Joyce's first novel challenges but does not intimidate. Several of the Joycean devices that became hallmarks of his style are on display in this book, but not in their extreme form.
One of the outstanding features of this novel is that Joyce changes the diction as the novel progresses from innocent memories of childhood, through the rigours of a Jesuit training, to the young artist in budding revolt. Those changes of style lend an artistry to the novel that would be missing in a pure recollected biography.
For a full account of the discussions and readings, click below.
Returning: Mohan Vellapally, taking part on a visit from New Delhi.
Jun 10, 2011 : Tess of d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (choice by Amita and Talitha)
Are you not weary of ardent ways, Lure of the fallen seraphim? Tell no more of enchanted days.
Listening to a reading of it (http://www.archive.org/details/portrait_artist_pb_librivox ) with book in hand enables one to go fast (about 9 hours for the whole book). Priya read it aloud to herself when she got stuck with a hard part. The Kindle reader has a synthesised voice to read out a book to you.
Indira drew attention to Nabokov being exiled like Joyce. Joe added that Nabokov's exile was forced, whereas Joyce's decision on where to live was his own choice. Catholicism is awful, said Indira, as it comes through in the novel. It seems like Catholic authors cannot get away from their Catholicism, she said, mentioning, Graham Greene, with his strong sense of sin. Indira pointed to another example of Edna O'Brien in whom she sees the “horrible shadow” of Catholicism. Indira briefly mentioned a story by that author in which a woman's lover falls down the stairs, and she at the top vows to God that she will forgo her lover's company forever if he was not killed by the fall. Sure enough, the fellow was only dazed, but he is puzzled why she never more requites his ardour. How cruel can be the effect of Catholicism, Indira thought. Talitha rebutted by saying the guilt that follows is often as real as the commission of sinful acts that violate the moral norms held by the person. On the other hand Stephen in the novel has no truck with Protestantism:
The memory of smells from childhood gives a sentimental colouring to this passage (“His mother had a nicer smell than his father“). This made Indira say that each person has their own smell. She noted how even after her father's death, the smell persisted when she entered his room in the house. Amita said some people preserve that by retaining an old shirt worn by the person in a sealed container.
Indira reiterated that Catholics are on an “endless guilt trip.” She gave the example of a woman acquaintance; when asked what is a woman's ultimate virtue, she replied, 'Virginity.' Indira, who had granted her some intelligence before the remark, despaired. Was she a nun, someone asked. No, a married woman who kept her body for her husband alone. A quaint Catholic custom.
Yet, one cannot ignore the difficulty of the book. The reader has to struggle with the allusions and the context which he switches often. Joyce partly modeled Stephen Dedalus after himself. Stephen is reflective, argumentative, opinionated, and at odds with everything in life – even ordinary things young people accept without a fuss.
The passage Thommo read was Stephen's reflection on his alienation from his own family, and the shame and guilt he felt after visiting prostitutes. This transgression and shame was a result of his Catholic background, said Indira. He is a thinking man, and he is unhappy. Why should he be? Indira as before ascribed his unhappiness to his feeling of guilt, which is the residue of the Catholicism he imbibed. Note the following sentence from the passage:
(1)“Perhaps the most famous aspect of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's innovative use of stream of consciousness, a style in which the author directly transcribes the thoughts and sensations that go through a character's mind, rather than simply describing those sensations from the external standpoint of an observer. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen's mind.” (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/themes.html )
He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other.
There's a quote on the subject:
-- Stephen Hero
Indira remarked after Zakia read Joyce's passage (see Readings) that “Joyce loved women.” No doubt, but perhaps the evidence from this passage points to a narrower conclusion; he loved describing women:
Joe referred to the bottom of the painting behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, of the damned being sucked into hell. Talitha added that Michelangleo painted the faces of some of his enemies into those scenes. Hell has classical precedents in the work of Milton (Paradise Lost) said Talitha; and of course Dante's great work also deals with hell (Inferno).
Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.
There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.
All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.
On the little green place.
Pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
What birds were they? He stood on the steps of the library to look at them, leaning wearily on his ashplant. They flew round and round the jutting shoulder of a house in Molesworth Street. The air of the late March evening made clear their flight, their dark quivering bodies flying clearly against the sky as against a limp-hung cloth of smoky tenuous blue.
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes
Upon the nest under the eave before
He wander the loud waters.
--Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother before you go to bed? Stephen answered: --I do. Wells turned to the other fellows and said: --O, I say, here's a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
--I do not. Wells said: --O, I say, here's a fellow says he doesn't kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?