Wednesday, October 17, 2012
James Joyce's Portrait
In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” Stephen Dedalus is the main character. (In Greek mythology Dedalus was a character who created wings to fly away from his prison, so the name chosen by Joyce may have been an allegory of his own situation, as Joyce felt imprisoned in his own culture).
As we enter Stephen Dedalus’s childhood we follow the flow of his thoughts - his internal monologue - without riding on preconceptions or judgments. Yet nothing feels forced into us; one is not just a witness, one feels like Stephen Dedalus, for it is easy to identify with his stream of consciousness.
Stephen simply reports and shows situations that shaped Joyce’s past. With a sense of wonder and curiosity, he examines the events and people around him from a child’s perspective, leading us to see every situation anew. This novel, rich in literary and religious references, is composed of different periods of his childhood and youth, revealing political arguments and family disputes that may have influenced Joyce later in life by stimulating his mind and encouraging him to develop his own ideas. It also helps to portray the Irish society and its nationalistic fanaticism in the early 1900s.
James Joyce felt like an alien in his own land, daring to think and to feel different from his peers. Assuming this role was an endeavor that had a risk attached: the risk of being shunned by the people of his own country. It involved accepting and embracing the loneliness that was part of the freedom to express himself.
“To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was harder for him than any fasting or prayer, and it was his constant failure to do this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at last a sensation of spiritual dryness together with a growth of doubts and scruples”.
There is a tone of nostalgia and melancholy in his writing. The musicality of his voice and the beauty of his style captivated me from the beginning.
Anybody who is willing to learn more about Catholic religion will find Joyce’s novel enlightening. Another interesting aspect of this story is that Joyce slips into his narrative the idea of "social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes". It may have been for this reason that the feminist and activist editor of The Egoist, Harriet Shaw Weaver, agreed to publish his novel at a time when every publisher rejected it. Not only did she publish his novel, but she also provided him with the financial support he needed to give up teaching and devote himself to his literary career full-time. As from 1916, Harriet Shaw Weaver and James Joyce corresponded almost daily. She proofread his work, gave him literary feedback and encouraged him to pursue his aspirations. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, published by The Egoist Press in 1916, was praised by some critics but was also attacked by the mainstream press.
This novel is about the path that convinced James Joyce to search for freedom in his self-imposed exile. The powerful conversation with his friend Cranly makes this clear when Stephen says, “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile and cunning.”
In 1904 James Joyce left Ireland with his lifelong partner, Nora Barnacle, to develop his literary career and to escape from the fetters of religious and nationalistic fanaticism.