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.
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.
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.
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.
on October 29, 2003
Unless you are a genius, you will not really enjoy this book with only one reading. Everything about this book is right, especially its literary structure. Joyce took about ten years writing it. At one point, it was a much longer book, but he chiseled it down to this jewel.
After my first reading, I felt a sense of accomplishment. But I knew there was more in the book than I got out of it. It was like Joyce dared me to reread it. My second reading was pure joy because I was able to grasp so much more of the book's structure than the first time around. He writes in stream-of-conscious, and understanding that is the real challenge. Events and creative language may appear random at first, but after looking at the novel's 'big picture,' you can see order.
The plot revolves around Stephen Daedalus' (James Joyce) coming of age, both as a young man and as an artist. Daedalus' personality and values contrast that of his Ireland, family, religion, etc. This is an auto-biography with plenty of artistic license. 'Stephen' was Christianity's first martyr. Daedalus was the creative genius in Greek mythology who made the Minotaur, the labyrinth, and Icarus' waxen wings. These types of detail pervade the novel. Take nothing for granted as you read.
This Penguin copy ISBN# 0451525442 has an excellent introduction. Do not start without reading an intro first. You will miss out.
on March 18, 2002
Following the plot of "A Portrait" is like trying to chase a fish through a murky, moss-covered swamp pond. Understanding the meanings in the work is as simple as clearly seeing the bottom of this same pool. The reader can feel the great depth of this bayou-book by the height of the clammy, chilling water on his body. Even when he has finally climbed out of the pond, moss and other marks cling to him. The reader can feel too the power of the work by the invisible, unmistakable currents and swirls that unceasingly surround him through his chase.
Why would someone read this book, a book with difficult plot and meaning, and unclear, intimidating depth and power? Obvious gold nuggets glint beneath the water, felt beneath the reader's feet, seen amidst sometimes muddy chapters: they are Joyce's masterful short phrases. They compel the reader forward, delighting him as he fumbles after the fish, chasing after this elusive, wriggling rainbow trout, a leprechaun leading to more gold. The imagery and alliteration of Joyce's short phrases force the reader on to each next page, and assure him that the tiring toil of draining this swamp is an effort well rewarded.
The entire mural of "A Portrait" may seem abstract and unclear, but the delicate images, the stinging images, the firm and the flimsy images--each is an intimately executed brushstroke or a perfectly mixed color that enchants the reader. These are the glinting nuggets hiding in the pond, chunks of pure lyric beauty. The images stick in your mind and haunt you like some catchy tune; the make you want to stride on onto the beach and run "far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea" (123). To find these nuggets a perceptive reader will soon be "scraping the air from before his eyes with one hand as though he were tearing aside a cobweb" (25), hunting with fervency. He will wander "the dark, slimy streets peering into the gloom of lanes and doorways" (70). Even taken completely out of context as above, these "eerily convincing portrayals," as R.B. Kershner calls them, retain their majesty. And though an understanding of much of the novel may be as solid and stable as a dancing fire, "Above the flame the smoke of praise/ Goes up from ocean rim to rim" (159).
Joyce pleases the mind's eye, yes; but the mind's ear is his true workshop. His symphonic work has an enormous scope, but each alliterative phrase rises up from the orchestral noise as a melody to be inhaled. "Little, fiery flakes fell" (101);
"the warm, sunny city outside" (62); "the candlestick with its tendrils of tallow" (159). Here the gold nuggets come so thick that surely they comprise a vein that the reader must mine. They permeate "A Portrait", filling it: "cast down by the dull phenomenon of Dublin" (54); "darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour" (71); "stirring his soul slowly from its listless despair" (79). I will let the examples speak for themselves as they speak to the listening reader.
If the reader will feel each atom of gold, each artistic phrase, as he chases the elusive fish of plot, the swamp of confusion covering "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" will begin to drain, as Virginia Woolf's affirms in her commentary of the book. "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incidence scores upon the consciousness." And until those patterns become clear and the mossy water flows away, simply enjoy the gold glinting at us from below, radiant under Joyce's illuminating talent.
on November 8, 2001
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of the great masterpieces of modern literature. Joyce is a true master of diction. While his imagery is complex and metaphorical, it is never banal. Though many of the experiences of Stephen Daedalus are commonplace, Joyce's descriptions give them meaning that is universally applicable.
