Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*University College. Roman Catholic university in Dublin, as opposed to Trinity College, which was reserved for the Protestant elite. This is the site where Stephen Dedalus and his friends have long, involved discussions and arguments about topics such as art, politics, and the Catholic Church.
As at his earlier schools, Stephen is at odds, intellectually, philosophically, and religiously, with most of his fellows; however, at University College he is much better able to articulate his positions. It is here that Stephen finally renounces his Catholic faith, with his statement that he will refuse to make his Easter duty as his ailing mother has asked. In the physics theater of University College, Stephen and an elderly Jesuit priest discuss the powerful differences in language—particularly differences between English and Gaelic—that are powerful impulses in Stephen’s aspirations and actions. During this conversation, Stephen realizes the great potency words have in his life and senses that the artist who can transform reality through words is equivalent to the priest who can transmute the bread and wine during mass.
Dedalus homes. The large family of Simon and May Dedalus occupy a variety of houses and apartments in Dublin during the course of the novel. The steady decline in the richness and quality of these residences charts the descent of the Dedalus family from...
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Joyce’s Ireland: The Historical and Political Context
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is set in Ireland in the late nineteenth century and at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Joyce does not give precise dates in the narrative, but there is a reference to at least one historical event (the fall of Parnell) that helps to date the action. Moreover, critics agree that the incidents in the life of Stephen Dedalus, the “young man” of the title, closely parallel incidents in the life of Joyce himself. (In 1904, Joyce wrote an autobiographical essay titled “A Portrait of the Artist.”) Joyce was born in 1882 and graduated from University College, Dublin, in 1902. These years approximately form the parameters of the novel.
Joyce grew up in an Ireland that constitutionally was a part of a nation formally known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Located just to the west of the island of Great Britain, Ireland had its own distinctive customs and culture. Most significantly, while Protestantism was the predominant religion in Great Britain, most native Irish people were Roman Catholics. However, both politically and economically, Ireland had long been dominated by Britain.
This dominant British presence in Ireland went back to the middle ages, when Norman knights from England first arrived in Ireland at the invitation of local Irish chieftains. The British presence in Ireland grew over the next...
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The publication of Portrait in book form in 1916 coincided with one of the most important events in modern Irish history: the Easter Rising, which initiated a bloody war of independence followed by several months of civil war in Ireland. By 1922, in the wake of these conflicts, Ireland had thrown off British rule and transformed itself into the Irish Free State—a body comprising all but the six counties of Ulster (the modern-day British province of Northern Ireland); in 1949 the Free State became Eire, the Republic of Ireland. The Rising began when a citizen army of around 1000 people occupied Dublin's General Post Office and several other key sites around the city, read aloud a proclamation of an Irish Republic, and raised republican flags. Britain's response was swift, violent, and apparently effective: thousands of troops were brought into Dublin; a gunboat was deployed in the river Liffey; bullets, shells and incendiary bombs destroyed much of the city and resulted in approximately 1500 casualties. Within five days, the rebels surrendered. In the weeks that followed, the leaders of the Rising were executed by a firing squad. These highly-publicized executions sent waves of revulsion across Ireland, made martyrs of the rebels, and solidified public opinion in Ireland against British rule. In the words of Joyce's contemporary, the playwright Sean O'Casey, "1916 became the Year One in Irish history and Irish life."
In the Ireland of...
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Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. Through which characters’ consciousness is the narrative focused?
2. Who is “baby tuckoo”?
3. What is the significance of Dante’s maroon and green brushes?
4. What advice does Stephen’s father give him as they leave him off at Clongowes?
5. Why did Wells push Stephen into the ditch?
6. How does Mrs. Dedalus respond to the argument at the Christmas dinner table?
7. What is the story Mr. Casey tells at dinner?
8. According to Athy, why are Simon Moonan and Tusker Boyle in trouble?
9. Why was Stephen exempt from classwork by Father Arnall?
10. What do Stephen’s classmates encourage him to do after Father Conmee pandies him?
1. The narrative is focused, in the style of “free indirect discourse,” through Stephen Dedalus’ consciousness.
2. “Baby Tuckoo” is the “nicens little boy” in the story Stephen’s father tells him when he is very young. It is a figure for Stephen himself.
3. The maroon brush stands for Michael Davitt, and the green brush stands for Parnell, the famous Irish nationalist leaders.
