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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 September 6, 2012
This story is about the emergence of identity. Stephen Dedalus's consciousness is front and centre in the book as Joyce weaves together important vignettes from his life that all contribute to his hero's artistic realization. Language, as always, is vital to Joyce's understanding of how humans develop.

For instance, the first segment of the book begins with a fantastic childhood story that showcases Stephen's diction and syntactical choices--without his awareness of this fact. I enjoyed the subtle things about this part. For instance: Stephen sees his father's glasses only as "glass that his father looked at him from behind." Also, Joyce starts out the book's tacit use of Dante by rendering the regional pronunciation of "Auntie" as "Dante." That's how Stephen hears it, and that's how we do too. Another great moment is when Stephen is at boarding school and hears the gas vents "singing." He's unaware of his artistic potential, but Joyce is pointing us in that direction already.

But Joyce is not here to help us read. Rather, he wants to show us the ins-and-outs of a young boy's mind. That's a difficulty I can't blame anyone for having with his writing in general. It's something you either have to accept, deny, or shred, and then you can decide whether to read him or not. However, even if you go through those steps, you're already doing something that Joyce wanted in the first place. He's tricky that way.

In my honest opinion, a lot of people will love or hate this book. It's got dark colours throughout, gets murky when Stephen feels bad, but shines when he's on the verge of realizing himself. Joyce is destabilizing form to parallel the ups and downs of a young man's social, intellectual, and religious maturation. It's poetic that he chooses to write in this way, and particularly so for a young man. My advice is to read "Portrait" for a window into an early revelation in 20th Century English literature. If you 're happy with that, see what Virginia Woolf does with this style, and you won't be disappointed in the slightest.
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on April 16, 2017
I read Dubliners years ago, but it didn’t make much of an impression. A trip to Dublin and the James Joyce Museum convinced me of the author’s importance so I decided to try A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In it, we see a largely autobiographical account. There’s young Joyce in the form of the character Stephen Dedalus attending the boarding school of Clongowes, where he comes up against authority; there he is drinking and whoring in Cork; next, see him wrestling with and rejecting Catholicism; finally, we witness him talking about art with one of his learned friends in a lengthy conversation that doesn’t really mean much. In short, not a whole lot happens, but the writing is exquisite. Nearly every sentence is poetry in prose and so the novel is worth reading just for the sheer quality of Joyce’s penmanship. And so, to sum up a piece of classic literature that took the writer a decade to assemble and goodness knows what to get published (the story of Joyce’s struggle to get Dubliners published is amazing): excellent writing, but a story that’s just all right. However, it seems Dubliners and Portrait were mere warm-ups for his Magnus Opus, so perhaps I’ll try that next.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World as well as War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada.
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on August 2, 2002
I began this book with a sense of relief. Not only was the style
nothing like D.H. Lawrence's _The Rainbow_, which I had just had so much trouble with, but, as I had read _Ulysses_ (and Don Gifford's annotations to the same) over the summer, I felt that I had the necessary background to understand what could have been a very confusing narrative. For instance, when Parnell's name turned up, I instantly knew that this was the Irish politician who had nearly gotten a bill through the English parliament on Home Rule, only to then be disrailed by a scandal involving his long-time affair with a married woman. I also knew that the clergy had been somewhat hypocritical on the Parnell issue, waiting until he was declared guilty in court of adultery before coming out with their own condemnation, a fact that did not sit well with many Irish nationalists. Facts such as these, gleaned from my six weeks with Joyce's masterpiece, gave me a key to the background of the text.
But even more, what I liked about _Portrait_ was the, for Joyce, fairly clean style with which the story was told. I feared that _Portrait_ might reflect any one of the experimental styles in _Ulysses_, I was pleasantly surprised by the fairly linear (if occasionally vague with respect to time scale or particular period) storyline.
Things didn't stay simple for long, though. Chapter three and the extended sermon was tough to wade through, even if I did feel a personal connection to the crisis of faith experienced by Stephen. In the next three chapters, I was much more unsure of what exactly was taking place-the sentence structure was more complex and the descriptions less concrete.
