on November 18, 2003
Considered perhaps the finest example of 20th century literature, this is the enormously frustrating, mind-numbingly convoluted, semi-autobiographical expression of one man's spiritual and intellectual awakening. I feared this book for years, and rightfully so. While the prose is immensely fluid - so much so that you barely notice the fact that you've easily read several paragraphs without understanding a word of it - the substance will prove more of a challenge than most intelligent readers are looking for. Unless one devotes an enormous amount of mental energy to close examination of this text, a basic understanding of the plot and message is the most the average reader will come away with. Alas, I opted for the easy way out, and as such, I'm sure there is plenty in this novel that eludes me.
Joyce creates the character of Stephen Dedalus to describe his own experience as a boy growing into manhood. Joyce first examines Stephen's youth, giving careful attention to his family life and upbringing as powerful defining forces in his life. He then focuses on Stephen's spiritual development during his years at a strict religious boys' school. The latter part of the book explores Stephen's embarking on adulthood, as he presides over a battle inside himself between religious faith and intellectual pursuit. It is in this phase of his life that the artist, the writer, emerges victorious.
How this all happens, however, is a cloudy, murky mess, unless you bothered to re-read passages several times and consult secondary sources that might offer insights into the book. While the writing is beautiful, it is also choppy. And while the substance may very well be brilliant, it is often too obscure to be appreciated. Surely that was Joyce's intention. This novel was meant to explore uncharted territory in form and structure, and Joyce has certainly done that.
I will say this much - it wasn't as difficult as I had feared. Despite its inherent challenges, this book is a quick read and is by no means unpleasant. It's simply unsatisfying to invest time and energy in a book, and then come away with only a partial understanding of it.
on January 25, 1998
Maybe I don't understand Joyce's style or use of religion in this work, but I found this work totally dull and bloated. There's nothing that I hate more than a religous/spiritual epiphany.
on November 8, 2015
I know this is considered a modern classic, and in many eyes, I am sure it is. Perhaps I just missed it, perhaps I didn't. But I must say that this was one of the most brutally depressing, and oftentimes hard to follow books I have ever read. I found the main character of Stephen Dedalus to at first be one I felt great sympathy for, but his rejection of his faith I found to lead only to a spiritual shrug on his part. He portrays himself so egotistically as some kind of genius artist, and yet I am still uncertain what his art really consists of other than his rejection of his faith and his forming his own spirituality/philosophy.
The book itself is exceedingly difficult to read, as the format he writes is very spontaneous and loaded with new names every few sentences of new characters, of whom the reader has no idea who they are. Chapter II was by far the best chapter, very Augustinian in its approach to sin and redemption. However, Chapter III I really could have done without - an extended, detailed and terrifying meditation on the sufferings of the damned in Hell, it has everything in it that one often associates with the stereotypical notion of "Catholic guilt". Half of the time, I was uncertain as to what was even going on with Stephen beyond that point.
Truly, this novel has moments of pure genius, and there were times where I was in love with its pages. However, at the end of it, I was left with little more than a sour taste in my mouth. A dark, murky, unclear and at times, horrifying read. A knowledge of pre-Vatican II Catholicism will definitely aid the reader in understanding at least the first three chapters.
on January 29, 2004
I'm sorry but I don't get it. I realize that there is more going on in the book than I understood as I read it, but I don't want to take the time to find out what it was. This book had relatively few pages, but it took me an awfully long time to finish it, and I mean awful. The story is not very interesting. I've noticed that many reviewers are impressed with the form in which the story is expressed - and surely this is part of the reason why this book has endured - but I've always enjoyed substance over form, and the substance for me is the story. One can sometimes identify with the Dedalus, but in the end it's not enough; his story isn't very interesting. I'm sure that a more critical reading of the book would reveal more and make the book more enjoyable, but given the amount of time that one must invest just to read the book, and the small pleasure derived from that enterprise, one is discouraged from dedicating even more to more fully understand. Pass on this book unless you're really willing to delve into it or try some lighter fare . . . like Moby Dick.
on March 19, 2002
Although A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce has been called a masterpiece by many, I did not enjoy reading it. It was a very well sculpted book, but I found it very hard to follow and rather dull. I could not relate to it very well. The language used typical of the time period and I am not very familiar with what was happening in Ireland at this time.
