Category: Portrait of the Artist…

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

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – post IV

Just as you expect with Joyce things become that little bit harder to follow as the book moves to its conclusion. You can either read this word by word, line by line, which I did last night with a reading light in bed, or like a normal novel. The problem is that you feel you loose something in both approaches. Anyway here is the general gist of the last pages of the book.

Bullet points between pages 228 – 276

* Stephen is seen very much as one of the intellectual forces by his peers and he seems to spend his waking hours thinking about things in terms of poetry and he dreams about a girl that he sent some love poetry to

* He is on the fringes of not just his friends but also his family and the evidence of the latter comes when he confides in a friend that he has refused to attend the Easter services with his mother despite it hurting her

* He seems to have his eye on a girl who also visits the library but seems to share that desire with a friend Cranly, who also tries to catch her eye as she leaves and he stresses when he goes days without seeing her

* Eventually he bumps into her and they have a cryptic exchange of words that leaves him liking her even more as he heads off

* In the end he seems to have escaped/dwells in a world half dominated by literature and reality with the former inspiring his actions and behaviour in the latter

Bearing in mind that when we next meet Stephen he has lost his mother, although there are some Joycism’s already with him telling a friend she had ten children and in Ulysses it is described as fifteen, it provides the groundwork for why he would be full of a longing for her because of the way he regreted hurting her over religious differences when she was alive.

Full review to come by mid-week…

Portrait of the Artist as Young Man – post III

Joyce is able to catch you in a web of religious debate, Irish politics and the profoundity of the shift from adolesence to adulthood and leave you wondering just where you are. It is rather like falling down a water shute without anything to grip onto but occasional glimpses of the pool below to reassure you that at least you are headed in the right direction.

Bullet points between pages 158 – 228

* Having had his sinful moment and then gone to his confessor Stephen turns into the most devout church goer so much so that he is called into to get advice that he should go into the priesthood

* Initially the idea attracts him because he is seduced by the position and the power but then he has a moment when he sees his friends swimming and sees a girl (vision of a girl) who he identifies as an angel or youth and decides that the way he should live his life is by making mistakes and being real

* The family keep moving and the next scene of family activity is in a different house and Joyce manages to convey the squalor with Stephen having to wash in a bowl in the sink before heading out to University

* At university Stephen seems to have carved out a reputation as a free thinker and his comments are eagerly soaked up by students hanging off his every word and you are introduced to a couple of his friends who urge whim to sign a petition for an independent Ireland and after his refusal to sign question his loyalty to the country

* Having gone through the religious phase, the indifference and now the intellectual critic of it all he is able to spar in conversation with the dean of studies and anyone else who wants to question him on his views

More tomorrow…

Portrait of the Artist as Young Man – post II

I have never visited Ireland but Joyce does give you a yearning to go there, although no doubt the Dublin he writes about has changed out of all recognition. But there is a love for his country that comes through his writing and makes you want to go and sit in a bar in Dublin and soak it all in. Maybe that’s an ambition for 2007?

Bullet points between pages 90 – 158

* Stephen and his father head back to Cork, the family home of the Dedalus clan, to sell up some of his father’s property and Stephen is dragged round the city and his father’s old college

* He is embarrassed by the reminiscing but part of his trip includes a trip to the bank to get some money out that he won for an essay prize

* That money soon changes hands with a prostitute as he experiences his first taste of sex and it changes him because it is a major sin and there is no retribution it starts to turn him away from the church

* There is then a lengthy sermon preached by the priest on the theme of hell and the Dante like vision of intense never stopping fires make Stephen feel that the message is for him and he has to repent of his sins

* He has a nightmare about the corner of hell that is being reserved for him and goes to confession and the chapter ends with him feeling saved and his soul is intact after he has admitted all of his sins – all this at the age of 16

More tomorrow (altough it is the work Christmas lunch so the post might not make any sense)…

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – post I

Stephen Dedalus is one of the two main characters in Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man focuses on that character but at a much younger age. Bearing in mind he is 22 in Ulysses he is a school boy when he is introduced in this story.

Unlike Ulysses James Joyce seems to be sticking to a more easily readable style here with it much easier to create a picture in your mind of what is going on.

Bullet points between pages 1 – 90

* The story starts at a Jesuit school in Ireland and Stephen is homesick, bullied and struggling to enjoy his school time and after being pushed into a ditch becomes ill and ends up in the infirmary

* The sense of homesickness, loneliness and desperation to fit in and understand how to blend in and succeed in the school is tangible and well described by Joyce, who presumably must have experienced the same things

* He then goes home for Christmas and the meal is disturbed by a row between his father Simon and Dante some sort of family friend over politics, specifically the right or wrongs of priests using the pulpit as a place to recommend certain political parties

* The row between the protestant Dante, Stephens father, his great uncle and a friend Mr Casey, who has spent time in prison for his political views, breaks down as they row about a story told by Casey who recounts the time he spat in the eye of a lady heckling him after a speech.

* Casey then breaks down after saying that there should be no God in Ireland with tears in his eyes and cries for Parnell a politician who fought hard for autonomy and Home Rule

* The story then moves back to school and in a vivid passage Stephen is beaten for making up the story that his glasses broke accidentally despite the truth in his tale. The beating scars him mentally and he goes to the Rector to complain and as a result of that bravery is heralded as a hero by his classmates

* Things at home change and they move house and Stephen dislikes Dublin but there is a suggestion that political activities by his father have forced the change as much as financial cut backs

* He is told to stay in the Jesuit school and because of his friendship with a girl he comes in for another dose of bullying and seems to always be acting in the wrong way provoking more animosity

More tomorrow…