I am somewhat confused by what actually happens at the end. I think I understand that Stephen refuses the priesthood because his brief experience as a religious acolyte (debasing himself by refusing the pleasures of the world) and his soul is still uneasy. He also, I feel, begins to have a doubt of the power of faith, a rationalist's questioning of the sacraments of faith. And he rejects the way of Irish nationalism for its own sake. But what does he assume as his path? The title gives some indication that it is art, but I hesitate to point at anything in the last chapter that shows this.
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on August 31, 1999
To relate to this book, one must have undergone a singular thing: life. Joyce tends to strike readers as esoteric, and this may very well apply to his later works, but the simultaneously silken and granular, static and dynamic, putrid and esthetic language of this book constructs within its contratictions and eddies of variety a vision of the adolescent experience so vivid and voratious that a single word reflects that vision as truly as a particle of light reflects the object of its illumination. The perfect preparation for "Ulysses", this book will gently dip the reader into the murky waters of stream-of-conciousness prose as well as acquaint him or her with Joyce's philosophical viewpoint. And if none of that interests you, the prose (in particular the lyrical "child-speak" of the first chapter and the sleepy, fluid imagery of the second section of the fifth) is quite simply a feast of adjectives and verbs so dripping and tremulous that the reader might sense them squirming on the page. This novel will echo thickly through the artistic plane of the mind that we all to some degree possess.
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on November 8, 2001
James Joyce's' fictional but semi- autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is a deep and extremely creative book. It is a novel about a boy, Stephen Dedalus and his struggles to grow up, break away from the confining restrictions of church, family, and country (patriotism), and to ultimately find himself as an individual and artist.
Throughout the book, Stephen moves around many schools, and is always alienated. At first, he longs for his family and feels like an outcast, isolated from his peers at school. Stephen' s sensitive nature and isolation from others is evident as he wallows in the unfairness and troubles he finds in various situations. Here, we first see Stephen beginning to develop some individuality when he decides to stand up for himself and speak to the schoolmaster when unfairness occurs. Rewarded for his bravery, Stephen begins to find more of a place among his peers, yet it is still awkward and difficult.
Constantly, we see Stephen trying to fit himself in places where he doesn't naturally fit. School is an excellent example of this. Sometimes his essays contain too much "heresy" for a Catholic school -teacher's liking, so they try to discourage and confine Stephen's true self. Often there are bullies which only elevate Stephen's fear to be himself, like the time when some bullies try to make him say one poet is better than another. Repressed by these forces, Stephen is very unhappy and confused.
In church, Stephen struggles to adapt himself to the moral rigors and rules of the Catholic faith. He in essence tries to purge himself of sin at one point after an incident with a prostitute and the sermons of a priest basically scare him into confession and piety. As he tries to deny his natural side but it is to no avail.
Stephen's plight is like that of a fish and a bird in love and the relationship just not being able to work. Stephen's body is like the fish and his soul is the bird. In the book, Stephen's soul tries to survive in the water, but he's drowning and unhappy. The end solution turns out to be the fish/ body of Stephen in essence growing it's own wings to be able to dwell in happiness with his soul.
Stephen has to make the choice to either give up his soul and individuality to adapt to society and the restraints of his family, country, and church or "to live, toe err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life." (Pg., 123). Obviously, by the end of the book, Stephen had "recreated" his life in a way that he could be free and happy. His newly created wings take him away from the country that tries to tie him down with patriotism, the family that drags him down with their unintelligent spending of money and rules, and the church with it's monopolizing power and foreboding echoes of damnation.
The book is a journey that uses a lot of abstract imagery, like birds and Stephen's feelings towards them at the beginning and the end of the book. At first, Stephen fears the birds: "the eagles will come and pull out his eyes."(Pg. 2) but gradually throughout the book, the birds change to a friendlier, beautiful thing to Stephen. I think this says a lot about his view of self-liberation and freedom. At the beginning, freedom is scary- all Stephen wants to do is be accepted, but by the end, the birds are "a strange and beautiful" (Pg. 123) thing that Stephen admires. His view of freedom has changed as he has liberated himself from the three restricting forces: Church, Family, and Country.