The book is about the life of Stephen Dedalus, but it might as well be about Joyce himself. Joyce follows all aspects of Stephen's growth throughout the political and religious turmoil in Ireland during the early 20th century.
We are introduced to Stephen as a very young boy through his interactions with his peers at a Catholic boarding school and his experiences with his family who is torn apart over the religious and political issues of the time. This book describes young Stephen's search for himself in this confusing society which he finally throws of himself to become an artist.
It is obvious that Joyce wrote every word of this book very deliberately. He repeatedly uses different symbols and images throughout the book. I must admit that he skillfully uses style throughout this book to portray the feelings of the time according to Stephen at each different time in his life. For example, the book begins with his sporadic flow of thought that is common among boys his age. It eventually comes to a very organized journal-like style associated with young adults.
Joyce did a good job writing this book and was very careful with every aspect of it; however, I did not enjoy it and would not recommend it to anyone.
on January 1, 2001
If you were to dissect this book line by line and write essays upon essays about its themes and symbolism, this could be a very good book. If you are the type of person that enjoys pondering every aspect, every page, and every word - this could be right up your alley. If, however, you enjoy reading for the sake of reading, skip this book.
It's almost as if Joyce took pains to confuse and annoy the reader. Though filled with good chunks of reading, the sentence structure is very awkward, and the progression of the book is disjoint and puzzling at times. Joyce will capture you with some aspect of the main character's childhood, and then switch to an extremely boring dialogue about philosophy.
I truly understand what Joyce was trying to convey, and is the reason why it's two stars. The themes of religion, politics, sex, and money all come in to play, and affect the main character as he moves from childhood, to adolescence, then to his teen years. If this message was delivered in an easier package, I might have really enjoyed this book.
Basically, if I were to write in the same style as Joyce, I would be fired from my job right on the spot.
on February 26, 1999
I will not argue the fact that Joyce is a master of the English language. Nor will I argue that at times he has very good insight into the psychological motivations of art, religion, and sociology. He possesses both of these talents. However, the manner in which they are presented in this book is simply disappointing. I am an avid reader and can appreciate thick philosophy woven artistically into an intriguing story. This book has sparse bits of philosophy and an occasional artistic stitch, but by and large fails to create a fabric that sparks my interest. Throughout this book, I found myself hopelessly holding onto the idea that, "this is one of the greatest books ever written in the English language," and was left there holding onto that hope afterwards because it failed to deliver anything more.
The story drags at the beginning, and while the minutia of Stephen's life is important to understand where he ends up, its focussed on way too much; the first 80 pages are useless and will leave you rolling your eyes for relief. Next, while a certain degree of specificity is important in terms of describing a scene, the precision to which he describes things, largely irrelevant things, can only be construed as "filling" to make this very short book acceptably long. Say something. Repeat it for emphasis. But don't fixate on it for pages and pages and pages. Lastly, the "meat" of the book, that being what actually made the man into an artist, is so sparse and loosely hung on the frail skeleton of plot, that any person reading this book hungry for some sort of insight or depth is ravishing and unsatisfied at the end, anxious to be filled up by some other book.
Kundera is much better at doing what this "master" was intending to do. He cuts off the fat and leaves raw, creative, chiseled, philosophical muscle on the bone for a reader to savor. I wish I would have spent my time rereading something of his instead of deciding to pick up a book about the very slow and boring progression of this artist's perception.
on October 18, 1999
I will re-read this novel at some point more slowly.
The prose was beautiful but if that is all I look for in literature, I would read the poetry of Burns or Shelley.
A novel should tell an interesting story and this does not. The undercurrent themes of the conflict between the Church and the stuggles of the Irish people are interesting as are the conflict that a young man fels as he begins to question the tenets of the Church and family.
on May 1, 2000
The first two chapters of this book are very good, but Joyce fumbles the ball irretrievably in the third chapter and the dreary effort results in a painful loss. The third chapter is a boring, over-wrought sermon; the fourth chapter brings more pontification, miserable soul searching, and hackneyed attacks on religion; and, the fifth chapter is garrulous and didactic---an excruciatingly dull and inartistic parade of platitudinous ideas, littered with a pretentious display of Latin. The characters are tiresome, the dialog is tedious, the reading is labored, and the rewards are few and minor.
on June 29, 1999
stephen dedalus must be the most boring artist in the whole world