book of books – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

After Ulysses the book seemed to be written by James Joyce in a more conventional way but there are things going on here at various different levels and sadly I’m sure I completely missed a few of them and as a result I made understanding the story that little bit more difficult.

Plot summary
The book is centrered around Stephen Deadalus, who is introduced at the start of the book as a teenager who is at University at the end of the book. His family are continually moving for a combination of political and financial reasons. Stephen is at a Jesuit school and goes through a period he believes is incredibly sinful and as a result starts to turn his back on the church but then goes the other way and is so devout the priests believe he can join their ranks. But then he chooses to go his own way and then becomes a student that is both intelligent and slightly worshipped by his peers. In the end he chooses to remain away from the church even if it upsets his mother and remain true to his own beliefs.

Is it well written?
There are moments when it is very easy to understand what is going on and other moments when you get lost and start slipping out of touch with the narrative. Ultimately it takes a couple of says for the story to sink in and you understand that it is about Stephen’s individuality and development of his intellect that matters. He has to overcome politics, religion and towards the end poverty to assert himself and that comes through the text, even if not as clearly as that at first reading.

Should it be read?
To get an idea of how literature can help someone develop their own views and how it can provide an escape to some extent from reality it is worth reading. As an introduction to Joyce I’m not sure because without reading his other major works it’s hard to judge when you should start out on this one. I actually liked coming to it after Ulysses because I was able to understand what happens to Stephen next so it made you feel an attachment to him already.

Leads to
Ulysses and at some point The Dubliners and Finnegan’s Wake. In terms of personal development of a character there are other books based in colleges and universities but they would probable be more literal than this story.

Version read – Penguin essential classics


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