4. He tells him to write home if he wanted anything, and “whatever he did, never to peach on a fellow.”
5. Wells pushed Stephen into the ditch because Stephen refused to swap his snuffbox for Wells’ “seasoned hacking...
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Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. Where is the Dedalus family living at the start of the chapter?
2. What does Stephen read alone in his room at night?
3. Why does Stephen not return to Clongowes in September?
4. When the family has moved back to Dublin, why does Stephen spend so much time alone?
5. Why does Stephen feel it is appropriate to entitle his poem, “To E--- C---”?
6. Where does Stephen go to school after Clongowes?
7. Why does Heron mock Byron, who Stephen says is “the best poet”?
8. What word does Stephen see carved on a desk at Queen’s College in Cork?
9. Where does Stephen get the money for his “season of pleasure”?
10. How does Stephen react to the prostitute at the end of the chapter?
1. The family has moved to Blackrock, a suburb on the coast southeast of Dublin.
2. Stephen reads a translation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
3. Stephen is unable to return to Clongowes because his father can no longer afford to send him.
4. Stephen spends so much time alone in Dublin because he has few friends, and his Uncle Charles has gotten too old to go outside.
5. Stephen imitates the titles of some poems he has seen in the collected works of Lord Byron, the English Romantic poet.
6. Stephen is sent to Belvedere College by special...
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Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. What is Stephen’s attitude toward his sinful lifestyle as Chapter Three opens?
2. What religious office does Stephen hold at Belvedere?
\3. What is important about St. Francis Xavier, according to the rector?
4. What are the “four last things” the sermons will cover during the retreat?
5. What effect does seeing Father Arnall have upon Stephen?
6. Why does Stephen feel he cannot confess at the college chapel?
7. Describe Stephen’s vision of hell.
8. What effect does seeing the “frowsy girls” on the side of the road have on Stephen?
9. How old is Stephen in Chapter Three?
10. What does the priest tell Stephen after confession?
1. Stephen claims to be indifferent; he does not feel shame or guilt around his classmates, and is too proud to pray to God and repent.
2. Stephen is prefect of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
3. The rector tells the boys that St. Francis Xavier was one of the original Jesuits, one of the first followers of Ignatius. He was known for converting people in the Indies, Africa, and Asia. According to the rector, he once converted 10,000 in one month.
4. The “four last things” are death, judgment, hell, and heaven. The topic of the sermons never reach heaven, as promised.
5. Seeing Father Arnall recalls...
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Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
1. Describe Stephen’s daily life at the start of Chapter Four.
2. Why does Stephen have trouble mortifying his sense of smell?
3. What is Stephen’s opinion of the Jesuits now?
4. How does Stephen reply when the director of Belvedere asks him if he feels he may have a vocation for the priesthood?
5. What appeals to Stephen about the priesthood?
6. What repels Stephen about the priesthood?
7. Why aren’t Stephen’s parents at home when he gets in?
8. What phrase comes to Stephen’s mind as he crosses the bridge to the Bull?
9. What symbolic import does Stephen recognize in his name?
10. How does Stephen interpret his encounter with the bathing girl along the strand?
1. Stephen’s day is structured around religious devotions—he attends morning Mass each day, carries his rosary in his pocket, and prays systematically throughout the day. He says three chaplets a day for the three theological virtues, while dedicating each day toward gaining one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and toward driving out each of the seven deadly sins.
2. Stephen has trouble mortifying his sense of smell because he finds that he has little natural repugnance to odor, and it is difficult for him to find a smell unpleasant enough to disturb him. He ultimately finds that the smell of “longstanding...
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Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
1. Describe Stephen’s attitude toward school at the start of Chapter Five.
2. What does Davin call Stephen?
3. What is the “useful art” the dean of studies promises to teach Stephen?
4. What are the two primary influences on Stephen’s artistic theory?
5. What is Davin’s objection to Stephen’s “revolt” against religion, family, and nation?
6. What characteristic of Lynch’s speech does Stephen identify with “culture”?
7. What, according to Stephen, are the three basic forms of art?
8. What kind of poem does Stephen compose in the middle of Chapter Five?
9. Describe the attitude which the other students take toward Temple.
10. When Lynch asks Stephen if he loves his mother, what does Stephen say?
1. Stephen has a casual, even lackadaisical attitude toward his schoolwork at the start of Chapter Five. He is late for lecture, and has to borrow a scrap of notepaper from Moynihan.