The basic structure of the book is rather simple. Five chapters each present an important point in the life of Stephen. Each of these segments contains an epiphany that slowly guides Stephen to his vocation as an artist. The language of the chapter's change as Stephen gains maturity and independence. In the first chapter, Stephen is a pre-adolescent boy struggling to be accepted at school. His thoughts center around his family, especially his "Nice Mother" (Joyce, 3). In the second chapter teenage first Stephen addresses issues of sexuality and love. He begins to be drawn to literature as a way of expressing his emotions. Chapters three and four provide a thought provoking analysis of religion. In perhaps the book's most important epiphany Stephen gains an affirmation of his artistic calling. In chapter five we see the development of Stephen's aesthetic philosophy, and his resolve to leave his native country of Ireland.
It is interesting, indeed, to chart the progress of a weak six-year boy until he becomes a liberal minded university student. While the journey Stephen takes is not radically unique, by the end of the novel almost every one of his attitudes is significantly altered- including his love for his mother.
Readers be warned. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, can be laborious as its title. Joyce uses altered syntax (hyphens instead of quotation marks) a makes use of unique word order to show the stages of Stephen's development. In the title itself, many always switch "a" and "the." Joyce's book is not one meant to entertain. It is a philosophical novel that is probably written for completely didactic purposes.
In my College English class, many disliked the novel. I disliked it as well, until I began to click with Joyce's use of stream of consciousness technique. At that point I began to feel as if I was in the mind of Stephen. I realized why some of the various time shifts in the book were occurring. I began to concentrate on the descriptions Joyce was presenting, and began to see some of the reasons for Stephen's development.
All the techniques Joyce uses are aimed at bringing us inside the mind of Stephen Daedalus. Vivid imagery only comes when Stephen concentrates on a particular item, whether it is the stick used by a teacher to slap him, his vision of Hell, or the beautiful girl on the beach who stirs his soul with "profane joy" (123). Most of the attributes of turn of the century Ireland are completely ignored. Cursory descriptions of the land and political situation of time are never expanded, and really of little importance. "The Artist" is the focus of the book. All the remaining characters are flat, and are only used as yard sticks to show Stephen's budding independence. Again, the names and rolls of secondary characters are often of little importance.
Again this book is not for the faint of heart. Speed-reading was an exercise in futility. Any lack of concentration could bring utter confusion if one missed a shift in Stephen's thoughts. I highly recommend using Cliff Notes or other study device to make sure you understand all the main events of the chapter. Understanding the book becomes easier as one becomes familiar with the unique majesty of Joyce's words. Even when describing boredom, they are remarkable.
The drowning voice of the professor continued to wind itself slowly round and round the coils it spoke of, doubling, trebling, quadrupling it somnolent energy as the coil multiplied its ohms of resistance (140).
Boring science lectures are only one of the things the Joyce brings to life. Reading Portrait was definitely a mind-expanded experience, make easier by the short length of the book. I highly recommend it for anyone who is ready to move from great stories, to great works of literature.
Work Cited- Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dover Publications Inc. New York NY, 1994
on November 7, 2001
"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is an eloquent novel that reveals James Joyce's literary genius. The story, which seems to be based on some of Joyce's life, is told using a third person limited omniscient narrator, but often appears to be told through the eyes of the main character Stephen Dedalus. The story is set in late nineteenth century Ireland shadows the growth and development of Stephen during his early years. He begins his journey as a young lad, oppressed by his parents, society, and religion. The diction and tone employed in the early stages of the novel are that of a young child. As we see Stephen's passage through life we also observe a progression of the writing. As Stephen becomes more educated both scholastically and in the ways of the world, Joyce's writing style progresses with him. This fluctuation in style effectively portrays the changes in Stephen, and the ever-widening rift that he creates between himself and his oppressors. Throughout the book, Stephen struggles to separate his own life with the life that he is expected to live. Through a series of vividly descriptive epiphanies, Stephen discovers that his own ideas, though contrary to his upbringing, are acceptable. The book concludes with a series of personal journal entries of Stephen's in which he rejoices in his new found life exclaiming "Welcome, O life!"(185). The lessons learned by Stephen Dedalus have great application to our own lives, proving that sometimes we must cast off our upbringing and venture out on our own to discover who we are. This lesson coupled with Joyce's imaginative, symbolic style makes for a killer combination. "Portrait" is an excellent read!
