242 of 257 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2003
I'm always up for a good challenge, whether it be in books, music or movies, and from what I've heard Joyce is about as challenging as they come in the literary world. However, since it seemed like "Ulysses" or "Finnegan's Wake" would be a bit much to start with, I found myself reading "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" as an introduction to his work. And although I found this book about as easy to get into as Princeton, it was about as rewarding as well. "Portrait" is certainly anything but a light read. Joyce's meandering narrative and serpentine prose can be confusing to say the least, and on more than one occasion I had to read a sentence about five times in order to figure out what I had just read. For all its verbosity, though, "Portrait" is an essential read because the story of Stephen Dedalus carries so much resonance. I'm about the same age as Stephen was in this story, and I can relate pretty easily to his search for answers. Growing up in Ireland around the turn of the twentieth century, Stephen faces existential questions that should ring true for a young person coming from any culture at any time. He tries to find satisfaction by giving in to his lust, and when that doesn't work he goes all the way to the other end of the spectrum in seeking fulfillment through religious devotion. In the end, however, neither of these extremes provides Stephen with the answers he's looking for. Stephen's story demonstrates one unfortunate fact of life: when you're seeking meaning, there are no easy answers. Ultimately, as Stephen tells his friend Cranly, he decides that his solution is to "express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can," even if it means making mistakes or being spurned by society. In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Joyce outlines some important ideas that have since become prominent in literature, notably noncomformity, self-expression, coming of age, and the nature of religious belief. This book may not have been perfectly written, but since Joyce was aiming so high it's easy to overlook any imperfections in his style. "Portrait" was written with plenty of intelligence and soul, so it's easy to see why it's still read after all these years.
159 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2005
If you're gonna buy a copy of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," you can't go wrong with the Wordsworth Classic edition. Its advantages are several:
1. It's extremely cheap.
2. It features a very long and immensely insightful (32-page) introduction by Jaqueline Belanger, which includes a biography, publishing background, sections on language structure, irony, etc. There are also many suggestions for further syntopic or critical reading.
3. The thing is complete and unabridged.
4. There are extensive footnotes at the end, which are keyed throughout in the text, explaining all the Latin and the extinct realia of Joyce's world.
In short, get it.
As for the work itself, it's a very good prepper for "Ulysses:" I started that novel without having done this one. Later I came back to this: much was made clearer. Don't make my mistake.
111 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2000
I've seen some reviews that criticize the book for being too stream of consciousness and others for not being s.o.c. enough. The fact is, for the most part it's not s.o.c. at all. (See the Chicago Manual of Style, 10.45-10.47 and note the example they give...Joyce knew how to write s.o.c.). A better word for A Portrait is impressionistic. Joyce is more concerned with giving the reader an impression of Stephen's experience than with emptying the contents of his head. What's confusing is the style mirrors the way Stephen interprets his experiences at the time, according to the level of his mental development.
When Stephen is a baby, you get only what comes in through the five senses. When he is a young boy, you get the experience refracted through a prism of many things: his illness (for those who've read Ulysses, here is the beginning of Stephen's hydrophobia - "How cold and slimy the water had been! A fellow had once seen a big rat jump into the scum."), his poor eyesight, the radically mixed signals he's been given about religion and politics (the Christmas meal), his unfair punishment, and maybe most important of all, his father's unusual expressions (growing up with phrases like, "There's more cunning in one of those warts on his bald head than in a pack of jack foxes" how could this kid become anything but a writer?)
It is crucial to understand that Stephen's experiences are being given a certain inflection in this way when you come to the middle of the book and the sermon. You have to remember that Stephen has been far from a good Catholic boy. Among other things, he's been visting the brothels! The sermon hits him with a special intensity, so much so that it changes his life forever. Before it he's completely absorbed in the physical: food, sex, etc. After it he becomes just as absorbed in the spiritual/aesthetic world. It's the sermon that really puts him on the track to becoming an artist. One reviewer called the sermon overwrought. Well, of course it's overwrought. That's the whole point. Read it with your sense of humor turned on and keep in mind that you're getting the sermon the way you get everything else in the book: through Stephen.