2. Davin calls Stephen “Stevie.”
3. The dean of studies promises to teach Stephen the “useful art” of starting a fire in a fireplace.
4. Stephen’s artistic theory is based heavily on the work of Aristotle and Aquinas.
5. Davin feels that an individual’s primary responsibility is to his or her country, and feels that Stephen is betraying Ireland in...
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Like many of the novels that precede it, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written in the third person point of view. However, this novel is anything but a traditional third-person narrative. Joyce’s narrative voice is utterly unlike the omniscient (all-knowing) narrative voice found in traditional nineteenth-century novels. Earlier novelists such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot concentrated on exterior detail and attempted to give a broad overview both of the action that they were depicting and the society in which it took place. Joyce had no interest in writing this sort of novel. His narrative is narrow and tightly focused; he does not tell what is happening but rather tries to show what is happening without explaining the events that he is showing.
There is no plot as such in the novel; the narrative is not continuous but fragmented, with gaps in the chronology. The focus is exclusively on the central character, Stephen Dedalus, who is present on virtually every page. Every narrative detail is filtered through Stephen’s consciousness. Joyce uses the experimental techniques stream-ofconsciousness and interior monologue to let the reader see, hear, and feel what Stephen is experiencing as the action unfolds. One result of this focus on Stephen is that most of the other characters are seen only in relation to him.
In the earlier sections of the novel, Stephen is very young and is not fully...
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The term "epiphany" looms large in Joyce's earlier work, providing a helpful point of entry into both Dubliners and Portrait. The term's roots are Greek; it means, literally, a "showing forth." In the Christian calendar, the feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, the "Twelfth Night" of Christmas, commemorates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem to worship the newborn Christ—the "epiphany" is the showing forth of Christ to the three kings. Joyce adopted the term and broadened its sense to describe a series of very short prose pieces he wrote between 1900 and 1903, some of which later found their way into Portrait. In Stephen Hero (an earlier draft of Portrait, the surviving parts of which were published a few years after Joyce's death), Stephen, who is planning a book of his epiphanies, offers this definition: "By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments." An epiphany, in other words, is a moment of revelation, when the very truth or essence of something is suddenly glimpsed. Art, as Stephen understands it, attempts to capture and preserve such fleeting moments. The planned collection of brief epiphanies in Stephen Hero is very similar to the...
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As a novel about a young man's development as he tries to realize an ideal vision of himself as an artist who stands aloof from the conflicts of family, politics, and religion that divide his world, Portrait raises questions about the nature of art and artists and their relationship to the world in which they live: Is the artist an especially gifted being? What duty does an artist owe family, friends, country? Stephen imagines the artist as an indifferent god, paring his nails while his characters go about their business, but a similar indifference marks his relationships with those around him, and he often appears callous, cruel, consumed by various idealized visions of himself as the saintly penitent, for instance, or the heroic artist figure of the novel's closing pages who grandly promises to "forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." The novel does not clearly disavow such romantic and heroic notions of the artist, but it does at the very least suggest the cost to others of such a degree of self-absorption, however creative. The nature of art itself is also at issue in the novel. What is it? What is it for? Stephen envisions an art that transcends his world and distills his experience to a pure essence untainted by everyday life; however, we see very little of Stephen's art in the novel, and what we do see is not remarkable. Further, the book that Joyce has written is very different from the refined aesthetic ideal celebrated by...
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Compare and Contrast
1880s-1910s: The entire island of Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland does not have its own government, but Irish representatives are elected to the British Parliament in London.
Today: The independent Republic Ireland, comprised of 26 Irish counties, has its own government in Dublin. The six counties of Northern Ireland remain affiliated with the United Kingdom and send representatives to the Parliament in London.
1880s-1910s: The majority of Irish people belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which has a strong influence on most of the population. However, most of the leading writers, landowners, and political figures in Ireland belong to the Church of Ireland, a Protestant denomination related to the Church of England.
Today: Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in the Republic of Ireland, with ninetyfive percent of the population considered Catholic. Virtually all Irish political leaders are Catholics. However, the Church’s influence on Irish society is less strong than in the past.
1880s-1910s: A large number of educated people, including James Joyce himself, emigrate abroad in search of greater economic and cultural opportunities.
Today: Irish emigration rates remained high for most of the twentieth century. However, by the 1990s, authorities report that many young educated Irish who had moved abroad are...
