‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ by James Joyce is a Classic published in 1916.
After reading ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce, I was keen on reading his next book and to include his greatest creation, ‘Ulysses’ on my TBR. However, I found ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ before I could get hold of ‘Ulysses’ and I was intrigued by this man on the cover. Who is this man?
It is James Joyce. And, it is quite amazing how most of the editions have his portrait on the cover of the book.
The choice seems obvious for ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ grew from Joyce’s earlier abandoned autobiographical novel titled ‘Stephen Hero’ and rejected philosophical work with the title ‘A Portrait of the Artist’. Later, W.B. Yeats recommended ‘A Portrait of the Artist’ to Ezra Pound who published the novel into 25 installments on The Egoist, the literary magazine. The book was finally compiled into one book by B.W. Huesch, New York and published in 1916. The first cover was rather dull with just the text and the initial few editions followed the green coloured cloth jackets. Later, Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939) became the most significant novels of James Joyce.
In ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, we follow the main character, Stephen Dedalus who is James Joyce’s alter ego and his coming-of-age story. The book begins with a young Stephen and follows his story up to the age of 20 when he leaves Dublin for Paris, mirroring the author’s life. The major turns in Stephen’s life that shape him involve being wrongfully punished at the boy’s school. The shame never truly leaves him. As a teenager, he begins visiting prostitutes, that later he is ashamed of and confesses his sins and devotes himself to God. But, soon he realizes he cannot restrict his artistic flow within the ideological four walls. Then, Stephen joins University, where he develops his own theory of aesthetics rather than following his teachers. This eventually leads him to leave Dublin to become an ‘Artist’.
What makes this book rather remarkable is the time in which it was written and the author’s challenging attitude towards society, country, and the Church.
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.
The language is important. This opening line is deemed as one of the best of all times in literary circles. The prose is structured in a way that reflects the growth of the character in the book. There are minimal dialogues. The focus is on use of free indirect speech revealing the inner psychology of the protagonist that came to be known as the stream of consciousness. ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ was the precursor to Ulysses, in terms of both style and character.
A centennial edition was published in 2016 by Penguin. And, finally, it breaks the monotony of the book covers with the riot of colours, perhaps a hint to the inner stream of consciousness.
There aren’t many Classics that intimidate me but this one surely did, the other was ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf. Which one tops your list?
I wrote a book review on ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ about a year back, you can read it here.
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