Whipped for merely expressing your opinion? Hardly.
Moreover, you are hardly alone in questioning the merits of Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel. In his report to the publisher to whom Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man was first submitted, the noted critic Edward Garnet observed:
"The author shows us he has art, strength and originality, but this MS wants time and trouble spent on it, to make it a more finished piece of work, to shape it more carefully as the product of the craftsmanship, mind and imagination of an artist."
Incidentally, the publisher rejected it.
I don't have much to say here except to weigh in on the side of James Joyce.
This is not a case of the Emperor having no clothes. Joyce is the real deal.
I do think many academic types take his work too seriously.
On the other hand it is no reflection on your intelligence whether you like him or not or understand what he's saying.
Early in PORTRAIT there's a scene where the adults argue about Irish politics & at the time I first read it I had no idea what any of that meant but I got a gut feeling about the relationship & relative strength & weakness of all of the characters involved & it affected me in the same mysterious way adult things affect children.
Grown men crying, a favorite Aunt moves out.
I identified totally with the young Stephen witnessing the violent effect words can have on people.
Later I learned about Parnell & O'Shea & Gladstone but it didn't alter meaning of the scene. It simply filled in the underlying facts.
I really think that everyone should have an opinion - meaning everyone needs to read Joyce at least once. In saying that, you are allowed to form whatever opinion you want and I will not chase you around the block with a riding crop. This book really hit home with me because I recall a similar scene with my great aunts and my grandfather and father. We had to place one in a nursing home because the other died. My father openly wept. I also relate to it because my mother was verbally abusive, so maybe it is something about nurture v. nature. Who knows? Ignore the ass that told you "it is a man's book." I can think of ways to use the book to make them less of a man.
I am not one to typically flock to works solely as a result of their assumed status as "worthwhile". For example, I think David Lynch is largely useless and that the majority of the 'Lost Generation' authors overrated.
I can also sympathize with the view that stories can be judged by their ability to educate or entertain.
That said, Joyce needs to be understood in the context of when he was writing and to what he was responding. His work was controversial and radical; paving the way for scores of 20th and 21st Century authors. While his work is often frustrating as it is not always a simple process to read, this does not take away from the historical importance of his work or the unique manner of telling a story.
In addition, I believe that his prose is beautiful, if inconsistent. Chapters of Ulysses give me the chills (SIrens) and Finnegan's Wake will often cause me to laugh out loud.
Perhaps you are allowing the intelligentisia to influence your judgement by rejecting them altogether. Joyce can indeed by deconstructed and discussed and argued to no end; but it can also be enjoyed just for what it is.
I have to concede that the prose in portrait is indeed beautiful...and futhermore, even though it left me more perplexed than fulfilled....I felt a HUGE sense of accomplishment in having finished it. I still have Ulysses sitting on my shelf, which I had picked up many years ago. I'm determined to tackle it.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I also read it in my AP english class in highschool so I was given background on the history of Ireland etc. We also discussed the book in depth during class, and that helped me understand it better. That said, if I had tried it on my own I don't think I would have appreciated it or liked it as much.
Now, whether a book that is so intricate that research needs to be done in conjunction with it to really appreciate it is 'well written' or not is an entirely different debate that I'm not going to try to touch. I don't think James Joyce wrote the book for public though, I think he wrote it for himself and damn the critics! As Earl mentioned it was rejected by publishers, but he stuck to it, I have to admire that, if nothing else. I also agree with Rowan, it's not a 'man's' book.
Javacat has got it. The way into Joyce is by the ear. The sound of the words. Joyce's father was a well-known Irish tenor, and Joyce was apparently a marvelous singer as well, so it shouldn't be surprising that the prose sings. Listening to the dialog and descriptions, even if the meaning isn't instantly clear, is as pleasurable as listening to a Coltrane solo or Bach Partita, even if you don't get the underlying theory. I also enjoy the way he plays with language, moving from an infant's simple syntax to the wonderful Irish speech, the horror of hellfire preaching, and the poetry of the final scenes. (yes, I did have some help figuring that out. but I also had help learning to ride a bike.) There's also a story of course, a fascinating one about a young man finding his vocation, even if it means abandoning home and country. He was a great storyteller as well. if you want to appreciate Joyce, I'd start with Dubliners, where he invented the modern short story. its gloomy stuff, which is why he left Ireland, but don't give up until you read the last one-- The Dead -- one of the most beautiful stories in the language.
When I first read _Portrait_, I had most difficulty with the narrator and not so much the narration and the plot. Joyce accurately and acutely renders a perfect portrait of a self-absorbed youth; all youths are, to one extent or another, and this particular young person is really unlikeable. More than once, I asked myself why I should care about him. Then, I asked myself why I care so much about other young people in other novels. Jane Eyre, for example, is a grumpy and frumpy child. The reader encounters her as a child through the eyes of an older Jane who sympathizes with her younger self and demonizes her aunt, uncle and cousin who all mistreat her. Why should I feel bad for this little girl? Maybe she was absolutely unlikeable, but because I encounter her through a sympathetic eye, I end up feeling for her.
Joyce's Stephen Daedalus is presented in a way that I can only describe as prime and pristine. There is primacy to his description, and the description itself is little held back by a retrospective haze. It is almost as if we are "meeting" Stephen as we would meet any other new friend of acquaintance: we see him when he's little, and we watch him grow up. It's an odd experience, especially when we're trained on the classic bildungsroman like _Jane Eyre_.
There are many books out there that require "outside help," and instead of loathing that type of reading, I think more people should learn about it and try to incorporate it into their regular reading routine. When I decided to pursue my Master's degree, I quickly learned the value of literary criticism and context. When I decided to teach myself about modern Japanese fiction, I relied on my research and reading skills because even though many of the novelists I began studying are still living and writing today (hello, Haruki Murakami), I found that I needed to learn more about the culture and the writing itself in order to become a better reader, not necessarily a smarter or "better" individual.
So many times, "academics" closet themselves in the university, and when they begin adoring a certain work, like _Portrait_, it becomes stigmatized in such a way that individuals outside the "academic sphere" form preconceived notions before reading that colors their reading. Joyce is not simply found in _Portrait_ or _Ulysses_ (which, by the way, has so many layers and so many different readings. It is, in my opinion, much more difficult than _Portrait_. Because I am very well-versed in Greek mythology, my reading was heavily influenced by the journey of Odysseus. I have a hard time looking at the novel in any other way because of that reading). He is very accessible in _Dubliners_, which I suggest you pick up as soon as possible.
Echoing livemike here in saying that the prose in "Portrait of the Artist" deserves to be read out loud. Even though I didn't care much for the story, the way Joyce wrote is so musical and poetic.
"Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust."
One of the sentences I still know by heart; descriptive in its beauty.
Some good comments here.
I'd say, first of all, that the "difficulty" in Joyce is nothing like the "difficulty" in David Lynch. Portrait is pretty straightforward: it's chronological, it's grounded in real events, and the style stays pretty close to the consciousness of the protagonist as he grows.
And it's not a literary mess -- in fact, it's highly structured and organized, meticulously revised (compare to Stephen Hero, Joyce's rough draft, which rather is a mess), and altogether harmonious. I don't object to anyone disliking it, but I wonder if your criticism isn't a bit vague? When you say the book isn't enjoyable, you're really making a statement about yourself, not the book. That's OK, but it makes it difficult to know how or even whether to defend Joyce.
Finally, I don't think I want my literature to be "educational." Yuck.
Conspiracy to adore an overrated artist?
I tend to think of this book along the lines of an obscure David Lynch film that is essentially not understandable yet considered "GENIUS!" by the critics because they dare not say "I just didn't get it!". Could it be that I lack the requisite intelligence for this book or could it be that this book is *gasp* rubbish? I have been told that I don't love this book because it's a "man's book" and also because I lack the depth and sophistication to understand it. If a literary work is not at least enjoyable, it should be educational. I found this book to be neither. I think that there is a conspiracy of very intelligent people to feign adoration in order to not have to confess that it's a literary mess. What do you think? Should I be publicly whipped on Bloomsday?
This is a book that shook me. For me it is a work that supports the efforts of people like David Lynch and Joyce (true auteurs) whose sole motivation is to express themselves with clarity. In Joyce's writing, behind the music is great sincerity, which reaches out and grabs the reader, resonating with his/her personal experiences.
While I agree that it was hard to like the protagonist, the unflinching attention to detail in rendering his experiences makes him hard not to sympathise with.
To address what Wayne said, I think he's right about the differences between the difficulties in Lynch and Joyce. We always know what is happening in a Joych novel and we are frequently lost in Lynch's movies, but there is a commonality in that the experience for the reader is frequently uncomfortable in both.
Portrait is probably a good read for the mature. I read it when I was 16 and found some of it a bit close to the bone.
I have been trying to read this because I'm a fan of James Joyce. I just couldn't get him in one reading....The book is been with me for four years already and I'm not even half. He just really is way too deep for me...It will be on Reading List. Hopefully before the end of this year...
