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3.8 out of 5 stars141
3.8 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2013
Great Kindle edition of Joyce's first great novel, which seems unabridged and has not been "improved" by half-witted editors that regularly insist on changing Joyce's idiosyncratic punctuation, etc.

Portrait is at times sublime in its evocations of The Artist's thoughts and perceptions. Highly recommended on its own, and as an intoduction to one of Joyce's main characters in his magnum opus Ulysses.
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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.
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on November 8, 2007
If you're new to Joyce, this would the the book to start with. I definitely wouldn't start with Ulysses as that will put you off with its stream of consciousness. "Portrait" is much more user-friendly and easy to read. This novel is one of the greatest works in the English language. It is not only beautifully written but it can carry a different meaning for people at different stages of their life. Young high school students will find some themes very interesting while a man of 40 can draw new pleasure from reading it a second time. For those interested in Joyce's work, this is a good place to start, for it is easier than his other novels. This is not to say that it is an overly easy book to understand. Anyone who has read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner knows that the stream of conscienceness style of writing can at times stifle reading comprehension but for the most part give a unique, exciting view of a character. Overall, though, this is an excellent novel and worthy of anyone's effort. As I said, this is a good place to start if you're looking for a Joyce induction. Would also recommend the novels "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather and the Vonnegut book titled "Cat's Cradle"--these are something different as I don't like reading the same thing over na over.
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on July 2, 2004
Sure its pretentious, frustrating, difficult, etc., but it is also such a rewarding read. Boring sections like chapter 3 with the church sermon set up excellent ones, such as the end of Chapter 4, with Stephen's epiphany, which I must say is the most beautiful, glorious thing I have ever read. the emotion and symbolism (such as Stephen Dedalus taking flight from society much like his Greek namesake Daedalus did from an island) is simply overwhelming. I had to read this for a college english class (as well as write an essay on it) but i still enjoyed it. the stream of conciousness style may be too difficult and odd for some but i found a nice break from other literature, which is more than i can say for the similar novel To the Lighthouse by Woolf (also extremely good stylistically, but much less interesting). brilliant, but not a good introduction to joyce for those still in high school or not used to reading challenging literature. I would recommend "The Dead" to try him out first.
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on February 21, 2004
This is one of those great pieces that really divides the audience. If you read fellow reviewers' comments, one says that no-one should rate this below 4 stars while another says no-one should rate it above 1 star. Some people admit they don't get it, some people say there is nothing to get, and some dive deep into Joyce's world. What a gift!
For my own I rate it, I think I need to rate it more as a piece of art rather than a typical piece of literature. When I review literature, I consider character development, plot development, narrator's voice, story-telling ability, etc. With Joyce, he shows you so much and tells you so little, that it's really hard to nail alot of facts down. How old is he in the beginning? How many siblings did he have? Did he have a crush on the same girl throughout the book? Why did Dante have 2 brushes? What exactly caused his father's fall? There is just so much information that Joyce doesn't bother telling you. It's like the opposite of watching "The Wonder Years" or "Scrubs" where you get a play-by-play account of the action and a foreshadowing of what was to come.
At first I was very unnerved by his approach. I like to have a groundwork laid, and I didn't even know how old Dedalus was when the book started (I had trouble translating the Irish school system to an equivalent year here). However, the world as seen through an intelligent but vulnerable and geeky boy was fascinating. I loved the vivid accounts as seen by a child with no attempt to correct or add to this perspective by some adult voice.
As the story progresses, Joyce skips through time, apparently selecting important scenes in his young life. But he doesn't tell you they are important. He just shows them to you, like flipping through a picture book. He leaves you to draw up your own conclusions. If nothing else, it was clear that Dedalus (representing Joyce) was on a tough track. He had an artist's temperament even early on (emotionaly, extreme, caught within himself), but as his family slipped into poverty such a nature would be harder and harder to accept.
By about the middle of the book, I became completely enraptured with his use of metaphors...the images are so lovely, so perfect, so unforced that it hardly seems right to compare them with the crude, simple, ignoble ones I run into so often in literature. This mastery of words thrilled my soul, regardless of the plotline and character development; in this way, it was more like music than literature.
By the end I saw a clear progression of Dedalus' character, as is well described in the 2nd spotlight review. Not only does the complexity of the writing increase as Dedalus grows older, but his characater evolves as he tests the water in many arenas. He has gone from a pretentious child who is so vulnerable because he has no outlet and no understanding of how he is different to one who can dialog with the masters (Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, etc). He has found a home in academia and a vocabularly to express his inner worlds. He made not have found peace yet, but he has found that he has a place in this world.