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Topics for Discussion
1. How likeable is Stephen Dedalus? What are the positive and negative aspects of his character?
2. How does Stephen develop over his years at Clongowes school? What traits do we see in Stephen that will develop as he grows older? What traits do we see that will diminish over time?
3. How would you describe Stephen's relationship with his family? His father? His mother? His brothers and sisters.
4. In the beginning of the book, Stephen, wrongly punished by Father Dolan, overcomes his fear to speak with the rector of Clongowes, Father Conmee. What does he learn as a result of this episode? How does his encounter with these two men influence him later in life?
5. By the end of the novel, Stephen has resolved to leave Ireland. Why?
6. In his second-to-last journal entry, Stephen writes that his mother prays that he will "learn what the heart is and what it feels." What does she mean? Do you think Stephen understands what she means?
7. Joyce could have had Stephen tell his own story, but instead we see him described by another narrator who knows his most intimate thoughts. Why might Joyce have chosen to tell the story in this way? Having done so, why does he end the novel differently, with a series of passages from Stephen's diary?
8. Although this novel presents us with "a portrait of the artist," the only art of Stephen's we actually see is one poem, his villanelle, and few readers have...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. The first chapter of the novel coincides with the downfall and death of Charles Stewart Parnell, who is throughout that chapter an important figure on the margins of the action. He is symbolized by Dante's green brush; his death is one element in Stephen's dream vision during his time in the infirmary; and talk of him disrupts the Joyces' Christmas dinner. Investigate Parnell's life, cause, and downfall and discuss his significance to Joyce's novel.
2. Portrait is set and was published in the midst of the Irish Revival, a cultural movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (whose representatives included W.B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, J.M. Synge and others) that aimed to revive, disseminate and celebrate Irish stories and traditions in response to the predominance of British culture. Research the Irish Revival and consider how Joyce might be responding to it. Is he a participant in this movement or a critic of it?
3. Read Ovid's account of the flight of Dedalus and Icarus in his Metamorphoses (Book 8) and consider Joyce's reasons for choosing to name his young artist "Dedalus." Alternatively, find the story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and consider why that name is appropriate.
4. Compare Joyce's use of the Dedalus/ Icarus myth with that of W.H. Auden in his poem "Musee des Beaux Arts" or with that of William Carlos Williams in "The Fall of Icarus."
5. Joyce devotes...
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Topics for Further Study
The Order of Catholic priests that figures in Joyce’s novel, the Society of Jesus, is known historically for its schools and colleges. Research the order and its educational philosophy. What is the approach of the Jesuits to teaching and study? In what ways would the Jesuit education that Stephen Dedalus received have differed from a public school education in America today?
Research the Irish Literary Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Who were some of the writers in this movement and how did their ideas differ from the literary ideas that Stephen Dedalus expresses?
Research the Irish Home Rule movement and the role that Charles Stuart Parnell played in that movement. How do Dante’s and Mr. Casey’s differing attitudes toward Parnell reflect Irish public opinion of the time?
James Joyce once said that if Dublin was destroyed, people could reconstruct the city from his books. Research the city of Dublin. What are some its famous buildings, sights, and landmarks, and how does Joyce use these places as settings in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?
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A fairly well received film version of Portrait was made in 1979 by Joseph Strick with Bosco Hogan playing the role of Stephen. The novel's "sequel," Ulysses, was also filmed by Strick in 1967 with considerably less success. There are at least two unabridged recordings of the novel, by David Case (Books On Tape, 1992) and Frederick Davidson (Blackstone Audio Books, 1995). In addition, there are a few abridged recordings, including ones by Jim Norton (Naxos Audio Books, 1995) and John Lynch (Durkin Hayes Audio, 1993).
Portrait is an example of the Bildungsroman, a novel that traces the development of its central character from youth to adulthood, of which there are many examples. One of the best-known English novels in this genre is Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1860-61). It tells the story of Phillip Pirrip, known as "Pip," an orphan who moves from his humble village to the bustling city of London, shedding all the trappings of his humble origins as he is remade into a gentleman. Other frequently cited examples of the genre are Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh (1903) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprentice (1795-6). While the subject of the development novel up to Joyce's time was typically male, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) provides an excellent example with a female character at its center.
Portrait also bears comparison with D. H....
