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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Classics)
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James Joyce's coming-of-age story, a tour de force of style and technique
The first, shortest, and most approachable of James Joyce’s novels, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays the Dublin upbringing of Stephen Dedalus, from his youthful days at Clongowes Wood College to his radical questioning of all convention. In doing so, it provides an oblique self-portrait of the young Joyce himself. At its center lie questions of origin and source, authority and authorship, and the relationship of an artist to his family, culture, and race. Exuberantly inventive in style, the novel subtly and beautifully orchestrates the patterns of quotation and repetition instrumental in its hero’s quest to create his own character, his own language, life, and art: “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
This Penguin Classics edition is the definitive text, authorized by the Joyce estate and collated from all known proofs, manuscripts, and impressions to reflect the author’s original wishes.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is in fact the gestation of a soul.” –Richard Ellmann
“One believes in Stephen Dedalus as one believes in few characters in fiction.” –H. G. Wells
“[Mr. Joyce is] concerned at all costs to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its myriad message through the brain, he disregards with complete courage whatever seems to him adventitious, though it be probability or coherence or any other of the handrails to which we cling for support when we set our imaginations free.” –Virginia Woolf
“[A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will] remain a permanent part of English literature.” –Ezra Pound
With an Introduction by Richard Brown
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The story itself is indirectly told, and sometimes feels like work to read. Still, Joyce stirred up just enough interest in the protagonist to make me persevere to the end. I enjoyed Joyce's presentation of Irish attitudes on religion, nationalism, etc. Not being knowledgeable of Irish cultural history, I don't know if his portrayal is accurate or just his own creation, but it was the main interest for me in this novel.
Some say "A Portrait of the Artist..." is a preliminary reading for being able to handle Joyce's Ulysses. If so, the much shorter "...Portrait..." at least has the virtue of letting you sample Joyce to see whether you belong among the crowd of admirers.
The style was unusual for me, but it wasn't much of an issue to get it after a single chapter (btw chapters are really really really long, just a fair warning if you plan on finishing a chapter that you started before having to go to work/school/sleep etc)
It was interesting to get into reading a dialogue parts, it was a very non-standard approach, but it's only noticeable if you are speed reading through it.
All in all, a must read for a reason, and yes, the religion related subjects are very present, but easy to read through without getting caught up in the whole validity of it. At the end it all makes sense regardless of your religion, as long as you can think on your own.
I'm glad I did, as I was finally ready for it.
As far as "plot" goes, it can be summarized fairly quickly. You probably won't be turning the pages to see "what happens." But you could be drawn in to find out how Stephen's mind progresses -- to me, the most appealing part of the book. As Stephen progresses from childhood to adulthood, you can see each chapter become more complex -- it's one of the best portrayals of intellectual maturing that I've ever read. Some great portions include the dinner table argument about Parnell, the hell sermon, and the conversation about the nature of art.
It feels really presumptous to write a review of what is widely considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time, but I guess that is what reviews on Amazon are for. If you have a Kindle, you can get it for free -- why not?
While all Kindle free books seem to have some typos, the ones in this book are very minimal.
I have, however, been a teenage boy, and many of Stephen's experiences and psychological developments ring through time: his adolescent, ambivalent virgin/whore conceptions of women; his self-denial and earnest attempts to better himself; his rejection of the meretricious parts of the world; his disappointment in family. And his grand rebellion against the culture of his birth.
Over and over, Joyce refines away the actual events of Stephen's life, showing instead the echoes and re-echoes of these events in Stephen's psyche. An hour with a neighborhood girl becomes a touchstone for years. A bit of student graffiti upends his respect for a college. Subtle moments of epiphany cause him to reject some things, reach out towards others. This is a timeless story of adolescence.
The story ends just where it should.