Illustration of a man resembling James Joyce wearing a hat and glasses

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

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Places Discussed

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*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. 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. 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...

(This entire section contains 626 words.)

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prostitute, both to release his sexual longings and to “embrace life” in defiance of the Church and Irish morality.

Historical Context

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Joyce’s Ireland: The Historical and Political ContextA 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 few hundred years, for a variety of reasons. During the reign in England of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), British settlers (mainly from Scotland) went to Ireland and suppressed local Irish resistance. In the mid-1600s, British rule of Ireland was further consolidated by the English Parliamentary leader Oliver Cromwell, whose army scoured the Irish countryside. Cromwell drove many thousands of native Irish from their land and persecuted Irish Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church was outlawed in 1695, but Catholic priests continued to practice underground.

Periodically, Irish factions rebelled against British rule, but these rebellions (notably one in 1798) were easily put down. (Ironically, many of the leaders of these Irish nationalist movements were Irish Protestants who were descended from earlier British settlers.) In 1800 the Irish parliament in Dublin was dissolved, and the two countries were joined under a single government headquartered in London. Nonetheless, despite British persecution of the native Irish, a distinctive Irish identity remained strong. By the late nineteenth century many Irish people aspired to a form of limited Irish independence known as Home Rule.

The Great Famine of the 1840s saw the deaths or emigration of some several million Irish men, women, and children—more than half the total population of Ireland at the time. However, this period proved a turning point in the Irish struggle for selfdetermination. In 1879 a Catholic nationalist named Michael Davitt formed the Irish National Land League, which agitated for rights for the Irish Catholic tenants of Protestant-owned land. Davitt is mentioned in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with Charles Stuart Parnell.

The action of A Portrait occurs some time after the activities of Davitt and the downfall of Parnell. However, in the novel the memory of Parnell is still strong. Joyce, an individualist, was disturbed both by Ireland’s nationalist politics and the strict doctrine of the Catholic Church. He regarded himself as a cosmopolitan, a citizen of Europe if not of the world. This is made very clear in the final chapter of A Portrait, in which Stephen Dedalus declares his intention to fly past the nets of “nationality, religion, language.” Nonetheless, like Stephen himself, Joyce was very much shaped by the history and religion of his country. Ironically, the Irish nationalist uprising that eventually led to Irish independence occurred in 1916, the very year in which A Portrait was published in England. By this time, Joyce was living in Zurich.

Joyce’s Ireland: The Literary Context By the time Joyce made his mark as a writer, Ireland already had a long and distinguished literary history. During the so-called Dark Ages, Irish monks helped preserve classical learning, copying classical texts in beautiful manuscripts. Poets were greatly esteemed and held high positions in the courts of Irish kings. During the long period of British domination, some of the finest writers in the English language were Anglo-Irish (that is, Irish of British descent). Among these were the poet and satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who served as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin; the poet and prose writer Oliver Goldsmith (1730?-1774); the statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797); the lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852); the novelist Maria Edgeworth (1768- 1849); and the comic writers Somerville and Ross (pen name of Edith Somerville, 1858-1949, and Violet Martin, 1862-1915), whose stories chronicled the chaotic lives of Anglo-Irish landlords and their servants and tenants in the “big houses” of rural Ireland.

By the mid-1800s, however, sentimental stories and ballads of no great literary merit were the norm. The late 1800s and early 1900s—the time frame during which A Portrait is set—saw a movement known as the Irish Literary Revival. Leading writers in this movement were Douglas Hyde (1860-1949, founder of the Gaelic League), Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932), and the playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909). Unquestionably the central figure in this group was the poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Almost single-handedly Yeats created a new Irish literature. By the time Joyce was an undergraduate student at University College, Dublin, Yeats was the most famous living Irish writer. However, the work of Yeats and his associates made much use of Irish themes and subjects drawn from Irish folklore and mythology.

Joyce, on the other hand, had discovered the work of French writers and of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Stephen Dedalus’s statements in Chapter Five of A Portrait suggest that Joyce had already decided to reject the celebration of Irish nationalism as a literary theme. When the young Joyce was introduced to Yeats, he told Yeats that the poet was already too old to help him. Rather than write about ancient heroes and legends, Joyce wanted to chronicle the lives of ordinary people in his early fiction.

There is another notable difference between Joyce and his best-known predecessors. At a time when Protestants dominated the cultural institutions of Ireland, Joyce was the first major Irish Catholic writer. Even though he himself rejected Roman Catholicism—a process that is detailed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—he made his religious background an integral aspect of this novel. And although he wrote brilliantly in the English language, Joyce was keenly aware that he wrote in the language of Ireland’s conquerors.