After Stephen decides he doesn't want to be a priest, the idea of becoming an artist really starts to take hold. And when he sees the girl on the beach, his life is set for good. That scene has to be one of the most beautiful in all of literature. After that, Stephen develops his theory of esthetics with the help of Aristotle and Aquinas and we find ourselves moving from one conversation to another not unlike in Plato (each conversation with the appropriate inflection of college boy pomposity). In the end, Stephen asks his "father" to support him as he goes into the real world to create something. I like to think that this is an echo of the very first line in the book. The father, in one of many senses, is the moocow story. The story gave birth to Stephen's imagination and now it's the son's turn to create.
This is such a rich and beautiful book. I suppose it's possible for people to "get it" and still not like it, but I really think if you read and re-read, and maybe do a little research, the book will open up to you the way it did to me.
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2008
If you're going to buy 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' as a paperback, I strongly advise you to buy this--the Norton Critical Edition. It's depressing to see that the Penguin Classics edition is the number one selling version of this wonderful book.
This book is TWO DOLLARS more than the Penguin version. For that $2 you get better quality paper, ink, and binding. More importantly you get Editorial notes that explain Joyce's obscure terms, ultimately making the book more readable. You also get over a dozen other writings dealing with Joyces text. These extras (200 pages worth) provide background information on Joyce's three major themes--Irish politics, Roman Catholicism, and "Aesthetic". Also, there are critical essays which range from general interpretations of the book to specified studies (ie feminist perspective). Being a difficult book, the supplemental material greatly enhanced my appreciation for 'Portrait'.
For ONE DOLLAR -LESS, you could go with this: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners (Barnes & Noble Classics). Here, not only do you get Portrait of the Artist_, but also you get the collection of short stories, Dubliners. Not to mention better editing. You still get footnotes. And there's some (not a lot) of suplimental material.
For FIVE DOLLARS more than you would spend on the Penguin book, you could get A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Everyman's Library (Cloth)). If you're going to buy a book, why not get one that will last the rest of your life? Well then, that would be the Everyman's Clothbound you seek.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2002
Every March, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We wear green so no one will pinch us. In elementary schools, we read Irish folklore about leprechauns and shamrocks. When we grow up, we learn about the "troubles" and the centuries-long conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, but our knowledge of Ireland tends to stop there.
Perhaps the next best thing to kissing the Blarney Stone in order to have a taste of Ireland would be to read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
In this work, largely through various vignettes, we observe the growth and development of the "artist" Stephen Dedalus. (He is not to be confused with Stephen Dedalus of Ulysses, but he may have been named after the Daedalus of Greek mythology.) We begin with his childhood, at the beginning of his formal education, and the portrait James Joyce provides fades when he is an adult.
Although the novel is relatively short, please do not suppose that it can be read quickly. Just like it would be foolish to endure a long wait in the Louvre and then glance at the small Mona Lisa for only a second and walk away, in order to appreciate this book, you will need to dedicate some time and thought.
A Portrait is rich in detail, creating vivid images that bring the pages to life. Be sure to notice the imagery. Artists often have dexterous hands, and hands are observed throughout the book. Other recurring symbols are roses, birds, and water. There are several contrasts--cold and hot, wet and dry, unpleasant and comfortable, and distressed and happy, among others. White, red, and green are important hues that regularly appear.
James Joyce is expert at "showing not telling." The masterful use of detail and imagery attest to Joyce's skill in writing. In this book, he also employs new techniques that are more developed in later works, innovations that set him apart in the evolution of modern English fiction. For example, in A Portrait, we find several examples of stream-of-consciousness narrative. Fortunately for the reader, it is not as difficult to follow as passages in other books that employ the technique more intensively. It also serves as another manner in which Joyce skillfully presents Dedalus's growth. The first part of the book is more random and hard to understand (like the thoughts of a young child) while the forms of expression change until the end of the novel, which is written as organized concise journal entries.
Perhaps A Portrait resembles a journal of the author himself to a certain extent. Both Joyce and Dedalus were Irish and educated at Jesuit schools. They later changed their perceptions of the Catholic church and also left Ireland. Furthermore, both the author and the protagonist faced financial problems and had impaired vision. They also had peers that admired their work as thoughtful and clever literary artists.
In addition to taking the time to look for imagery, brushing up on the history of Ireland may be helpful in order to more fully enjoy A Portrait. However, it may be enough just to know that Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) was an Irish nationalist leader that was popular until 1889, when the public learned of his adulterous affair with Katherine O'Shea.
