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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical novel by James Joyce, first serialized in The Egoist from 1914 to 1915 and published in book form in 1916. It depicts the formative years in the life of Stephen Dedalus, a fictional alter ego of Joyce and a pointed allusion to the consummate craftsman of Greek mythology, Daedalus.

A Portrait is a key example of the K├╝nstlerroman (an artist's Bildungsroman) in English literature. Joyce's novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irishmarker conventions in which he has been raised. He finally leaves for abroad to pursue his calling as an artist. The work pioneers some of Joyce's modernist techniques that would later come to fruition in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The novel, which has had a "huge influence on novelists across the world", was ranked by Modern Library as the third greatest English-language novel of the 20th century.

Portrait is a complete rewrite of his earlier attempt at the story, Stephen Hero, with which he grew frustrated in 1905. Large portions of Stephen Hero found their way, sometimes nearly unchanged, into Portrait, but the tone was changed considerably in order to focus more exclusively on the perspective of Stephen Dedalus. For instance, several of his siblings made prominent appearances in the earlier novel, but are almost completely absent in Portrait. The incomplete first draft of Stephen Hero was published posthumously in 1944.

Literary style

Stylistically, the novel is written as a third-person narrative with minimal dialogue, though towards the very end of the book dialogue-intensive scenes involving Dedalus and some of his friends, in which Dedalus posits his complex, Thomist aesthetic theory, and finally journal entries by Stephen, are introduced. Since the work covers Stephen's life from the time he was a child to his growing independence and ultimate abandoning of Ireland as a young man, the style of the work progresses through each of its five chapters, with the complexity of language gradually increasing. The book's opening pages have famous examples of Stephen's thoughts and conscious experience when he is a child. Throughout the work, language and prose are used to portray indirectly the state of mind of the protagonist, and the subjective impact of the events of his life. Hence the fungible length of some scenes and chapters, where Joyce's intent was to capture the subjective experience through language, rather than to present the actual experience through prose narrative. The writing style is also notable for Joyce's omission of quotation marks; he indicated dialogue by beginning a paragraph with a dash, as is common in French.

Allusions in novel

The book is set in Joyce's native Irelandmarker, especially in Dublinmarker. It deals with many Irish issues such as the quest for autonomy and the role of the Catholic Church. A particular figure, who is also mentioned in Dubliners and Ulysses, and alluded to in Finnegans Wake, is the Irish leader Charles Stewart Parnell.

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus features prominently in the novel. In Greek mythology, Daedalus is an architect and inventor who becomes trapped in a labyrinth of his own construction. Later, he finds himself on an island and fashions wings of feathers and wax for his son (Icarus) and for himself, so that they can escape. As they fly away Icarus grows bolder and flies higher, until, finally, he flies too close to the sun, which causes the wax to melt. Icarus plummets to the sea.

Stephen's name is an allusion to Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen Dedalus, like Saint Stephen, has conflicts with the established religion. The Divine Comedy is also echoed in the name Stephen gives his aunt - Dante. Dante is so-called because of the way 'The Auntie' sounds in her Cork accent. Ovid's Metamorphoses is referenced at the start with a quote saying, "Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes" Translation: "And he sets his mind to unknown arts"

Cover to the first U.S. edition, 1917.

Allusions to novel

The title has been adapted and parodied by many writers including Charles Perry in "Portrait of a Young Man Drowning", Dylan Thomas in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, Joseph Heller in Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man, A.M. Klein in his poem "Portrait of the Poet as Landscape," Andrew Barlow and Kent Roberts' A Portrait of Yo Mama as a Young Man, Grayson Perry's biography Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl and William Eastlake's Portrait of an Artist with 26 Horses. In Patrick White's novel The Solid Mandala, Waldo Brown plans but fails to write a novel called Tiresias a Youngish Man, thereby parodying both Joyce's novel and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Also the song "Potrait Of The Artist As A Fountain" by Simon Bookish. Steven R. Boyett's short story collection "Treks Not Taken" includes a Star Trek: The Next Generation parody entitled "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan."

In film

A film version, adapted for the screen by Judith Rascoe and directed by Joseph Strick, was released in 1977. It starred Bosco Hogan as Stephen Dedalus and TP McKenna as Simon Dedalus, and featured John Gielgud as the priest whose lengthy sermon on Hell terrifies the teenage Stephen.

Further reading

  • Attridge, Derek, ed. The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, 2nd edition, Cambridge UP, 2004. ISBN 0-52154-553-6.
  • Bloom, Harold. James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. ISBN 1-55546-020-8.
  • Brady, Philip and James F. Carens, eds. Critical Essays on James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998. ISBN 978-0-7838-0035-6.
  • Doherty, Gerald. Pathologies of Desire: The Vicissitudes of the Self in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8204-9735-8.
  • Empric, Julienne H. The Woman in the Portrait: The Transforming Female in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-8937-0193-2.
  • Epstein, Edmund L. The Ordeal of Stephen Dedalus: The Conflict of Generations in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1971. ISBN 978-0-8093-0485-1 .
  • Harkness, Marguerite. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Voices of the Text. Boston: Twayne, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8057-8125-0.
  • Morris, William E. and Clifford A. Nault, eds. Portraits of an Artist: A Casebook on James Joyce's Portrait. New York: Odyssey, 1962.
  • Seed, David. James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-3120-8426-4.
  • Thornton, Weldon. The Antimodernism of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8156-2587-2.
  • Wollaeger, Mark A., ed. James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: A Casebook. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2003. ISBN 978-0-1951-5075-9.
  • Yoshida, Hiromi. Joyce & Jung: The "Four Stages of Eroticism" in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8204-6913-3.


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