment from disobeying a religious order requires considerable strength of mind from a lone individual. It requires inner resources, a constant source of solace that gives one an unwavering resolve. Stephen experiences the travails of youth, the giving into lust and subsequent shame, and then turning to the Church. He realizes that by becoming a priest all his material cares would be taken care of and the Church would allay his security anxieties. But his artistic temperament is awakened, most notably in the epiphany of seeing the girl on the shore; and he knows that he cannot endure the kind of sick drudgery that he would feel in the labors of renunciation of his self. Instead of having others chart his course, he awakens to the freedom of charting his own course....more info
- Nicely put
With "Portrait", Joyce puts significant demands on the readers. To enjoy the book wholly, they should know Irish history of the late XIX century and the catholic doctrine. They should be attentive and sensitive to languages and their interplay. They should also be able to relate to the outsized sentiments of a boy and a teenager. In short, the book's readers should have an old mind and a young heart: a tall order. Maybe this is why this book appears so unsettling to many readers, young and old.
The story is not overly complicated: a boy grows up in a family whose members are ferociously nationalist, or religious, or both, is sent to Jesuit schools, and in a typical teenage fashion rejects the values of his environment - "his home, his fatherland and his church" - and embraces solitude and a firm belief in looking for a vague notion: beauty expressed through art.
Of the values he rejected religion was the hardest to let go. Stephen has never been close to his kin folk. The Ireland that he yearned for was long lost or not yet conceived. But religious he was. He abandons religion because in his mind it is incompatible with being a creator: a creator of his soul no less, god-like himself. He does it even in the face of the original sin, without denying god's existence and with full understanding of the possible consequences. Stephen is a revolutionary Hero, burning all his bridges in the name of a future better world: the world of yet uncreated beauty promised by no one but by his solitary ardent soul.
Joyce's eye zooms past appearance and in on his characters' soul: a "bat-like" soul waking up alone in the night makes a housewife call a stranger to her bed; a classmate's soul peeks out, self-embittered, through his eyes; Stephen's watchful guarding of his soul ends up making him abandon his religion. In creating his portraits, Joyce is much more cerebral than visual. Even though he tells most of the book in the third person neither Stephen's nor anyone else's appearance is made apparent. People are perceived by what they say rather than by how they look. Someone's Ulster accent or equine facial features will be the only supplement to their thoughts.
The book's structure is uneven. Robert Louis Stephenson wrote "That style is most perfect which attains the highest degree of elegant and pregnant implication unobtrusively ". The beginning and the middle parts, such as the family Christmas dinner and Stephen's personal triumph of mustering his courage in the scene with the rector, fit this definition quite nicely. The end of the book feels less so. It seems that by the end of the book Joyce still had some Tolstoyan lecturing to do and just made Stephen grab in succession three of his friends (not counting the sparring with the dean of studies) and confess his thoughts on religion, beauty and art.
Joyce is a master of economical expression. Some times he highlights the object's appearance: the cork-covered water splashing against the docks or the rainlaiden trees may be highlighted with a droplet of a single word, but a word so evocative that it promptly colors the phrase. Or he could mask the object completely behind a (beautiful) metaphor: "Trinity... set heavily in the city's ignorance like a great dull stone set in a cumbrous ring". I much enjoyed the book for these moments of elegant and concentrated phrasing....more info
- glad I read it; wouldn't do so again
I can't honestly say I enjoyed this work. While it was impeccably written and deeply philosophical, the style chosen to write it in was distracting and caused far too many pauses in reading. It did give me some inspirational insights to methods in which I can add elements of philosophy to my own writing, but overall led me to understand methods of writing that serve to distract and confuse readers. His overall purpose (of showing the evils of Irish Catholicism, and the necessity of embracing a Nietzschian way of life) seem lost on the reader that doesn't care to struggle through the overemphasized rhetoric. I'm glad I read it, but wouldn't do so again....more info
- Outstanding Coming-of-Age Story Still Applicable to Today
James Joyce's semi-autobiographical Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of the most challening, informative, and enlightening works I've read thus far. Tracking the life of the protagionist, young Stephen Dedalus (from a child to his early twenties), we see how he grows and changes spirtitually and intellectually. We see how he lives in fear and awe of the highly influential (espically in Ireland at the time) Catholic church which he and his family are a part of, an institution which he initially respects and fears, then grows to question and challenge, eventually leaving the church for good. We see Stephen conversing with fellow intellectuals at his university, and we gather opinions and thoughts of educated, respected young people during a harsh time in Ireland's history.
The language, places, and events described in Portrait are what make the book espicially challenging, as many readers (like myself) would have been lost without the notes in the back. Eventually, you beging to paint a very vivid mental picture of what Stephen's life was like in Ireland and form a better understanding of Ireland's political issues at the time (if you, like me, are not an expert on 20th century Irish politics) and of his issues and questions as well.