The talent of Joyce as a writer to convey vivid images and feelings to the reader cannot be denied. He is truly amazing at painting a picture with show not tell writing and description. I enjoyed that aspect of the book. Despite the talent of the author, I found this book to be uninteresting, strange, and annoying at times to read because it simply didn't cater to the reader. As an author shouldn't you write to the audience? I had to work vigorously just to keep my attention through the long, tricky passages where Joyce tries to represent something figuratively. It was often an annoyance and frustration that made the reading less enjoyable. Overall, the writing level of idea, creativity, and thought were excellent, I just thought he could have made his points and ideas more clear to the reader.
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on November 6, 2001
I was required to read this book as part of my intensive writing class. That may put a slightly negative spin on my views of this book, since I was forced to read it. However, I think that was not a major factor on my opinion of this book.
�A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man� is a good book. In this book, Joyce uses beautiful imagery, interesting style, and thought provoking ideas. Joyce has a very artistic voice that creates wonderful images for the reader. He uses point of view to make the reader think and make connections between the book and the reader�s own life. Joyce uses many intriguing and antiestablishment ideas. Overall, this is a good, but not great book.
One cannot read this book without noticing at least some of the imagery that is contained in it. The first page and a half is pure imagery. There is no plot or real coherence to it. As the story progresses, there becomes a plot; however, a large emphasis on imagery remains. On page twelve it reads, �He crouched down between the sheets, glad of their tepid glow.� The reader is able to see this event, because Joyce uses great words like �crouched� and �tepid glow.� Joyce is also great at making the reader feel things. On page 82 it reads, �The frail, gay sound smote his heart more strongly than a trumpetblast, and, not daring to lift his eyes, he turned aside and gazed, as he walked, into the shadow of the tangled shrubs.� One feels what the main character, Stephen Dedalus is feeling. The imagery creates a connection between reader and character, which adds to the overall quality of this piece. On page 158 it reads, �O what sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet. Over his limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed. He lay still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint sweet music.� That passage is just simply beautiful. The reader can see these images, which fully illustrates the euphoric feelings of Stephen. Imagery is gorgeously applied throughout the book to create a tie between reader and character, and reader and story.
The thing that intrigued me the most about �A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man� was the interesting point of view. The book starts out as Stephen�s point of view. By the end, it is Stephen�s journal. In between, it is everything from strictly third person limited to a first person view in third person. This may not seem to make sense, all this talk about point of view being in more than one person at one time, but if you read this book, it will make sense. The importance of this view to me is in how it made me think. I had trouble concentrating while I read this book. I was constantly thinking of different experiences, ideas, or hopes of my own. Joyce uses a point of view that is so much like one�s own thoughts that it is almost impossible to not let one�s thoughts stray. I would think about things in my life related to what the book was discussing. This creates a powerful tool in the author�s hands. He is able to make the reader think about the book at a personal level. That way, the reader internalizes the points Joyce wants to make. This book affects the reader, often unbeknownst to him. The reader�s ideas are affected. Joyce does not brain wash his readers; he simply opens their minds to new ideas. The interesting use of point of view is able to change the readers� opinions.
This book is often thought of as an anarchist book. It is on the cover of one of Rage Against the Machine�s CD�s. Also on the cover are books like The Anarchist Cookbook, The Media Monopoly, and 50 Ways to Fight Censorship. When I first discovered this, I was baffled. This book was about a shy little boy growing up. I did not understand this books connotations until the end. In the fifth and last chapter, Stephen is a poet with many antiestablishment ideas. By hearing Stephen�s discussions with other characters, the reader is exposed to these ideas. Stephen�s anti-society ideas are shown on page 181. It reads, �I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church.� Stephen obviously has no faith in God, his country, or his family. Furthermore, Stephen will not do things just because he is supposed to. He will only do things he believes are right to do. This book has many ideas that display a rebellious spirit.