Interesting book, I wish I've read it in English though
I thought this book was extremely spiritual in the sense that it abounded in authenticity of feelings.
This has always been one of my favorite books. I certainly agree with you about the authenicity of the feelings expressed by James Joyce.
Soul of a complicated human being. So numb. deep emotions. deep pain...
What do you think of Stephen's metamorphosis?
Well, not as drastic as Gregor Samsa's, but most illuminating.
Yo fui Stephen Dedalus, cuando tenía 17 años. Vivi el luminoso y tormentoso debate interno sobre el arte y la religión. Y la inquietante y poderosa tentación, en un día de lluvia, regresando a pie del estadio, cuando al guarecerme en un bajo techo, me abrio la puerta una mujer en bata y me invitó a entrar, para pasar la tarde.
This book is so hard to read, but it's really amazing once you get into it. Lots of great lines.
one of the masterpieces of world's literature, first time reading one finds difficulties, but one should get into its very details and then every line reveals its art and its deep meaning that rarely can be found in other books, it is a work written by a genuis!
I found it hard to begin with. I should mention that I am not a native speaker, but I don't usually have problems reading in English. This one was a bit hard. I fond the narraitive difficult to follow. But the subjet was gripping, and the description of the main character's internal struggles is beautifully rendered.
I have recently started a group that plans to discuss this novel as well other prominent works of fiction:
Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century
A new group centered on a composite list of the best English-language fiction of the twentieth century. Please give it a look, join up and invite your friends!
I'm about a third of the way into this book. I've always considered Joyce to be a real heavy hitter in literary stakes and have actually steered clear of him up to this stage of my life. As an MA Creative writing student we are always told to make sure what we are writing is obviously going somewhere. "A reader won't wait 200 pages to work out what your book is about." (Deride Creative Writing MAs all you like but I see some merit in them) Personally I hate so called "page turners," which is probably the sort of thing that we are taught to write. But this is the other end of the scale. I do wonder sometimes what the reader's inspiration to read on is. Can beautiful langauge be enough of a reason to read on? It is exactly what it says it is. It's a portrait. I'm interested in knowing, as an advocate of novels that "go nowhere" and as a champion of style over content, what others think makes this great. 100 pages in I'm undecided.
And to partly answer my own question and on further reflection; Was it T.S Elliott who said that we all owe a deal of Joyce, who set us all free. I guess he meant that Joyce opened the door for this type of writing. Because of Joyce we are aware of "stream of consciousness" novels. So, ground breaking and beautiful it may be but I still am not sure what inspires the reader to read on and why they should care about young Stephen Dedalus.
I agree with jackbobdavid that Ulysses makes this look likes a kids book. It sort of highlights that this is not a complicated read. It doesn't take much to work out what's going on. I did once read the first two chapters of Ulysses and loved the dream like quality. It really is a stream of consciousness spilled on the page. But still, would love someone to tell me where they think the genius in the work is (in a calm and not vitriolic manner. I am not interested in reading people's auditions for the James Joyce fan club).
I am uncertain of the value of terms like style and content when it comes to, as you put it, 'high-stakes' literature... Life does not seem to go anywhere, and so novels that go nowhere are here to stay... What makes 'Portrait...' great? For me, right from the moo-cow in the first sentence,most of the novel resonate with the pains and pleasures and neutral observations of life I could experience... Joyce knows, at close hand,the stirrings of the human self and can express it in a way that grips the reader... He seems to have known whom he is writing for... I think he sort of got the audience he deserved...
Someone told me to really get the most out of joyce you had to read Dubliners, portrait, Ulysses(maybe two or three times), and then Finnagins Wake, and really you should read the oddyssy right before you read Ulysses. I am not smart enough to tell you what makes Ulysses a great book. I just know that books like that take me to amazing places even when I don't know what's going on at least not completely. And for me personally I am sure I will have to read Uly two more times to really understand it and even then if someone asks what makes this such a great book? I probably won't have much to say. I think it is fair to say he opened up the possibilites for future writers and at least attempted to give the reader a complete mental, physical, and emotional submersion into the characters and settings. Of course I also love Raymond Carver.
I've read to page 93 of 247 pages. 80 years old and find someone almost wrote my biography before I was born. Later in the paragraph on page 89 that begins, "Stephen watched the three glasses" describes how I felt when I was that age to a T. As far as I've read, I relate to the book as being about me. It's how I think I thought when I was whatever age Stephen is when I read about him.
Joseph Campbell has a 6 tape set about Joyces works, I highly recommend them.
If you want to learn about at least some males to a large extent, read this book & try to understand it.