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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

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Author: James Joyce / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 05 May 1992 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd / Title: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man / ISBN 13: 9781853260063 / ISBN 10: 1853260063 / Alternative EAN: 9780142437346

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      26.01.2013 18:57
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      A Modern, Classical Joyce!

      James Joyce (1882 - 1941)
      Chronicling the life of Stephen Dedalus.

      Introducing the character of Stephen Dedalus - in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.
      Five Chapters in all.

      If a writer inspires a book, it is callous to ignore the honour - especially a book that was runner-up in last year's (2012) Man Booker prize: I'm referring to, 'Umbrella' by Novelist Will Self. James Joyce features heavily at the core of 'Umbrella', and having read both books I'm in a heightened state of consciousness to come to a conclusion, unless of course I become semi-conscious while at my keyboard - if so; expect to read a load of 6's' and '7's' or a long row of 't's' and 'ys's' - you know what has happened. Yea, Joyce has a tendency to drift down the thought-process whilst writing - adding it in to enhance realism. "Shall I tear open Darjeeling, or Mint Tea?" - You get the gist. Not easy if you're not coherent in the dreamy state of thinking, or worse still the author thinking - do they think? I think so; Joyce did, in his auto-biographical book called; 'Portrait of the artist as a young man'- published in 1916.

      You're reminded of Joyce's Irish literature by the word 'blarney'; which means deceptive talk to put it mildly. Such writing deliberating could be known as a writer's yarn, maybe a yawn is more appropriate, as Joyce's yarns, or story-telling conveyed opposite of 'writer's block' - like Self, Joyce's written word suffered with 'every-thing-itis' -"The air was soft and grey and mild" - "and evening was coming. There as the smell of evening in the air, the smell of the fields in the country..." Rhythmic wordage is only allowed in the classics - such script only exists during the modernistic era before post-modernism writing over-wrote what was deemed as correcting the writings of modernism's authors. Yet we parade these works like masterpieces as if derived from the lost vault of modern literature. Never to be repeated again. I almost feel like blowing the dust off the cover - even though no dust is evident. We're told to respect modernism, yet never emulate it in the post-modernism era - unless of course you write for Bloomsbury and meander about as if you're Wodehouse reincarnated. I generally do not gauge a book via narrative alone - it is one-dimensional if you do. No author's are one-dimensional and as far as I know no human-being is one dimensional - so it is farcical to purely state Joyce's works as banal. I applaud his use of the word 'mollifying' as a descriptive vocal expression and the expressions that make you peruse behind the text: "She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried" A clever but simple turn of phrase - typical of Joyce. There is an essence of the romantic past that reads as if it is a playful, lyrical, jesting verse. This is a lost art-form with today's 'get-it-down-and-out-the-door' writers who churn out the same dribble except this time 'a Plumber is in the bathroom'; the one before that book - 'a Chef was in the kitchen' and so forth; for them it is a progression from Joyce's modernistic literature, post-modernists burp out - amongst the loud burping, Joyce followers still are oiling their 'Oliver typewriter 1912'.

      Joyce is hardly a page turner - more of a page creeper. 'Portrait of the artist as a young man' is like wading through stiff treacle -The scenario of a young Stephen coming of age; the churlish behaviour of his peers - Catholicism, Dublin (check-out Joyce's 'Dubliner' book) and Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. Ejaculating followed by worshiping - worshiping then followed by ejaculating, the two entwined each a form of 'release' in the spiritual sense, of course. Joyce's notable realism towards the early nineteen twenties certainly shocked his readership; many weren't use to this unconventional script as modernism was indeed too modern for the Victorian sticklers - Stephen found the carved word of FOETUS several times in the dark stained wood while searching for his initials at his old college, I did get the impression that some details are best left unsaid, even in today's liberal state. I could imagine a 1920's aristocrat gentleman spluttering over his 'Darjeeling' when he read that part of the book - mopping his weighty moustache while rumbling with audio discontent. The again, even I wasn't prepared for the grotesquely over-reaction of what was to come - it concerns infatuation - boundless Joyce, in poetic free-fall.

      "Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!"

      How he stretched his poetic licence. Shades of Byron, maybe - Joyce had created an unconventional technique for modern literature that was bulbous and ripe. If, 'Portrait of the artist as a young man' (originally called: Stephen Hero) was Joyce's appetiser for the literature world - 'Ulysses' is the main course. What an appetiser though, the caviar on Melba toast - this book is sumptuously written and with dialogue and detailing to swoon over. No wonder the great author's of today are captivated by the modernism of yesteryear - truth to be told Hilary Mantel is heading in the same direction - but what big footsteps to follow. Worth a punt, if you're fascinated in modernism's classics - although it is not everyone's Joyce.