However, again, I would say that the understanding you gain is more like that of glimpses gained through art than through literature. I don't know that I could ever fully understand everything he was talking about, why he was talking about, who he was referring to, etc. Therefore, I rate this highly as a masterful artistic rendering of a coming-of-age story. If you are looking for a clear fiction or biography, however, this might not be for you.
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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.
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on January 20, 2004
Every once in a while, when I happen to mention Joyce to one of my friends, I tend to get these kind of reactions: "booooring", "hard", "overpriced" "he's an idiot"
Well, every medal has two sides.
These oppinions are produced more often then not, with some kind of general recolection of thoughts that critics and publics gave to Joyce's "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake"... complexity, and intelectuallnes of the "mere" book often has that kind of impact on general public.
But, be not afraid (even though I know that You do not consider yourself as a "general public"). This book is something different.
Joyce is in his early stages of hi litterarie work, just starting to experiment with the chain of tought technique, and the result is absoultely brilliant... what we have received is the most beautiful and compelling autobiography, one has written in the entire history of litterature. In a voice of Stephen Dedalus (character around whom, together with Leonard Bloom, Ulysses is built) Joyce presents his early childhood thoughts, Joyce preensets development of character that refusses as the time progresses any kind of bonding with govermenet, education, church or any other kind of institution while at the same time building his own, inside universe where things happen at his command, and by his direction.
Language is sometimes hard, and you'll catch yourself re-reading some passages with tendencie of better grasping his message, his tought, but 3/4 of the work is written in the most beutiful english you can imagine...
I strongly reccomend this book...
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on December 14, 2003
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is an autobiography novel about a Catholic boy named Stephen Dedalus going to college and his life. Stephen Dedalus goes to Clongowes Wood College in Ireland. At school, Wells is a bully who makes fun of Stephen and pushes him into a pool, so he got sick. Charles Parnell died in the novel. Father Dolan punishes Stephen by hitting his hand with a patty bat for making an excuse that he lost his glasses on purpose. Stephen was brave enough to complain to the rector saying that he shouldn't have been punished by Father Dolan. The rector said he would talk to Father Dolan and fix this situation. Stephen's classmates carried him up because he told the rector what happened and everyone thinks he's a hero.

One summer in Blackrock, Dublin, Stephen spends time with Uncle Charles and his father and they told him stories about their family history. Stephen's family has financial problems, so they moved to Dublin and Stephen transferred to Belvedere College. He begins to act in the play and plays the part of being a teacher. He receives a money award and treats his family to a nice dinner. He brought gifts to please his family and try to accept his family. Stephen has a crush on Emma by he never expresses his feelings toward her. Stephen expresses his feelings in a poem to Emma. He has his first sexual experience with a prostitute and then he feels sinful. He feels sinful that he couldn't confess to a priest about his sinful thoughts. He got accepted to the university and he feels happy because he made new friends and he felt free. Stephen confesses his sins to his friend Cranly and Cranly wants Stephen to interact more with his family about his problems. At the end, Stephen writes in his journal about his life.
The part that I liked is when Stephen went to the university because it was the part where he really started to mature and felt comfortable with his new friends. The bad part is when he felt sinful, he didn't confess to a priest at his school. The book was easy to read, but some words were difficult to understand. This book is about a boy going through life and obstacles to achieve his goals in writing, acting, and becoming an artist. I would recommend this to teenagers in high school and college students. If you're interested in this book and want to know more information about it, you should read this book.
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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.
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on October 29, 2003
This book is an interesting book about Stephen's life in college and how he had to overcome obstacles of family problems and his religious belief of God. It tells how he struggles with life in the real world. The style writing of the book was easy to read, but some of the vocabulary words were hard to understand. I liked the book because it tells about Stephen's life in college and so on. I liked the part where he stood up to the rector and told him that it was wrong for Father Dolan to punish him. I liked the part when Stephen went to the university because it was the part where he really started to mature and felt comfortable with his new friends. He felt free to write in his journal about events that happened in his life. The book was interesting talking about God (Jesus) and what happens to sinful people. The bad part of the book is when Stephen sinful for sleeping with the prostitute. He shouldn't have slept with her because there are consequences to his actions.
I would recommend this book to teenagers and adults because this book is hard to understand for younger children. I would recommend this book to college students because the book starts in college and goes on.
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