on July 9, 2004
Depending on one's taste and level of concentration, James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is either tedious flop or a wonderful cornerstone of world literature. (I believe the latter.) I won't go into a discussion of "A Portrait" here because if you are looking at this particular Viking Critical edition, you've already committed yourself to reading it. The value of this edition lies in the critical essays and notes at the end. The notes will help the reader along, as they explain some of the terms and/or conditions that are particular to Joyce's Ireland. The essays are, each and every one, valuable tools. Whether it's an examination of Joyce's life, the creation of "A Portrait", the influences it would have, etc., every essay is a heavy-weight that enchances an understanding of the book. (At least it did for me.) If you're seriously considering reading "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" this is the edition to use.
on January 1, 2010
When I started a class in Joyce, the prof handed out to the students an article on Joyce's works. The critic maintained that although most people felt they 'should' read Joyce, he never met anyone "who actually enjoyed reading him." As a poet, people often similarly complain to me, "I don't get Poetry. I just don't understand it; it's too hard." I tell them that poetry is not to be read like prose, that it does need to be treated differently than reading a story; think of it as a translation exercise. I feel the same about Joyce. It doesn't give me the same breezy pleasure that reading Jane Austen does; I sometimes have to read several passages of Joyce's three or four times, scouring the notes and criticisms in this and other annotated editions, discuss it with other Joyce fans and do some Googling, too. But like a person training to run a marathon, climbing a mountain or exercising to lose weight at a Gym, there is a certain amount of hard work that goes into the task before one experiences the joy of succeeding. It may not be the same kind of enjoyment that one means when they say they enjoyed this book, movie or event, but there is a joy in it still. When one starts to draw all the threads of intertextual references, connotations or metaphors together in a passage, the light of understanding is a purity of joy that is greater than that of reading a book for fun and ease.
Although many people may not consider this fun and I have no desire to coerce people to read something they are not drawn to, if you are willing to work at it, then I would suggest you arm yourself with some background knowledge on the novel from reference or annotated books like this one, a friend who has struggled with this challenge themselves before and extra spare time to mull over the passages and see if figuring out what Joyce is saying brings the same rush of bliss that it does for me and you will have opened up a new avenue of understanding on one of the great writers of the 20th century.
on January 10, 2000
If you are looking for mindless entertainment, go watch TV. Joyce's "Portrait" is for those who truly appreciate great literature and are willing to dwell on every word of a marvelous artwork. This (obviously) takes time, which you probably have if you are reading this recreationally. As a high school student reading this piece as a requirement, I too had a certain measure of difficulty digesting the book at parts (mostly due to time constraints.) The effect of this difficulty though, is the splendid epiphany that you can, by the novel's end, view the world through the eyes of the genius Stephen. Like Faulkner, Joyce demonstrates confusion not through description, but by confusing the reader. This artistic ability is what separates "classic" literature from forgotten "popular" novels of past eras. This may be a little more involved than "Chicken Soup," but for those of us who think about what they are reading and enjoy literary analysis, the novel is quite wonderful. You can read it on your own, but I would recommend referencing the myth of Daedalus and Icarus before reading the novel. Also, have a historical encyclopedia handy for names during the read. Enjoy!
on May 11, 2003
I recently re-read this edition of POTA and was pleased to find the experience even more exhilirating than when I read the book first in college 25 years ago. The notes and essays are invaluable to an American Jewish reader of a book so imbued with issues critical in Irish Catholic life and history. The issues raised are, above all, universal. Read it, and read it again!
on January 28, 1999
James Joyce is, without a doubt, the best writer in the twentieth century. His ability to weave words together, to balance reality with stream of conciousness, neither becoming overwhelming, is superb. The most accessible Joyce (with stream of consciousness), Portrait is a wonderful book and should be recommended to all.
on November 16, 1999
It is a great peice of writting, and beautifully orchestrates the kunstlerroman of a gaumless youth into a quick-witted adult... truely a novel for the ages. Although is becomes almost soporific at times, Joyce made his novel seriatim, while still embolming a stream of consciousness. If one has the chance, do read!