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        15.06.2007 13:43
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        Pure undiluted brilliance

        This novel by the literary genius that is James Joyce has recieved very mixed feelings from both critics in the real world and on Dooyoo!
        I feel a resposibility to give you my own insight into this 'classic' having studied it in depth, since one of the most widely acclaimed problems readers have with this novel is its difficulty to interpret.
        If you want a real book review read on if you dare, because this is going to get quite intense.

        Modernists such as Eliot, Woolf and Joyce challenged the conventions of 19th Century Edwardian High Realism. Instead of following convention they wanted to record the way in which the mind operates, how we truly remember, think and perceive. High Realists such as Arnold and Bennet presented human character in a coherent, organised, logical and constrained manner which was essentially unrealistic as it was too organised, logical and coherent to represent the chaotic, Heraclitan flux of out psyche. Joyce’s presentation of the mind in A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is far closer to perception and our reception of the world as they are essentially far more fluid and chaotic, with a consciousness that projects its expectations and previous experience on the outside world.

        Stephen Dedalus is a sensitive aesthetic youth growing up in a hugely constraining environment. His artistic tendencies are in conflict with a number of oppressive forces encountered in his Irish homeland under the imperialistic status quo of British rule. He strives to cast off all his social, familial, national and religious constraints to live a life devoted to the art of writing.

        Indeed the way in which A portrait of the artist as a young man depicts Stephen’s struggle against limitation and his discovery of the expressive freedom of literature, the one place where he is free of these bonds, is by access to Stephen’s scattered associative thought process through a focal point in the narrative that Henry James referred to as a ‘Lucid Reflector’. This is in effect the consciousness that informs the attitudes, emotional responses, and experience allowing a passage to be written in a third person in which the associative thought process and lacunae of the this third person narrative are essentially intimate and representative of the character in the narrative. Thus through Joyce’s employment of this narratological device he emulates a child’s thought process through the syntactical construction of the language in the early stages of Stephen’s development. The very first line of the novel immediately shocks with its familiarity in the narrative experience of a young mind, ‘Once upon a time’, with this shock augmented further by the anomalous nature of such an opening in adult literature. We are cast into the thought process of a young child:

        ‘His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
        He was a baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.’
        The grammatical syntax here is that strongly associated with a young child using words such as ‘moocow’, a stereotypical child’s branding of a cow based on aural perception.Indeed the lack of grammatical and logical sense in this passage further emphasises the basic developing consciousness of a young child illustrated by the short and simple compound sentences strung together, noticeably lacking in conjunctions reflecting the fractured, atomised shards of language put together by the developing mind.
        This exclusive access to Stephen's thought process continues as he develops through the novel, as we follow him through his school days, to maturity.
        He has grown up encapsulated by the hierarchies of school and church, systems in which Stephen’s burgeoning adolescent impulses are not permitted or even recognised. Thus Steven struggles with the alien nature of this sexuality, until he finds release one night in dublin. However he then turns to the religious fanaticism of the catholic church. Thus twice he traverses the wrong path, giving in to the extremes of his ‘cold and loveless lust’, in his sexual awakening, and conforming to religious fanaticism, eclipsing the beauty of the physical. It is not until Stephen has an epiphanic moment of aesthetic beauty, that he finds his true calling and sets his mind on his artistic mission;

        'His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds’.

        This epiphanic moment of realisation inspired by the clouds is powerfully figurative and aesthetic. The language expresses a languid ineffability with Stephen’s submersion in the aestheticism of the moment and its ineffability emphasised by the frequency of rhetorical repetition in the passage, ‘to recede… to recede’, ‘again again again’ and the frequent repetition of ‘cry’ creating a visceral, pulsating resonance as Stephen experiences a joyous freedom. Steven’s perception of the initial inspiration, ‘dappled, and sea borne’ clouds is demonstrative of the effect poetic reading has had on his perception of the world, in a line reminiscent of such poets as Gerald Manly Hopkins. He views the clouds with envy as they are not imprisoned by Ireland but will go ‘voyaging across the deserts of the sky… Westward bound’.

        Conclusively, this novel draws heavily upon developmental psychology, in addition to its unique presentation of the workings of the mind. If you have a strong appreciation for aesthetics, powerful Literature, or even an interest in the human mind, this novel is a must!

        I am sorry for going on so long, i hope i have provided some kind of understanding with which you can read this novel and get the most out of it.

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          23.10.2004 09:48
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          ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ is one of the finest books in Irish literature ever.

