The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

Title: The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Author: Jame Joyce
First publication: 1914-15 (in a magazine)
This book is also available in Dutch.

The portrayal of Stephen Dedalus’s Dublin childhood and youth, his quest for identity through art and his gradual emancipation from the claims of family, religion and Ireland itself, is also an oblique self-portrait of the young James Joyce and a universal testament to the artist’s ‘eternal imagination’. Both an insight into Joyce’s life and childhood, and a unique work of modernist fiction, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a novel of sexual awakening, religious rebellion and the essential search for voice and meaning that every nascent artist must face in order to fully come into themselves.

My opinion:

Since I read so many English books, i.e. almost all the books I read, I have decided to do this review in English. (Which does not mean that I intend to make a habit of this, because I’m still figuring out what exactly I want to do with my blog.)

As you could read in my previous review, I am attending an English literature lecture on the British novel.and so far I have quite enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my reading tempo for this course is way too low and I blame the modernists. Modernist fiction is really hard to read and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was no exception for me.

This book is probably the ‘easiest’ Joyce novel, but as I mentioned it was not a walk in the park. The story, if you could call it one, follows Stephen Dedalus as he grows up. Everything is seen from the point of view of Stephen and his language and behaviour changes as he gets older. The first pages are very incoherent, but after that it gets clearer and clearer and I quite enjoyed to read about his life at a Jesuit boarding school, which ironically was not so nice for him. Then Stephen reaches a point where he becomes so obsessed with the church that the only text you get is preaching  about sinning and hell. It goes on for pages and pages and it made me wonder how people could put up with all of this in the past. Luckily, Stephen gets out of this pit and starts focussing on arts and philosophy instead. This again means a change of style to a more philosophical discourse with which he tries to find definitions for abstract concepts such as beauty. When I read a novel, that is not exactly that what I’m looking for, so it was a relief to finally finish this book.

If you ask me whether I liked this book I’m not entirely sure what I should say. Yes, to a certain extent I enjoyed this book, but it really depended on the type of style that Joyce used. I particularly liked the bits where I got some story. This also tells something about me, namely that I really like narratives. Apart from that, I don’t know. I also don’t know if I’ll ever attempt to read Ulysses, since that must even be a harder task. However, I’m glad I actually read this book and am not one of those people who talks about it even though they haven’t read it.

Have you read anything by Joyce or any other modernist for that matter?

My previous (modernist) review was about To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which was more my cup of tea.


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