Banville opens Doctor Copernicus in such a manner as to ensure that his hero will be viewed more as an artist than as anything else by having his initial sequence dealing with the infant Copernicus contain inescapable echoes of the opening sequence of James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). More important than the merely formal elements of such an invocation, however, is the fact that it enables the author to develop, from the outset, a strong sense of his hero as an outsider. Between his perceptions and the world he perceives there falls, from the start, a shadow of misgiving which follows Copernicus throughout his life, and which his passion in facing his vision of the universe finally confronts and authenticates.
As an outsider, however, he differs from every other character in the novel. The most notable, and problematic, character-contrast is between Copernicus and his brother, Andreas. This gilded youth embodies what it is to belong to the world. Without any conception of who he is or what he wants to do, Andreas is blown by whatever wind of fashion prevails. His time is devoted largely to looking the part of a contemporary notable, an effort which merely contributes to his eventual moral and physical erosion. The glibness with which Andreas appears to participate in contemporary life is matched by the cynicism which festers in him as a result of such participation. His personification of degeneration may be unwitting,...
(The entire section is 571 words.)