          I have this on the authority of my English A-level master, who made us read it and write several essays about on the subject. Frankly, I neither liked nor understood the book at the time, and the Penguin Modern Classics edition which we used did not give us the benefit of any helpful explanatory introductions or notes to help us understand what it was about. Neither did we have the internet in those days so we could, er, find a certain amount of cyber-assistance for our homework. It were a tough life in th’ auld days.

          In the interests of growing maturity, a fresh eye and all that, I revisited the book recently. I suppose the intervening years have accentuated my comprehension of well-nigh incomprehensible novels, but my opinion of this book stubbornly remains much the same.

          What is the book about, apart from about 250 pages? It’s basically a more or less autobiographical novel of Joyce’s upbringing at the turn of the 19th century. He wrote and rewrote it over several years during the early 20th century, and when a publisher rejected it he lost his temper and destroyed much of it. Frankly I think the publisher did us all a great service by turning it down, but somehow Joyce found the patience and the persistence to rewrite it in its present form. With a different title – it was originally called ‘Stephen Hero’ - it was finally published in 1916.

          The first page is hardly riveting. Take the first paragraph. (Please take it – as far away as possible. Sorry).

          ‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…'

          A couple of sentences further down, we find that the narrator of the story is ‘baby tuckoo’, that he enjoyed dancing the sailor’s hornpipe, the lyrics of which went “Trala lala, Tralala tralaladdy, Tralala lala, Tralala la,” and so on (better than gangsta rap, I suppose), and that when he wet his bed it was warm at first and then got cold. Hope I haven’t put you off your tea and biscuits. And if this is how the finished version of the book reads, heaven knows what the first draft was like. Maybe Joyce was deliberately using childlike language to evoke a feeling of childhood, in which case it serves its purpose, he said grudgingly. But it’s hardly aimed at hooking the reader, to persuade him or her to carry on.

          Had the rest of the book been more interesting, all well and good. Sadly it isn’t, in my opinion.

          Our hero goes to school, is told by his mother not to speak to the rough boys, and gets bullied. (Serve him right. He should have kept quiet about that damned moocow, if you ask me.) Throughout his growing years he does a certain amount of soul-searching about Catholicism, enjoys his first chaste kiss but feels guilty about it, confesses his ‘sins of impurity’ to the priest, ponders literature, philosophy, the arts and humanities in general (Byron is the greatest poet even if he was immoral and a heretic, while Tennyson was only a rhymester, he decides), and wonders whether he should become a priest or not. Much of the story, such as it is, is told in flashbacks. And boy, are they hard to follow.

          Apologies if the tone of the above comes across as a trifle flippant. As an insight into the mindset and upbringing of an Irish Catholic adolescent at the time, it’s probably quite an authoritative, even powerful work. If I was Irish and Catholic, this book would undoubtedly mean a great deal to me. But I’m not and it doesn’t. Years after having wrestled with it during my A-level, it remains extraordinarily heavy-going. Or to put it bluntly, boring. I think I’d recommend it as a holiday read for someone I didn’t like. And I’m relieved my English master isn’t likely to be reading this review.

          At least it’s only about quarter the length of ‘Ulysses’, which clocks in at well over a thousand pages. It could have been worse – I might have had to study that at A-level instead. Maybe I got off lightly. In conclusion, I suppose it’s one of those books that everyone ought to read, or at least try, because – well, because everyone ought to try the classics sometime. I can think of plenty of other novels written and published about the same era which are a much better way of passing the time.


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            10.05.2001 04:13
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            A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Now largely of interest as a way of understanding the mind and the developing writing style of James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a largely autobiographical novel tracing the author’s youth from his birth to his departure from Ireland. It was published in The Egoist 1914 - 1915 in serial form but its first draft, Stephen Hero, was also published later in 1944. The central character is Stephen Dedalus (who also appears in Ulysses) and he narrates his own life in words and styles appropriate to each phase: as such the earliest stages are expresses in simplistic and fragmentary diction, while his university life is given complex and articulate form. This is its chief innovation, but otherwise it is notable for its wonderful evocation of a child blessed and cursed with intellect and a middle-class upbringing. Set in Dublin (which had the worst slums in Europe at the time) at the turn of the century, we follow Joyce/Dedalus through his crisis of faith and other various childhood difficulties such as bullying and sexual/emotional development. In the background to this and central to the narrator’s concerns are the vulgar narrow-mindedness of both the Irish Catholic Church and nationalism, which was at its peak at the end of the nineteenth century when this novel is set. The book is best enjoyed as either a route towards the complexity of Ulysses or as a way of understanding Joyce’s psyche after Dubliners

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            Joyce's semi-autobiographical chronicle of Stephen Dedalus' passage from university student to independent artist is at once a richly detailed, amusing, and moving coming-of-age story, a tour de force of style and technique, and a profound examination of the Irish psyche and society.