Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

The last time I picked up a James Joyce novel I put it down after I understood nothing of it. This was when I tried to read 'Ulysses' ten years ago. Now I feel a little better. I completed reading this one and can claim to put down a smattering of my understanding of it. It did make sense as a whole and I consider it a great achievement that i finished reading it.

The story of Stephen Dedalus, brought up in Dublin, is semi-autobiographical. Stephen goes to the same schools and undergoes the same influences as James Joyce did. To cut a long story short it is about how the sensitive young man grows up under the influence of religion, parents, environment, education and becomes what he does finally - an independent free thinking artist. Stephen is initially bullied at school, looks at his experiences as a sensitive outsider, grows up to experience life, women, awakens to religion and guilt and then consciously walks out to his own intellectual leanings.

Joyce's writing style is different and not for nothing is he considered a huge influence on novelists across the world. He tells this story effortlessly and in a manner that is difficult to describe - he jumps easily from time frame to time frame, scene to scene, age to age - but leaves you with clear images of his character's growth and situation.  The scene where the priest influences him, his intellectual discourses with his friends in college, his love and his life in Dublin are all strongly etched in the reader's mind. The novel is ranked as the third greatest English novel in the twentieth century. For me it was not an easy read in one way yet an easy read in another, but I could identify with Stephen's dilemmas as he grows up. Joyce had apparently written this story as 'Stephen Hero' first which had even more autobiographical accounts but he rewrote it almost entirely and changed it into this novel. The unfinished and unpublished 'Stephen Hero' was posthumously published in 1944.

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