My favorite aspect of Portrait is that even though the issues Stephen/Joyce faced as a young man are very different than the ones facing young men today, there are many parallels to be drawn. As we come of age (I am 18 myself) we finally being to form an identity of who we are and what we truly believe. In Joyce's day, there could be family arguements and stress caused over which side of the religious fence you were on (Catholic/Protestant). In our day, there have been many family fights between the more conservative Americans in the family and the liberal members of the family, and how we all think our country chould be run and how we should live our lives.
As a child, Stephen lived in fear and awe of the intimidating church he attended, yet as he became a mature young man he drew his own conclusions and formed his own identity, breaking away from what he was lead to believe by his parents. Today, almost the same instances can happen, as they have for me. I would fear attending church of Sundays as a child, afraid that the priest would give another sermon of the horrors of hell and tell us what we need to do to save ourselves (read the book for a very graphic depiction of hell by one of Stephen's priests). Now, however, I have drawn my own conclusions on religion and life, and no longer have to be a part of the church that I was told I had to believe in as a child too young to make of all this deep thinking, as Stephen was as a child.
The most important messege that can be taken away from Portrait is to find your identity and never be afraid to express it, despite the reactions you may recieve from your parents, peers, etc.
The messege is be who you are, and that is a messege that will never fade away with time....more info
- Splendid First Novel from James Joyce
"A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man" is a fictionalized account of James Joyce's early life. But more importantly, it was a bold, radical departure from previous novels, since it possessed such a richly lyrical prose describing the artist's self reflection and maturation during his adolescence; perhaps it was the first important novel on self consciousness and realization published in the 20th Century. Its protagonist, Stephen Dedalus - whom we will encounter again in "Ulysses" - is none other than Joyce himself, striving to reconcile himself with the demands of his family, his faith and desire for artistic freedom. Ultimately it will be artistic freedom which wins out, as evidenced by the radical transformation of Joyce's initial, simplistic prose, to one which is truly poetic by the novel's conclusion. Set approximately around the time of the great Irish politician Parnell's death, Joyce offers fascinating insights into his early education, his relationship with the Catholic Church and his emerging sense of Irish nationalism, fueled by his admiration for Parnell. While this is not Joyce's best work of novel-length fiction, it certainly foreshadows his subsequent literary triumphs such as "Ulysses"....more info
- Stephen Hero
Portrait of the artist is a vitally important novel for anyone interested in writing, writers, genius, repression, Catholicism, intellectualism versus dogmatism, the life and mind of James Joyce and novels as an art form. The writing style mutates and develops throughout the story, reflecting the different ages of Stephen Dedalus, from the baby talk and visceral imagery of his parents, governess Dante and Uncle Charles in his early childhood, through his schooldays as he wrestles with his intellect, his faith, his sexual awakening and his guilt to the advanced articulate and experimental style he invokes in his late adolescence, including an experimental journal at the end of the novel.
The themes in Portrait of the Artist cover the whole spectrum of growing up, but the principal drama surrounds the intellectual development of Stephen. He is a formidable mind, a free thinker. But his faith impells him throughout towards the narrow minded dogmatism of the Catholic Church. At times, the church holds the upper hand, as Stephen is terrified into confessing his sins with prostitutes in the face of Father Arnall's legendary, sensual, brutal 'Hellfire' sermon on the fate of sinners who don't repent before god. But Stephen wrestles with such demons, and grows, and fights, and ultimately prevails. He sees the image of the rotting cabbages in in the kitchen gardens and considers the disordered symbolism of this as more appealing to his natural essence than the neat tidiness of the shrine to Mary.
Stephen realises he must leave this claustrophobic restrictive life behind. The end of the novel chronicles his last days in Dublin before leaving Ireland. His conversation with Cranley forces home the realisation that Stephen is growing up, his childhood is behind him, and, most importantly, he is prepared to err and make mistakes, even if this means damnation. He is able, as he says 'To discover the mode of life or art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom'.
Stephen, with all his passionate intellectual talent, is ready to hit the world, and the forces such as Father Arnall who seem ready to stamp on such independence with vitriolic counter ideological pamphleteering cannot stop him. Thank God for that. The original title of the book, Stephen Hero, is apt indeed. ...more info
- Bitter Disappointment
I loved Dubliners -- truly profound. I loved Ulysses -- truly hilarious and interesting. But I hated this pompous boring garbage. Yes, I know all about Joyce's irony in dealing with himself. But that does not change the fact that Stephen D is a boring, pretentious loser. A huge disappointment. Don't read it. Burn it....more info
- Up For A Challenge ?
Joyce lives up to his reputation for being a brilliant yet exceedingly difficult author. In Portrait he gave us a semi-biographical subjective peek into the development of his own thought through the creation of his alter-ego Stephen Dedalus.