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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was adapted as a feature film by Judith Rascoe, directed by Joseph Strick, and starring Bosco Hogan, T. P. McKenna, Rosaleen Linehan, John Gielgud, Maureen Potter, Brian Murray, and Luke Johnson, Ulysse, 1979. Available from Howard Mahler. Distributed by Instructional Video.
The book was also recorded, unabridged, in a series of eight sound cassettes, read by Donal Donnelly. Available from Recorded Books, Prince Frederick, MD, 1991. The publisher’s catalogue number is 91106.
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What Do I Read Next?
Dubliners is James Joyce’s first published book of fiction. It is a collection of fifteen short stories about ordinary characters in Dublin in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The themes are childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age. Some of the stories first appeared in an Irish magazine in 1904, under the pseudonym “Stephen Dedalus.” The last and most famous story, “The Dead,” was finished in 1907, but publication of the book was delayed until 1914.
The character Stephen Dedalus also appears in Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses, a classic of literary modernism. The action is set in a single day, June 16, 1904 (the date on which Joyce met his future wife, Nora Barnacle). The story follows Stephen, a newspaper advertising salesman named Leopold Bloom, and Bloom’s wife Molly as they go about their business in Dublin. This elaborately structured novel parallels Homer’s classic epic The Odyssey. Each chapter is written in a different prose style, and Joyce makes much use of the stream-of-consciousness technique.
The Country Girls, published in 1960, is the first novel by Edna O’Brien, Ireland’s most famous female writer. Two girls leave their homes in the Irish countryside and go to Dublin to escape their strict Catholic upbringing and seek excitement. Because of its feminist viewpoint and frank treatment of adolescent female sexuality, this book caused much controversy when it was...
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For Further Reference
Bolt, Sydney. A Preface to James Joyce. New York: Longman, 1981; revised edition, 1992. A good introduction to Joyce's life and work, which includes chapters on Joyce's biography and the broader cultural context as well as chapters on Portrait, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. This standard biography of Joyce draws upon a staggering amount of research and delivers a wonderfully detailed account of Joyce's life.
Gifford, Don. Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners & A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. An invaluable companion to both of these works, Gifford's notes clarify many of Joyce's local references and allusions.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Edited by Chester G. Anderson. New York: Viking, 1968. This handy edition includes extensive notes and commentary, as well as passages from Stephen Hero, some of Joyce's earliest "epiphanies" and other helpful material.
Joyce. Stephen Hero. New York: Norton, 1963. This book comprises those parts of an earlier manuscript of Portrait that were not destroyed by the author. Comparing the two versions of the novel sheds interesting light on the finished work.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Ford Madox Ford, “A Haughty and Proud Generation,” in YR, No. 9, 1922, p. 717.
Hugh Kenner, A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.
J. I. M. Stewart, “James Joyce,” in British Writers, Vol. VII, edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert, The British Council/ Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984, pp. 41-58.
For Further Study
Chester G. Anderson, editor, James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Text, Criticism, and Notes, Viking Press, 1968. Considered the definitive critical edition of Joyce’s novel, the work includes excerpts from a number of early reviews.
Bernard Benstock, “James Joyce,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 36: British Novelists, 1890-1929: Modernists, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Gale, 1985, pp. 80-104. An essay by a leading Joyce scholar. Benstock surveys Joyce’s literary accomplishment and discusses the narrative technique and symbolism of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch, “View Points,” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, edited by William M. Schutte, Prentice Hall, 1968, pp. 114-15. A discussion of “Bous Stephanomenos” and “Bous Stephanoforos.”
Wayne Booth, “The Problem of Distance in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” in Twentieth Century...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Booth, Wayne. “The Problem of Distance in A Portrait.” In The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Booth goes beyond the negative appraisal of Hugh Kenner (see below) and suggests that it is impossible to judge whether the portrayal of Stephen is ironical or not because of a failure in the narrative authority.
Brown, Richard. James Joyce and Sexuality. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. An analysis of the political implications in Joyce’s works, especially in marriage and other intimate relationships.
Kenner, Hugh. Dublin’s Joyce. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956. Kenner was the first to suggest that the portrayal of Stephen Dedalus was not directly autobiographical but deeply ironic. He continues to maintain this negative view of Stephen in his recent criticism.
McCabe, Colin. James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. A poststructuralist interpretation of the novel that points out the difficulties of establishing any secure critical reading of the book.
Scholes, Robert, and Richard M. Kain, eds. The Workshop of Dedalus: James Joyce and the Raw Materials for “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press,...
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