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By James Joyce
New York: Vintage International, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-73989-0
244 pages

Bob Corbett
January 2016

Once again I have returned to James Joyce’s fascinating novel, A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN. I first read the novel in college nearly 60 years ago.

Since then I have read it several more times, though, with my failing memory, I didn’t really remember that until, after this read, I consulted my comments from my most recent prior read in 2006. Actually, when I read the novel this time I, ironically I think, had memories of that first read so long ago, but in my notes this time I indicated I hadn’t returned to it since. Yet my 2006 comments (below) indicate I’d read it several time since my college days. Ah, memory, where are you?

As I was reading the novel this time I was very excited about it and kept going into my partner’s room and telling her about this or that which had come up and how fascinating or insightful or whatever it was. After a while, however, I went into her office and she said: “LOOK!” And there on her computer was a set of comments I had written on the novel in 2006, of which I had no memory.

So, rather than write again of this work, I just cite the url for my earlier review. However, I do have a very short addendum below to those earlier comments.

For my more extensive 2006 comments please see:

I do want to add that on this most recent read I was especially moved by the vehemence of his sort of conversion to his passions in his university days.

The novel seems to take a significant turn once he decides that he does not have a vocation to the priesthood and immediately he embraces almost an anti-religious, anti-clerical stance.

There is a wild rhapsody much of which would be marvelous to quote, but it is so rich and so long it would be too much. Just a taste of this rapture:

“He heard the choir of voices in the kitchen echoed and multiplied through an endless reverberation of the choirs of endless generations of children: and heard in all the echoes an echo also of the recurring note of weariness and pain. All seemed weary of life even before entering upon it. And he remembered that Newman had heard this note also in the broken lines of Virgil giving utterance, like the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness yet hope of better things which has been the experience of her children in every times.”

He is simply wild with certainty of his new future. He will reform himself and avoid sin in his current life. He uses both positive progress and the negative denials and introduced self-punishment to his life.

Another sample of his rhapsody:

“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wild-hearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.”

He ends up walking along the sea and continues his rant:

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.”

This is definitely a great novel and I would highly recommend it to all.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett