Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

"--I said that I had lost the faith--Stephen answered--but not that I had lost selfrespect.  What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoheret?"

Book Details:
Paperback: 192 pages

Publisher: Dover Publications; 2nd THUS edition (May 20, 1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0486280500


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the second Joyce novel I've read in the last month, and I think it suffered for that.  The novel is narrated by Stephen Dedalus from infancy to late adolescence, including a memorable series of sermons on the nature of hell. Overall, the plot covers how his deep belief in Catholicism changes to atheism as he nears adulthood.

I remembered reading this book in high school and loving it, so I was excited to return to Joyce so quickly after Ulysses; however, my memories did not live up to the text this time.  It may be that Ulysses is such a superior manuscript that Portrait pales in comparison, or it may be that I have changed in the intervening years.  Whichever the cause, I was sorely disappointed to find myself slogging through a novel of only 192 pages.

My primary problem with Portrait is the character of Stephen Dedalus.  While I found him intruiging in Ulysses, he never ventures beyond adolescent petulance in this novel.  He spends hour upon hour imagining his death, first when Parnell dies, then when he thinks he's going to hell, and again when he believes he will be resurrected.  While I understand that the novel is about Stephen's "coming of age," the morose thoughts and childish concerns really got to me.  I found many parts of the novel unbearably whiny and annoying.

On the other hand, some of the religious discussion in the book was interesting.  Again, Joyce links Catholicism to true Irish identity, but ends up rejecting it.  The sermons on hell in chapter three are enough to make anyone repent and convert, yet Stephen ultimately becomes, if not atheist, at least agnostic.

Was this a good read?
Sadly, not this time.  I enjoyed it in the past, but I found myself slogging through it.

Would I recommend it?
I don't think so.  I used to recommend it for people who wanted to read Joyce, but I don't think I'll do that again.

Would I read it again?
Maybe, but I doubt it.

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