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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 Portrait, which is set in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the earliest years of the twentieth, all this is yet to come, but the powerful currents that were to engulf Ireland after 1916 are already very much in evidence in Joyce's novel. Stephen's infancy and his childhood are an initiation into the divisive world of Irish politics during the final decades of British rule. Among his very earliest memories are that of his nurse Dante's brushes, one of which, he already knows, "the brush with the green velvet back," stands for Charles Stewart Parnell, a key figure of the contemporary Irish Home Rule movement whose public disgrace and ensuing death coincide with the first chapter of Joyce's novel. In 1889 the Protestant Parnell was named as co-respondent in a divorce case; the ensuing scandal turned many Catholics against him, including Michael Davitt, the one-time nationalist ally of Parnell represented by Dante's matching maroon brush. The proceedings also deeply divided the Nationalist movement at a crucial moment, just as a Home Rule bill appeared to have at least some chance of being passed by the British Parliament. For many nationalists, Parnell's death in 1891 signaled the death of their dreams of Home Rule. The depth of feeling at the time is suggested by the bitter argument between Dante, Simon Dedalus and Mr. Casey during the disastrous Christmas dinner that takes place shortly after Parnell's death.

"History," Stephen Dedalus says at one point in Ulysses, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," but in the world of Portrait there is no escape from the unresolved tensions of contemporary Irish history. Even the very language out of which Stephen would make his art is colored by Ireland's political situation, as an exchange with the English dean of studies over a single word reveals. The priest is struck by Stephen's use of the word "tundish" rather than the "funnel" with which the priest is familiar. This apparently innocuous exchange is, for Stephen, a would-be writer, cause for torment, reminding him that it is not only Irish land that is colonized, but Irish minds and tongues as well. "I cannot," he reflects, "speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language." Infused with such tensions, both political and cultural, Joyce's novel is very much a product of its historical moment.

Literary Style

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Narrative 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 aware of the significance of the situations in which he finds himself. Here the narrative mirrors the level of Stephen’s intellectual development. For example, at the very beginning of the book, Stephen is a baby or, at the most, a toddler. Thus, Joyce begins the book using a simple vocabulary and imitates the style of a children’s story: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road….” A little later in the novel, young Stephen witnesses a political argument during a Christmas dinner. The dialogue of the argument, between Mr. Casey (a friend of Stephen’s father) and Stephen’s Aunt Dante, is reported without comment. Stephen is not aware of what the argument is about, but he knows that it is disturbing and that it disrupts the harmony of the Christmas dinner. However, Joyce the author knows that readers of his day certainly would have recognized the significance of the argument, which concerns the late Irish nationalist leader Charles Stuart Parnell. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is full of this sort of narrative duality: Joyce the author knows what is happening, the reader might know what is happening, but the central character through whom the action unfolds is not always aware of its full significance.

The narrative becomes increasingly sophisticated as Stephen matures. By the last chapter, Chapter Five, Stephen is a student at University College, Dublin. Much of the chapter is taken up with philosophical discussions of art and aesthetics. In several conversations, Stephen explains his ideas, which are based on the ideas of Aristotle and of Thomas Aquinas. Critics have remarked that Stephen’s dialogue in this section reads more like a nonfiction philosophy work than like fiction.

Setting The action of the book takes place in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century and at the turn of the twentieth century, a span of about twenty years. Although Joyce gives specific settings for the incidents in the book, he does not give dates for the events that he is reporting. However, critics know that the events of Stephen Dedalus’s life mirror events in Joyce’s own childhood and young adulthood.

Specific settings include various Dedalus homes (the first outside Dublin and later ones in the city), the schools that Stephen attends (Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare and Belvedere School in Dublin), the chapel where Father Arnall delivers his fiery sermon, and, later in the book, University College, Dublin. Stephen also visits the city of Cork in southwest Ireland with his father. Both indoor and outdoor settings are used.

Regardless of the specific setting of any scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce gives a minimum of external description. He is more concerned with the state of mind of his main character, Stephen Dedalus, than with the external circumstances of Stephen’s situation. Yet without giving lengthy descriptions of a classroom, for example, Joyce is able to create the atmosphere of a school.

Joyce himself was a Dubliner by birth and upbringing. He does not evoke the city of Dublin in as much detail here as in his earlier short story collection Dubliners or in his later novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Nonetheless, in A Portrait, Dublin is prominent both as a physical city and as a symbol of the center of Irish consciousness. In any case, whether he is writing about Stephen’s life at school, at home, or at large in Dublin or in particular neighborhoods elsewhere in Ireland, Joyce’s larger subject is always Ireland—a subject that he renders in an ambivalent stance.

Structure A Portrait of the Artist is divided into five chapters. Each chapter deals with a different period in the first twenty years of the central character, Stephen Dedalus. Each also addresses a specific theme related to Stephen’s development as an artist.

