A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Places Discussed

James Joyce

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*University College

*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

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 relative affluence to harsh poverty. In the first home, an elaborate Christmas dinner presented by servants is the scene of a dramatic political argument between Stephen’s father Simon and his aunt, Dante Riordan, over Irish politics, especially the fate of the Nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Successive homes and their meals are smaller and less satisfying, until the family is living in less-than-genteel poverty. The decline in material richness is juxtaposed to Stephen’s growing intellectual and artistic richness and resources.

*Clongowes College

*Clongowes College. Exclusive school, run by Jesuits in County Kildare. Simon Dedalus respects the Jesuits for their ability to help their students achieve material and professional success in life. Clongowes combines classrooms, dormitories, playgrounds, and chapel. There, Stephen first experiences his artistic impulses. It is also here that he is the victim of larger, more powerful boys who mock and bully him for his physical weakness and intellectual inclinations.

*Belvedere College

*Belvedere College. More modest Catholic school to which Stephen is sent as the family’s fortunes decline. At Belvedere, Stephen attends a retreat where a visiting priest summons up terrifying visions of the eternal damnation and suffering of the tortured souls in Hell. Following these services, and after a night filled with horrible dreams, Stephen hurries to confession and dedicates himself to the Church, to the point where he seriously wonders if he has a vocation for the priesthood.

Bridge

Bridge. Structure spanning a tidal river on the coast near Dublin. While walking in this vicinity, Stephen watches a company of Christian Brothers, an order of the Catholic Church, march over the bridge. Immediately afterward, he beholds a lovely young girl, birdlike in her appearance, wading in the water. As is often the case in James Joyce’s work, water, especially the sea, symbolizes art and freedom. There, the choice clearly is between the Church and art, and Stephen’s decision to renounce the Church in favor of art is made the moment he responds to the beauty of the girl.

*Dublin

*Dublin. Capital of Ireland, although at the time of the novel the nation was not independent but part of the British Empire. Dublin forms a backdrop for much of Portrait of the Artist, especially in the scene where young Stephen wanders the streets seeking a prostitute, both to release his sexual longings and to “embrace life” in defiance of the Church and Irish morality.