I can't deny it, I approached this novel with some trepidation. Joyce's reputation is that he is "difficult" and "experimental" and therefore "inaccessible", that he is revered but unreadable, except for some of the rude bits.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was first published in 1916 and comes at an interesting point in Joyce's career, after the Dubliners collection of short stories that made his name but before his most highly regarded novel Ulysses and his most challenging, Finnegans Wake. The novel does contain some of the modernist features that give Joyce his challenging reputation: stream of consciousness, shifting perspectives, non-linear structure, very little speech, explicit on taboo subjects. However, it is coherent and became less daunting as I got into the book. And, beyond some very admiring descriptions of attractive women, there is nothing rude here.
Possibly, its readability is because it is thinly disguised memoir. We follow Stephen Dedalus from his school days at Clongowes, through his flirtation with possibly joining the priesthood whilst attending a Jesuit run college, and his time at University College during which he has a crisis of faith and decides he has to leave Ireland: all things that Joyce himself did.
This sounds odd, but I guess what I wasn't expecting was just how Irish this novel would be in its themes. There is an early scene at a family Christmas dinner at which Stephen's father, Simon, and his neighbours discuss Irish politics (perhaps at their most sensitive, given Ireland's imminent independence). We are treated to a lengthy sermon from one of the Jesuits on the last judgement. Catholicism shapes Stephen's life in a way I hadn't anticipated.
The other very Irish aspect was the language. I listened to Naxos's audiobook edition read by Jim Norton, and his gentle brogue bought to the forefront the rhythms of the writing in a way that reading the book myself off the page might not have done. The reader also gets a strong sense of early 20th century Dublin that I guess Joyce must have fully developed in Ulysses.
As you might guess, this isn't a plot driven book. The long sermon on the Last Judgement in the middle was, frankly, tedious; possibly that was the point, and Stephen's discussion of aesthetics with fellow student Cranly was just confusing. Thus, I admired many aspects of this novel, and can see its place in literary history, but I can't say I really liked it all that much. Nevertheless, I'm not scared of James Joyce any more. I'm definitely curious about Dubliners, and might read Ulysses one day, not something I might have said before reading this.
Has anyone actually read this - from beginning to end?? Why is this a good thing to do? Are you glad you've done it!?
Any advice for someone like me who has attempted it a few times but grinds to a halt half way through the first chapter each time?
I know a lot of people will say, "Don't bother, it's pretentious rubbish"!! But I'd still like to find out for myself what all the fuss is about!
I think I keep getting bogged down by the massive number of footnotes and charts and tables in the back of my edition of it. I stop and read them all as I go along and there's so many of them and they are so detailed that I loose track of what is actually going on
It's currently being serialised on OneWord Radio, (I love my DAB!) and I can't listen to every episode, but I'm going to try and catch a few of them.
James Joyce - Dubliners - 1905
True. There are a lot of different people James Joyce describes in his stories. As a true lover of novels, I would have liked him to write a novel about every single one of them. Short stories always finish as soon as you get used to the characters. That's my personal opinion, I know a lot of people love short stories. I don't really.Anyway, the characters were well described, the plots were interesting, I did enjoy the stories. I just would have wished them to be longer.
(thread first started 27.03.06)