Overall, I would say �A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man� was a good book, and worth a read, if you have the time. It can give you a better understanding of writing and of others� point of views. If you are interested in any of the things I mentioned in this review, I would advise reading this book. It demonstrates many interesting ideas and techniques of writing.
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on November 7, 2001
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man is a gripping novel about a boy's coming of age and struggle of growing up in Ireland. It's most often seen as James Joyce's life in retrospect. This book is about Stephen Dedalus' struggle with growing up, fitting in with society, and questions about religion.
It begins as Stephen recounts his early years beginning at the age of six and attending the prestigious Congowes Boarding School. His parents are always in debt and barely scraped enough money to send him there. He goes to Belvedere College the next year because his parents can no longer afford to send him to that school. There he excels in writing and acting, yet does not have the religious fervency that his mother has, nor the political passion his father possesses. He longs for someone to understand him. He doesn't have many friends, yet longs to fit in. He happens to fall into the arms of a prostitute, and therefore goes through with his first sexual encounter. Afterward he feels the hot shame of his sins and momentarily embraces Catholicism. He desperately wants forgiveness of his sins when he goes to a church retreat for his school. There the priest preaches about the damnation of hell and repentance. Stephen feels that the sermons are directed to him and goes to confess his sins to a priest who could care less. He continues to go to Mass everyday, and later his sins come back to him and he feels as though his confession was not legitimate. A priest from his school notices his newfound piety, and asks him if he would think seriously about becoming a priest. Stephen later goes to a beach to think and suddenly an epiphany happens before his eyes. He's seriously contemplating the action of becoming a priest when he sees a beautiful girl standing in the water. As he walks away from her, he realizes that it is not a bad thing to want the beautiful things in life. Everything in Ireland is now frustrating him, and he concludes that the only way that he could be happy is to leave Ireland and become an artist. There is a lot of symbolism with birds. Dedalus is a person in Greek mythology whose father made him wings to fly. This was Stephen's opportunity to fly away from all his problems there and to fly away from the person he once was.
Personally, I liked this book. It showed me how some people do suffer over certain things. Stephen tried to be part of the crowd in every aspect of his life, yet he didn't fit in anywhere. He was tormented over his sin with the harlot, only to discover that it wasn't a bad thing to want beauty. I love how he is happy in the end, even though it is leaving his beloved country. He felt freed from a lifetime of restraint and confusion, and for the first time felt good about life. This is a book of renewal and self- discovery, and I would recommend this classic book to any one I know.
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on June 21, 1999
I first read Portrait over last summer as part of my high schools English curriculum. I found it deadly and unreadable. When we began analysing it in class, however, it became clear to me that this is the most briliant work I have read yet. The first page, while seeming like child's banter, contains themes, images and words that recur throughout the ENTIRE book. The greatest thing about Portrait is that the narrator is inextricably tied to the book. Stephen is the narrator, and he is as far from omiscient as one gets. Every perception the reader has is through his eyes, so the reader is dragged through all his moods. At the end of every chapter, Stephen has an epiphany. After the last epiphany, the reader is left to wonder whether Stephen has attained absolute truth, or whether his epiphany will be negated by future experiences. And then there's the passage of the "bird-girl" Don't get me started on the "bird-girl," because it's one of my favorite passages ever, and accepted as one of the best in the English language. EVERYONE needs to read this book.
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on September 7, 2001
When I was much younger and naive, I had read every single line of Joyce, including his letters and poems and even Finnegan's Wake (what a waste of time). I can't help it, the man was an amateur for all his life, a typical tinkerer and home improvement guy who probably never really found the kind of subject matter that could have distracted him from his self-consciousness. His short stories would barely be remembered these days if there wasnÕt his name under the title. They are imitation pieces, ventriloquistic exercises, and pretty flat and lifeless if held against Chekhov and Kipling, or Flaubert and Kathleen Mansfield.