Short on plot but full of incredibly beautiful phrasing that makes the reader stop and read certain passages a second or even third time to make sure it's fully absorbed, Portrait follows the intellectual, spiritual and social development of young Stephen as he manuevers through family, church, school and friends relying entirely on his own point of view at the time.
The most intense section of the novel deals with his spiritual struggle and personally, I've never read a more gripping description of a young soul grappling with these questions.
Joyce evolves the style of writing to reflect the subjects growing maturity and the choice of language and the pacing at the end of the book are markedly different from at the beginning.
All in all a bit of a tough read but I felt rewarded in the end and am feeling ready to tackle Ulyses next....more info
I unfortunately found the stories lifeless. There was no spark or wonder to the characters or surroundings. ...more info
- A Portrait of Someone Familiar
This book offers a unique perspective on the Catholic faith and its tradition. An Irish boy, Stephen Dedalus, who is brought up expected to believe whatever is presented to him is confronted with a very big problem: accept his faith without question and follow the conventions of his upbringing or pursue his dream to be an artist. Pursuing the path of an artist would make Stephen happy but should he risk alienating his family and fellow Catholics in favor of a dream?
While most of us are not presented with that specific dilemma, we have all experienced a similar situation. Do we dare to be different or just go with the flow? James Joyce has created a very real character in Stephen Dedalus with which all of us can relate to on some level.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a perfectly designed coming of age novel. It follows Stephen Dedalus from his young and impressionable years, incapable of thinking for himself, to his isolation from his peers in family while realizing that his Catholic faith is not all that he thought it was. We see him finally begin to explore his own way of thinking and stop following outdated customs. The inner conflict he faces and his confusion of right is wrong is something that is familiar to all of us and further helps the reader relate to his situation and empathize with the tough choice he must ultimately face at the end of the novel. ...more info
- Somewhat Dated, But Incredibly Applicable to Modern Ireland 
Good fiction uses narrative story to describe details of a character's life. Great literature does the same, but with the description, it capably details broader concepts and greater concepts.
This book revolves around Stephen Dedalus, but really tells us about the Ireland of his time. Stephen is almost unanimously known to be the author. Joyce's depiction of his emotional and intellectual growth - preteen, teen and young man - paints a broad picture of Ireland - at least Joyce's Ireland. His Irish Catholic Ireland, where issues compound over religion, language and rite. He is confused as he questions the unquestionable -- Catholic religion's centuries-old traditions. And, his questions are eloquently asked on the pages of this novel.
One friend of Stephen comments on this young man's realization of possible non-belief in religion: "It is a curious thing ... how your mind is supersaturated with religion in which you say you disbelieve." And, so this may accurately depict Ireland's strange and hypocritical relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.
And, this book is chock full of Catholic quotations, recitations, and references. So much so, that my Penguin edition of this novel immensely aided me with its extensive endnotes (over 600 in total) describing the words (sometimes archaic or colloquial) and often describes people (often Irish history's leaders for or against the Catholic Church) or statements (often relating to the Bible). I highly recommend that all readers get such edition or a similar publication as the nearly 100-year gap in time and continent's division have made many passages herein obscure to modern American readers.
As much as Stephan is confused about religion, he is confused about Ireland - not surprising as much of Ireland's confusions stem from religion. At one time, young Stephen says, "Do you know what Ireland is?. . . Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow." Of course, this a curt response made impulsively in discussion when men are tired, inebriated, or both. But, it probably reflects what others felt, what others thought, and what others publicly proclaimed. Note: most of the other provisions regarding Ireland show pride - immense pride.
Joyce admits Ireland had its faults. Inequitable and overly cruel torture placed upon the parochial students is described in detail. Religious zealots overstated their arguments to audiences too young to receive such extreme philosophy. Chapter III's amazingly well written speech of purgatory can only be deemed as provocative and funny. The humor comes from teenage Stephan's response: "thinking of sin" is a sin; and committing any one sin is the equivalent to committing all of the sins; and committing one sin is enough to prevent anyone from being free of purgatory. Hence, little Stephen concludes that his lustful thoughts of a girl guaranteed purgatory. He was a marked man. Then he goes to a confessional and discovers there are exceptions to the rule promulgated in the lecture. Catholicism, he discovers, is laden with exceptions to the rules. Grey lines, not black lines, define acceptable behavior. To a teenager this is perplexing, to the young man this is blasphemy.
Incredibly insightful. Incredibly long lasting. Amazingly applicable to even today's Ireland. This book has lasted for decades for these reasons....more info
- Being James Joyce
Several years ago a movie came out called "Being John Malkovich." I didn't see the movie, but the title was always intriguing to me. Essentially, this book is as close as one could come to "being" James Joyce as a young man.