Chapter One takes Stephen from his infancy into his first years at school. In this chapter, Stephen becomes aware of the five senses and of language itself, and he takes the first steps to assert his independence. Chapter Two includes his awareness of his family’s declining fortunes and his move from Clongowes Wood School to Belvedere School in Dublin. It ends with his sexual initiation in the arms of a prostitute. In the third chapter, Stephen is preoccupied with his sin and the possible consequences of his sin. The fourth chapter takes place at Belvedere School. Stephen attempts to understand the precepts of his religion and to lead a life in accordance with those precepts. However, he recognizes that his independent nature will not allow him to serve as a priest of the Church. Instead, he will become an artist, a “priest of eternal imagination.” In Chapter Four, Stephen takes further steps to formulate his aesthetic theory. He also makes a final declaration of independence from his friends, his family, his religion, and his country.

Within each chapter there are several distinct, self-contained scenes or episodes. These episodes are, in effect, “portraits.” Each episode centers around or culminates in an epiphany—a moment of euphoric insight and understanding that significantly contributes to Stephen’s personal education. The epiphany often occurs during an otherwise trivial incident, and is the central organizing feature in Joyce’s work. However, these epiphanies are undercut by “anti-epiphanies”—moments of disillusion or disappointment that bring Stephen back to earth. Each shift between epiphany and antiepiphany is accompanied by a shift in the tone of Joyce’s language. The epiphany scenes are generally written in a poetic and lofty language. By contrast, the language in the anti-epiphany scenes emphasizes less noble aspects of life. Taken together, Joyce uses the give-and-take shift between epiphany and anti-epiphany to show the paradoxes of life.

Punctuation The author’s punctuation is not normally an issue in a discussion of a work of fiction. Up until Joyce, most English-language novelists used standard punctuation. As part of his effort to create an entirely new type of novel, however, Joyce employed unusual punctuation. Immediately noticeable in Portrait is the fact that there are no quotation marks. Instead, Joyce uses a long dash at the beginning of a paragraph where he wishes to indicate speech by a character. (One effect of this technique is that the reader is not immediately able to tell what portions of a paragraph might be part of the narrative apparatus rather than the speaking voice of a particular character.) Joyce is also sparing in his use of commas. Many of his longer sentences appear to be “run-on” sentences. He does this deliberately to show the “run-on” nature of a character’s thoughts—a technique known as the “stream of consciousness.”

Symbolism Critics have remarked on Joyce’s unique combination of realism and naturalism on the one hand and symbolism on the other. Joyce’s realistic and naturalistic approaches are evident in his pretense that he is presenting things as they are. At the same time, he uses symbolism extensively to suggest what things mean.

The five senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch—are recurrent symbols throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen’s reliance on the five senses is signaled in the book’s first few pages. Here we are made aware of the way his father looks to Stephen (sight), the songs that are sung to him and the clapping of Uncle Charles and Dante (sound), the feeling when he wets the bed (touch), and the reward of a “cachou” (cashew—taste) from Dante. Joyce considered the five senses to be indispensible tools for the literary artist. Of these, the sense of sight is most prominent.

The importance of sight—and its fragility— is a recurring motif throughout the novel. This reliance on, and fear for, sight is embodied in the phrase “the eagles will come and pull out his eyes,” which Dante says to Stephen after his mother tells him to apologize for something. Stephen makes a rhyme, “pull out his eyes / Apologise.” (Significantly, Joyce suffered from eye problems later in his life, and was to undergo several eye operations.) At various points in the novel, Stephen refuses to apologize for his actions and decisions, even at the risk of perhaps losing his vision, metaphorically. For example, in Chapter One he listens to Mr. Casey’s anecdote about spitting in a woman’s eye. At Clongowes school, Father Dolan punishes Stephen for having broken his glasses. In Chapter Four, Stephen attempts a mortification of the senses to repent for his earlier sins.

Religious symbols abound. There are numerous references to various elements and rites of Roman Catholicism: the priest’s soutane, the censor, and the sacraments of communion and confession. Bird symbolism is prominent too. In addition to the eagles mentioned above, there is Stephen’s school friend and rival Heron, who is associated with the “birds of prey.” Stephen later thinks of himself as a “hawklike man,” a patient and solitary bird who can view society from a great height but who remains aloof from the world that he views.

Literary Qualities

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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 approximately forty early epiphanies written by Joyce that have survived. While neither of these collections looks like Portrait, something of Joyce's own earlier epiphanies does remain in the novel. We might see the completed novel, with its fragmented structure, as an assemblage of Stephen's important moments of insight, which, taken together, constitute the whole "portrait."