Joyce had his fair share of difficulties like everyone of us and at some point threw a Manuscript of 2,000 pages into the fireside. The legend goes that his sister Eileen rescued parts of it from the fire. (A similar legend surrounds the first draft of NabokovÕs ÒLolita.Ó) Joyce re-edited the remainders and with the help of Ezra Pound it was published under the title of ÒA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.Ó Much later the remainders of the original draft appeared as ÒStephen Hero.Ó If it had survived in full it would probably have been a very long and rather insufferable autobiographical novel about a clever young man realizing that he's too good for the society into which he's been born.

An attitude the author never really changed: take for instance ÒNausicaa,Ó the notorious masturbation scene in ÒUlysses.Ó Superbly written as it is, it gives us the whole deficiency of Joyce in a nutshell. He imitates the presumptuous and pompous phrasing in certain fashion magazines of the period, but just tell me to what end? Is it to poke fun on the cliche beset thoughts of the crippled girl? Well I fail to see the joke, this is just cruel. Satire either attacks a subject that has the capacity to bite back, or it is merely an act of snobbery. Joyce, the writer, was a rather small character and in the sentiment of his period thought it to be cool to be "anti-philistine."

Apparently "Dubliners" and "Portrait" and especially ÒUlyssesÓ were written by an author who went on a quest for his own style. Finnegan's Wake eventually was the place where the eagle landed. I donÕt think I am alone in my opinion that Joyce had landed on the most barren rock in the entire Universe. Joyce had tons of talent to burn, but something went seriously wrong here. I am all for modern art, and consider the term "post modern" a phony contradiction in terms. But lesser talents accomplished more - DosPassos, O'Neil, Kafka, Proust, Marianne Moore, Auden, Hemingway, Nabokov, they all have their moments, even clowns like Bukowski and Douglas Adams (who is a linguistic genius in his own right.) Borges could put in 3 lines what took a Joyce 30 strenuous pages without ever achieving a comparable impact. With one exception.

If we compare the ÒPortraitÓ with the leftovers from ÒStephen HeroÓ we can see what good editing can accomplish. Joyce was very fond of copiously scribbling in the margins of the galley proofs, so the improvements in style are probably entirely his. The overall structure though (like that of T.S. EliotÕs ÒWastelandÓ) might be based on suggestions by Ezra Pound. Pound also helped Joyce to find a publisher for the ÒPortrait.Ó It was the time when Joyce had been in his Flaubertian phase and emulated the FrenchmanÕs method to present events strictly from the protagonistÕs perspective and in terms of the characterÕs faculties of perception. And what an emulation it is.

Style is the most direct access to an artistÕs temperament. Narrative style is a conveyor - only in essays and poems style is allowed to be a player. Approaching Joyce is an experience not dissimilar to ÒThe Approach to Al-MuÕtasim.Ó After crossing through all the veils we step into an entirely empty room, like the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple. Beyond the private circle of his life, Joyce had nothing to say. Catholicism and Thomas AquinaÕs philosophy leave you badly prepared, not only for the second law of thermodynamics and Special Relativity, but for democracy, a truly free Ireland, or sex with your wife, and life in general.

Only in the ÒPortraitÓ Joyce managed to bring all the pieces together, and though I must say, that the throes of adolescence in the clutches of CatholicismÕs screwed morality and hygiene make not exactly my favorite read, what counts is HOW Joyce brings across his story. And he does it brilliantly. The book is full of flavors and sensuality. We hear the dull thud of the wet leather ball on the rugby pitch, shiver in the clammy dormitory, feel the slight vertigo of StephenÕs trance in the rocking train compartment. All this is fine writing except for the first part, when Joyce attempted to reproduce the mind-set of a small boy.

His choice of words comes a tat too cute and betrays the condescending adult. Joyce was certainly not a Tolstoy, even not a Kipling. NabokovÕs ÒSpeak MemoryÓ is a fine description of early childhood that respects the child. Joyce of course had no intention to glorify this particular childhood, or to be objective. He wrote out of his bitterness of something to be left behind, and the sooner the better. So the ventriloquism sometimes comes on a false note. Still with all these minor flaws, this is a major novel in the language and must read for the aspiring author.
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