As other reviewers have noted, the book starts slowly. I did not find the storyline to be particularly compelling, but the revolutionary "stream of consciousness" style introduced by Joyce to the literary world in this book was quite compelling. While I could not call this book a "page turner," make no mistake: it is well worth the effort to persevere to the end. There is a reason why some books are considered "literature." This is one of them.
My Viking Press edition contained no notes or explanations...just the simple, unadorned manuscript without someone's notes telling me what I should extract from the book, what I should think, why it was great literature, etc. Nothing to "coach" me in a particular direction. Now that I have finished reading it, I would enjoy exposing myself to notes and essays on this work, to compare my own impressions with those of others.
The plot of the book is simple enough: a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story featuring Stephen Daedelus, Joyce's alter ego - hence, the title of the book. We follow Daedelus through his formative years, first as the young son of a wealthy family sent off to boarding school, then as the adolescent whose family has fallen from political grace and is now struggling to make ends meet as young Stephen changes to another school that while different, is still as much about religious instruction (Catholicism) as about secular topics. Then, we find him in his mid-teens undergoing a stage in which he abandons himself to lust and then swings the pendulum to the other extreme by attempting something approaching mortal perfection in his religious devotion and briefly even considers entering the priesthood. At the close of the book we find Daedelus in college demonstrating his clearly formidable intellect as he ponders and debates subjects with his professors and peers such as the meaning of beauty and the responsibility of the artist. Ultimately, Daedelus gives us his conclusion on how he intends to live his life that is at once both profound and clich¨¦: to express himself through his art (his writing) as freely and wholly as he can, even if it means being spurned by society and making mistakes. In today's vernacular, it would probably come out as something like, "I gotta be me." But of course Joyce leads us to this conclusion not as some airhead MTV-generation pronouncement, but as the result of his coming-of-age experiences and his deep philosophical ponderings about the meaning of life, the role of religion, and his purpose on this earth.
The stream-of-consciousness style pioneered by Joyce in this book is remarkable, both in its originality to the literary world, and in its ability to give us the events of the story not just through the eyes of Daedelus, but almost through his subconscious. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to read someone's thoughts, right down to the sometimes erratic ways in which one thought leads to another or the impressions that occur somewhat randomly, this is what Joyce delivers. In these pages, he delivers not what it would be like to observe James Joyce, but what it would be like to actually be James Joyce.
The language throughout is beautiful, many times a form of prose poetry. Often described as a novella rather than a novel, the rather sparse page count is rather deceptive: this is a dense book and will take as long for most people to read as a book three times its length. One thing in my edition of the book that was unconventional was Joyce's refusal to use quotation marks to distinguish dialog. He set off dialog with elongated dashes at the beginning of dialog sentences instead. Occasionally, I had to read passages several times to understand who was speaking because Joyce depars entirely from the convention we are all used to.
All in all, this is an excellent starting place for those new to Joyce such as myself, both because it gives insight into the author, and because it introduces the character Daedelus who apparently figures prominently in other books by Joyce such as "Ulysses."
- Makes me want to read more Joyce
I'm not quite sure what to say. Every time I wanted to pick up this book I had to force myself. However, as soon as I started reading it was not a chore. This book contains some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. I think Joyce captured a young man's journey from childhood into adulthood with more truth than most writers. His seamless transitions from action to thought and back make you feel like you are Stephen, living and thinking those things. I don't feel like I took in even half of the content of this book. I'll definitely read it again after I've had a while (a couple of years, maybe) to process it....more info
- Young genius takes flight
Portrait of the Artist is Joyce's Kunstleroman about the growth of sensibility in a young genius. The novel is luminous and because it is early Joyce, it's accessible as the writing style is straight ahead narrative modified to reflect the writer's age in various stages of his youth. It is easy to witness the writer's sensibility heighten as he matures: his sense of protest, his growing perspective of his life, church and nation. Proust and Joyce wrote at about the same time but met only once briefly in an awkward exchange and Joyce lived for years in self-imposed creative exile in Paris. In the later chapters there are stylistic similarities between early Joyce and Proust, whose style and narrative voice are consistent throughout the 4300 pages of La Recherche du Temps Perdu. However, Joyce's narrative technique changed radically as he grew as a novelist from Portrait to Ulysses and finally to Finnegan's Wake. In Joyce's willingness to experiment unfettered by style, voice, syntax, genre and diction he changed the English language: he left it better than he found it. Chapters 4 and 5 are brilliant and take flight like Daedalus, the inventive hawkman. If you seek an entry point into Joyce's work, this relatively simple, straightforward novel is your window. "To speak of these things and to try to undestand their nature and, having understood it, 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." I can't encourage you more strongly to explore Joyce -- he was the most luminous genius who ever wrote a novel. ...more info
- good intro to joyce
"marooned"--an utterly wrenching and boundlessly suggestive term to describe the situation of the young artist. ...more info