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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Joyce's life had a strong impact on this early novel. Biographical information informs the reader about that impact. Essays also survey the spectrum of critical evaluations, explanations and appreciations of the book, revealing a kaleidoscope of fruitful approaches to which readers now have access and to which more insights can and will be added.
The publication of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man confirms the creation of a new kind of fiction for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Joyce used for the novel's protagonist's name an alternate spelling of Stephen Daedalus, the pseudonym he himself employed in the serial publication of his first short stories, and like those stories his novel avoids the conventional action-based plot structure of earlier works. Instead, it shapes itself subtly to the emotional, thoughtful and aesthetic responses of its protagonist, Stephen (now Dedalus), to the events of his life. Can we draw approximate equal signs between author and protagonist, since approximate equal signs exist between pseudonym and protagonist? One can frame the issue logically:
James Joyce took the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus.
Stephen Dedalus is a version of the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus.
Therefore Stephen Dedalus is a version of James Joyce.
Whatever we make of the protagonist's relationship to the author, his work attains a vastly more exact presentation of human occurrences moment by moment than exploit-centered plotting allows. Portrait replaces the standard resolutions that plots end on with powerfully realized experiences.
A Portrait of the Artistas a Young Man concerns the only partially successful struggles of young Stephen to escape the traps and misperceptions that the worlds into which he is born impose on him. Chapter by chapter, he escapes one trap only to fall into another, and at times what he takes to be escape traps him. In the course of his struggle, truths of human desire and sympathy complicate his responses to the raw material of the external world. The result is a novel both profound and difficult, one that, properly understood, can help readers to appreciate Stephen's situation and cope with their own entanglements.
The review in this volume of Joyce's life helpfully places his largely autobiographical novel in the context of his life and time, powerfully enlarging our understanding of the biographical fields the story covers. There is also a survey of the spectrum of critical evaluations, explanations and appreciations of the book, revealing a kaleidoscope of fruitful approaches to which readers now have access and to which more insights can and will be added.
Another essay explores Joyce's troubling connection between what the clergy claims to be, a brotherhood of religious purity, and the diseased sexuality, including moral turpitude.
Joyce viewed and worked on A Portrait at different periods of his life and, as a result, apart from irony, the narrative can be read from his different perspectives at one time. There is an ongoing ironic distance between Stephen's developing understanding of events and what is actually happening. It plays itself out in succeeding chapters of the narrative as if they were short stories.
The relationships between Stephen Dedalus and his mythological progenitor, Daedalus, according to the Ancient Greeks the first great artist, architect and inventor of human flight, are clearly invoked in their almost identically spelled names. However, Daedalus is only one of the significant mythological analogues. One essay here enlarges the range of our mythological considerations, adding Aphrodite and Pygmalion to the mix.
There is also discussion of Portrait's reflection of the cultural and political history of Ireland.
In sum, the essays collected here provide a wide spectrum of useful information and critical approaches.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
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