2009. 159. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down the road and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…”

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

        I seem to inadvertently gone full circle, starting the year with Ulysses, and ending it with a re-read of Portrait.  Not intentional, but it puts a nice cap on what otherwise was sort of a pitiful reading year (i.e., I read fewer books this year than any year in which I have kept a list!).  

       Anyway, color me a philistine, because I so prefer Portrait.  Even though I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of modernism, I can’t help but love this book.  Whereas I found the verbal games and trickery in Ulysses distracting, and that served to distance me from the characters, I found the modernist tools that Joyce uses in Portrait to bring me closer to Stephen Dedalus and his struggle to express himself.  The novel is obviously a first novel in the “write what you know” sense, - it’s the story of a young Irish Catholic man’s attempt to figure out who he is going to be as an artist, while grappling with the competing demands of family, country and religion.  And Joyce captures it so well that I was absolutely drawn into Stephen’s struggle, and struggled with him.  So much so that even though Stephen objectively is a bit of a weenie - too wrapped up in his own head, totally a misogynist, rotten to his mother - I ended up loving him, a bit.*

      Oh, and the stuff about the Church, and Ireland (how he’s a writer who doesn’t even have a language of his own!), and society, oh, I do love this book.   I know that I’ll have to reread Ulysses with some commentary someday soon, because the best of Joyce is so good, and I want to get all I can from him.** 

*This was worse the first time I read the book, when I was 21, and more of a sucker for self-centered intellectuals.  

** Which is not to say that I am too excited for my imminent read of Finnegan’s Wake - I like him more the less games that he plays, alas.

Date/Place Completed:  December 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Book Resolutions, Modern Library Top 100, Re-Read

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017