Personally, when I read A Portrait, my enjoyment of the book declined somewhat after Chapter II, when Dedalus is a teenager and engages in immoral activity. Perhaps I lost some interest because I could not relate as well to the main character, or maybe it was because I did not like the different attitude of the "grown up" Dedalus. It also seems that the action slows down somewhat near the end.
However, upon finishing the book, we have a well-developed picture of the life of Stephen Dedalus (and possibly James Joyce, as was mentioned earlier). Thanks to the excellent imagery and thorough detail, we feel as if we had traveled to Ireland and even developed a relationship with Dedalus. As with carefully prepared portraits, in observing them, we notice subtle aspects of the subjects, the creators, our neighbors, and ourselves. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a four-leaf clover worth picking.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2001
"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is an impressionistic, semi-autobiographical work in which Joyce, through the character of Stephen Dedalus, relates the events and impressions of his youth and young adulthood. The novel flows effortlessly from Stephens first memories as "baby tuckoo" to his final journal entries before embarking on a promising literary career in Paris. In the pages between, Joyce's virtuosity of prose explodes in passages with frightening intensity. Even those who dislike Joyce's confusing, sometimes-infuriating style, should be awestruck by his undubitable writing ability.
However, as anyone reading this review should already know, despite his virtuosity, Joyce is not for everyone. He is simultaneously one of the most beloved and despised writers of the twentieth century. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work and hesitantly contemplating becoming acquainted with it, here is some food for thought: first, start with "Portrait," it is far more accessible than his subsequent works and a better introduction to them than the also-excellent "Dubliners" is. Second, do not try to judge "Portrait" by the same standards as other books. Joyce is not trying to tell an amusing story here, he is trying to relate the impressions of a young man torn between two existences: a religious or an aesthetic. If you are a meat-and-potatoes type of reader, meaning the kind of reader who prefers a "story," Joyce will not be your cup of tea. Lastly, Joyce's reputation perhaps does his works injustice. Yes, he is extremely encyclopedic and takes on many themes in his works. But perhaps too many readers get sidetracked from the aesthetic merits of his works by concentrating solely on the intellectual values. It is his prose which can be universally appreciated, whether you understand the ideas it portrays or not. His prose is his bread-and-butter. Some people pompously brag of their "getting" Joyce without actually appreciating what he does. I don't claim to be a bonafied Joyce scholar, but it is my experience that to enjoy Joyce is to appreciate "literature for literature's sake." If you enjoy literature, poetry or prose, than you should enjoy the style with which Joyce writes, that is to say, all styles. And he has seemingly mastered all styles. That is not to say that the many thematic levels in which his novels succeed are to be ignored, for their expression is not seperate from the means with which Joyce does it, but congruous with it.
To read Joyce is to revel in the limits of artistic creation and then to read on as the limits are then stretched further.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2009
Dubliners, a short story collection, is the first major work that James Joyce published after years of impediments. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man followed as the first of three novels. The works are challenging but among the best written in the history of literature. A survey of people involved in literature done in the Nineties, I believe, listed Portrait as the third best novel of the twentieth century written in English, outranked only by Ulysses, also by Joyce, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I bought this hardbound edition because I teach both needed a durable copy as my paperback copies were woefully tattered after years of use. As I was reannotating Portrait, I was moved to read it again, despite having taught it twice this past year. I am enjoying it immensely once again. Both concern the struggles of growing up and, despite their being decidedly Irish, Joyce has touched many universal chords as well. I would recommend both very highly, no matter a person's literary tastes.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2006
This is a very entertaining book and not difficult to read. Most book lovers will love the book. In my review below I do not give away the plot. That is left for the reader to discover.
I read "Dubliners" and then read the present 250 page book as a warm up to ease into "Ulysses." This is a better book than "Dubliners" and we see the genius of Joyce without being intimidated - as the reader can be with "Ulysses." As a side note, the protagonist Stephen Dedalus has the same name and is similar to one of the three main characters in "Ulysses."
If you are looking for a lot of analysis this is probably not the only book to buy. This Signet version contains the story plus Langdon Hammer's 18 page introduction. I avoided reading that first, because it seems to give away most of the key parts, or at least enough that one does not want to read it until later. Overall, I loved the book and thought the analysis was good but short.
The book starts with Joyce recalling a few childhood memories, and it will probably stir some memories in the reader as well. He has very colourful descriptions of his parents, relatives, and his teachers, especially various Irish Catholic priests.