Closely related to the novel's fragmented structure is its distinctive narrative technique. Although the novel begins with the most familiar of all openings, "Once upon a time," it quickly veers into less familiar territory, and that formulaic phrase serves to highlight the unconventional nature of Joyce's narrative. He might well have begun the novel "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Stephen Dedalus," and gone on to tell us about his mother and father, the city and circumstances of his birth, and so on. Many novels had begun this way, and many still do, but Joyce's does not. We do learn some of the details of Stephen's life—we hear his name, for instance, and what is apparently a nickname, "baby tuckoo"; we see something of his mother and father and other friends and relations; and we see something of the world outside, where a moocow comes down the road and Betty Byrne lives. However, we do not know where we are, or when. Readers who know something of Irish history will likely recognize the names of Michael Davitt and Charles Stuart Parnell, but there is no sign here that these names might be more important than that of Betty Byrne or even than the cachous Stephen is given whenever he brings Dante a piece of tissue paper. With its short, simple sentences, its loose associations and its non sequiturs, the narrative mimics the fragmentary, disjointed and egocentric manner in which the mind of the infant Stephen encounters and interprets a constant flow of sensory data, a "stream of consciousness." Influenced by the then emerging discipline of psychology— particularly the work of William James, who coined the phrase—Joyce and many of his contemporaries, including Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, explored ways of expressing the complex inner worlds of human minds. In his later work (some of the episodes of Ulysses, for instance) Joyce would take such experimentation much further, all but eliminating external description in favor of interior monologue.

In Portrait, though, while Joyce omits many of the conventional signs of the author's presence, such as indications of who is speaking ("He said"), we are still aware of an external authorial presence who describes to us the world of Stephen's experience. However, our view is sharply limited to that particular experience. Only characters or events important to Stephen will emerge in the narrative, and some characters, especially E.C., are only vaguely realized in the book. In addition to determining what we will see, Stephen's mind also determines the style of language at each point in the novel, which moves from the childish simplicity of the opening paragraphs to the complex aesthetic theorizing of the later chapters. Again, though, Stephen's thoughts and perceptions do not limit those of the novel's readers absolutely. As he examines and judges those around him, Joyce also invites us to distance ourselves from Stephen, to examine him as he examines others.

Social Sensitivity

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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 Stephen Dedalus: while Stephen all but refines his beloved E.C. out of existence in his villanelle, Joyce takes pains to remind us that Stephen walks upon the ground. Portrait is not the kind of book that Stephen Dedalus would write, at least, not the Stephen we see at this point.

Compare and Contrast

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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 returning to Ireland, attracted by a vibrant economy and an interesting cultural life.

1916: A small group of Irish nationalists seizes the main post office in Dublin and proclaims Ireland an independent republic. British troops quickly crush the revolt and fifteen revolutionary leaders are executed. However, support for independence grows; in 1922 the twenty-six southern counties of Ireland gain self-government as the Irish Free State. The majority of voters in the six northern counties—Northern Ireland— vote to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Today: Members of the outlawed IRA (Irish Republican Army) carry out intermittent attacks against British troops and pro-British Protestant citizens in Northern Ireland, as well as terrorist bombings in England. However, the majority of Irish people, both Catholics and Protestants, favor a peaceful solution to the problems in Northern Ireland.

Media Adaptations

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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.

For Further Reference

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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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources 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 Interpretations of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, edited by William M. Schutte, Prentice Hall, 1968, pp. 85-95. Booth discusses irony in Portrait.

Joseph A. Buttigieg, A Portrait of the Artist in Different Perspective, Ohio University Press, 1987. This work attempts to come to terms with the effect of Joyce’s modernism in a postmodern age.

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Oxford University Press, 1959; second edition, 1982. The definitive biography of James Joyce by one of the leading scholars of modern Irish literature.

A Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael Patrick Gillespie, James Joyce A to Z, Facts on File/Oxford University Press, 1995. A handy reference source to the life and work of James Joyce.

William E. Morris and Clifford A. Nault, Jr., editors, Portraits of an Artist, Odyssey, 1962. This anthology collects publisher’s comments, essays, reviews, and pedagogical questions.

W. M. Schutte, editor, Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Prentice-Hall, 1968. Includes useful essays by a number of scholars including Wayne Booth and Hugh Kenner.

David Seed, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, St. Martin’s, 1992. This is a study of many aspects—language, women, diary, etc.—of Joyce’s novel.

Weldon Thornton, The Antimodernism of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Syracuse University Press, 1994. Thornton discusses Joyce’s novel alongside the question of whether Western society can live with the modernism it has long wished for.


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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, 1965. The best source study available on the novel. Includes notebooks, fragments of the manuscript, and biographical information to help readers understand the contexts in which the novel was created.

Staley, Thomas F., and Bernard Benstock, eds. Approaches to Joyce’s “Portrait”: Ten Essays. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976. A collection of some important essays that demonstrate various ways of reading Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: Noonday Press, 1959. A close reading of Joyce’s works that discovers symbol and image patterns within A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.




Critical Essays