on November 7, 2001
The strikingly beautiful language of James Joyce provides readers with page after page of scrumptious poetic prose describing more of thoughts and reactions to implied situations within the novel. Portrait of an Artist is not so much the story of young Stephen Daedalus as it is an expression of the feelings of a young man facing an internal struggle between religion and aesthetics. As the prose of the novel grow along with its young protagonist readers are able to see the progression of a small child into a strong young man. Joyce instead of telling readers the story provides them with the sensations and feelings of Stephen as he grows allowing the story to be merely implied and absorbed by the reader. Although many parts of the novel may be difficult to understand, as readers are not always sure exactly what is happening because of Joyce's style, the beauty of the prose itself is a major part of what makes Portrait of an Artist such a fantastic piece of literature.
The struggle of young Stephen between his creative side and the rough political and religious expectations of his family and nation can also be seen by Joyce's choice in the name of his character. The relation of Stephen Daedalus to the mythical Daedalus who created wings to escape the Leviathan is weaved throughout the novel through Joyce's use of bird imagery. The reader can see the progression of the young hero as he strives to create his own wings to escape the oppression he comes to feel from religion and even patriotic devotion. One of the most beautiful passages of the entire book is the epiphanatic moment when Stephen sits on the beach and notices a beautiful young woman standing in the surf. Joyce describes this exquisite young girl by using language one might use when describing a beautiful bird. She represents the beauty and creativity Stephen has felt guilty for desiring all his life because of the strong influence his religion has had on him. Stephen's realization at seeing this girl is one of the major steps in his attempt to create his own wings and fly away.
This masterpiece of James Joyce's, although fictional, draws heavily on experiences from the author's life. It touches on many meaningful themes all mainly related to coming of age as Joyce takes readers through many of his own youth experiences. The real genius of the novel is a technique called stream-of-consciousness that Joyce was one of the pioneering developers of during his time. From the baby talk and infantile perception Joyce presents at the beginning of his novel to the elevated and intellectual ideals Stephen presents during his time at the university, this style of writing enhances the experience for the reader as they are literally inside the main character's thoughts although the narration is not in the first person. This adds to the experience, as the reader is able to struggle along with Stephen as he attempts to rise above the imposition of family, peers, religion and politics. The journey throughout the novel is a story of a young man who comes of age and eventually finds his directions in life as he strive to become an artist in a world dominated by rigid things.
on September 27, 2001
"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is an impressionistic, semi-autobiographical work in which Joyce, through the character of Stephen Dedalus, relates the events and impressions of his youth and young adulthood. The novel flows effortlessly from Stephens first memories as "baby tuckoo" to his final journal entries before embarking on a promising literary career in Paris. In the pages between, Joyce's virtuosity of prose explodes in passages with frightening intensity. Even those who dislike Joyce's confusing, sometimes-infuriating style, should be awestruck by his undubitable writing ability.
However, as anyone reading this review should already know, despite his virtuosity, Joyce is not for everyone. He is simultaneously one of the most beloved and despised writers of the twentieth century. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work and hesitantly contemplating becoming acquainted with it, here is some food for thought: first, start with "Portrait," it is far more accessible than his subsequent works and a better introduction to them than the also-excellent "Dubliners" is. Second, do not try to judge "Portrait" by the same standards as other books. Joyce is not trying to tell an amusing story here, he is trying to relate the impressions of a young man torn between two existences: a religious or an aesthetic. If you are a meat-and-potatoes type of reader, meaning the kind of reader who prefers a "story," Joyce will not be your cup of tea. Lastly, Joyce's reputation perhaps does his works injustice. Yes, he is extremely encyclopedic and takes on many themes in his works. But perhaps too many readers get sidetracked from the aesthetic merits of his works by concentrating solely on the intellectual values. It is his prose which can be universally appreciated, whether you understand the ideas it portrays or not. His prose is his bread-and-butter. Some people pompously brag of their "getting" Joyce without actually appreciating what he does. I don't claim to be a bonafied Joyce scholar, but it is my experience that to enjoy Joyce is to appreciate "literature for literature's sake." If you enjoy literature, poetry or prose, than you should enjoy the style with which Joyce writes, that is to say, all styles. And he has seemingly mastered all styles. That is not to say that the many thematic levels in which his novels succeed are to be ignored, for their expression is not seperate from the means with which Joyce does it, but congruous with it.
To read Joyce is to revel in the limits of artistic creation and then to read on as the limits are then stretched further.