Is Joyce a genius or just crazy? He seems to have a bit of the crazy streak in him, and perhaps that why the novel is so creative. The prose and writing is among the most impressive that most will ever see. The book contains beautiful descriptions of his childhood, then Catholic schools, and then his college days. The prose and vocabulary is Joyce's own. It is laced with Irish expressions and phrases - not the lengthy descriptive phrases of a Hemingway, but dense, and expressive, sometimes quickly changing as we read. Sometimes it is long and rambling as he describes a scene beside the ocean or brings us into one of his dreams. It is a wonderful experience, and I found myself being thankful that I had decided to read this Joyce novel. It is probably in the top 10 for writing and creativity, weak on structure.
People looking for a story and structure will be annoyed as was the person who rejected the first publishing. It is a superb mixture of memories, dreams, and fiction, all blended together.
Joyce provides no narration; he writes as if we are watching a movie, mostly going forward in time but not always. The reader is left to sort out the time and place or if it is real or just a dream as we travel from scene to scene through the book. As noted in the analysis, Joyce is in direct contact with the reader. There is nobody in between to guide the reader and explain what it means. You determine that from the dialogue. In any case, we follow him from a young school lad to his college days. We learn of his struggle to whether embrace the Catholic Church and be a priest, or whether to take another path.
This is superb writing, and one appreciates why Joyce is famous. As a novel it is a bit lacking but few will notice any flaws.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2001
James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical story of Stephen Daedelus as he grows from a young child to a young adult. Virtually every word Joyce uses is deliberate. The novel is not one that a person can read and understand without completely focusing on what Joyce is saying.
Joyce uniquely uses language to portray the young Daedelus as he grows and matures. The language is very simple in the beginning, following a stream of consciousness format that portrays Stephen's young age and undeveloped thought process. As he grows in all aspects of his being - physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental - the language reflects his growing complexity. Joyce also uses language to show the changes in Stephen's relationships with others - especially his family - that result from his growth. Throughout the novel, Stephen goes through various periods and levels of alienation. During his early years in boarding school, Stephen feels distant from the other boys and counts the days until he can return home. However, after a heated discussion over Christmas dinner with his family, he feels as though they are somewhat remote. He cannot figure out which adult to side with over the political issues concerning the Catholic Church and the Irish State. Thus, his young mind experiences its first feelings of alienation from his family. These feelings mark the first instance of a desire to break from traditional viewpoints, and the point at which the language begins to change.
Gradually, this emotional separation becomes more pronounced as he starts to notice his father's imperfections, such as his excessive spending habits and the tasteless company he chooses to keep. By looking down on his father's actions, Stephen widens the distance between himself and his father. Thus, he loses his childhood naiveté and sees his father as an imperfect human being. Joyce reflects this change in the language by replacing childish phrases with more experienced reflections.
As the novel progresses, the language Joyce uses becomes even more complex in structure and content. This illustrates Stephen's progression as his ideas and views of life become more his own. As Stephen's family sinks into the slums materially and socially because of his father's excessive spending, Stephen develops the courage to break away from them and stand independent with his own ideals and views.
His emotional separation from his family finally leads to his physical separation from the familial and social environment he was raised in. He embarks from Ireland, leaving everything he opposes: his family, the Catholic Church, Irish Patriotism, and his old self. The language of the novel follows Stephen's internal progression as he moves from simplistic and undefined views, to his eloquent and personal theories about art and life. It is at this point of resolution that Joyce shifts his language from a distant point of view to the first person narration of journal entries - only after Stephen finds his own independent voice.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2014
One of the best things about finishing my formal education is that no one can ever force me to read James Joyce again! I didn't get it, I'll never get it, and I don't want to get it. I had nightmares for weeks after reading the "hell" passage. It ranks at or near the top of my list of "Worst Books I Ever Read" and it's likely to stay there no matter what I read. Joyce fans tell me that it is essential to read his works with the aid of another book, such as ReJoyce, to explain Joyce's, and it continues to astonish me that otherwise highly intelligent people think that this proves the quality of the work. Other writers don't get published, unless by a vanity press, if their work can't be understood by reasonably intelligent people. Joyce is supposed to be brilliant? I think he was nuts. More power to those who like him, but if you are thinking you should read this because it's supposed to be a classic, you might want to rethink that. At least check it out of the library instead of spending money on it.