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THE CRITICS - CRITICAL OPINION / CRITICAL ANALYSIS
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
All these ironies, mild as they are, remind us again that Stephen is not Joyce and that there is a comic dimension to the Portrait, all the stronger because Stephen is unaware of it. Stephen's life resembles Joyce's but he is displaced, living in a different and more sombre environment. He is less happy, more troubled, than Joyce; he is surrounded by people less substantial than Joyce's associates were and consequently seems less intellectually agile and more isolated. The world mocks his attempts to attain maturity and individuality. Joyce presents Stephen's ideas seriously enough but undercuts them by showing their limitations, questioning whether Stephen understands their full meaning and partly avoiding them while writing the novel in which they appear.
David G. Wright, Characters of Joyce, 1983
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST vs. STEPHEN HERO
Had Joyce died after writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man his reputation as a novelist of stature could have rested on that one work alone. Its flaws... are faults which a long work in prose may override as a poem may not; and the Portrait does, triumphantly. Yet it has rarely received its due. Interest in it as a novel has been dissipated by its obvious autobiographical content.... Of all Joyce's works the Portrait has suffered most from this distrust of the constructive intellect in art. The existence of an earlier version, Stephen Hero, undisciplined and extravagant of detail, has induced a general easy acquiescence in the view that the Portrait is by comparison, deliberate, artificial and cold-blooded. It does not in fact lack feeling. Its inspiration is to be traced to far more profound and integrated experiences than anything behind the adolescent Stephen Hero....
The earlier novel is a straightforward naturalistic narrative, comprehensive,
frank, humorous and partisan.... Stephen Hero does present a picture of
the hero and his notions on art, but it is set against a very rich background
of family, friends, city and religion-a family consisting of father, mother,
a brother who is a close friend, a sister and minor relatives, friends
who have distinct personalities and whose opinions are not only independent
of Stephen but important to him; Dublin, which is both a city and a language;
and Catholicism as religion and the channel of education.... [T]he earlier
draft is a study of a son and a brother, of a very human though consciously
clever and eccentric student,
Jane H. Jack, "Art and A Portrait of the Artist," 1955; reprinted in Thomas Connolly, Joyce's Portrait, 1962.
STEPHEN THE EGOTIST
Confronted with these responses and questions, one would have to admit that the Stephen Dedalus who sets forth in the novel's last lines "to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race" is a preposterous egotist who has little to show for all the extravagance of his ambition. Stephen has not developed an aesthetic philosophy. Had he done so, one would have to insist that Joyce had created the most untypical brilliant undergraduate of the world's literature. As it is, one can grant that, out of need and largely to justify himself, Stephen has expressed some brilliant but not necessarily consistent insights. Stephen may have enrolled in the priesthood of art, but, again, one must admit that it would be difficult to describe him as a poet on the basis of his villanelle. On the other hand, granting every irony that has been claimed for the way Joyce depicts the composition of the poem and every criticism that has been made of its fin de siecle affectation, it can be affirmed that the villanelle is the work of an undergraduate of undeniable talent.
Zack Bowen and James F. Carens, eds. A Companion to Joyce Studies, 1984
STEPHEN'S PROMISE AS A WRITER
...the Portrait is surely meant to leave us with equivocal feelings about its hero's potentialities. For much of the time Stephen embodies an aspect of Joyce's nature that he repeatedly punished in his books but that he could never finally quell: the egoarch, the poseur with a smack of Hamlet, the narcissist who dedicated his first extended work (a play written at the age of eighteen and subsequently lost) "to My own Soul." But he also represents Joyce by virtue of his unaccommodating ideals and his restless imagination: even the purple patches hold out the promise of a more authentic, more distinctive lyricism. And he has the courage of his immaturity, which means having the capacity to grow and change, of not being afraid of a plunge into the unknown. Whether he will ultimately justify his presumptuousness and succeed in writing his masterpiece is an open question as the book ends.
John Gross, James Joyce, 1970
JOYCE'S VISUAL SENSE
Harry Levin has characterized Joyce's writing as being of "low visibility," his imagination as being auditory rather than visual, and his most direct concern being with the ear rather than the eye....
No one would deny that Joyce had poor eyesight, keen ears, was preoccupied with language, and frequently used musical forms and effects in
his writing. But the premise that poor eyesight inevitably results in writing strong in auditory imagery and weak in visual imagery does not
prove itself. The impairment of one sense does not necessarily result in a diminished artistic representation of that sense. Beethoven is an
obvious example.... The demonstrable fact is that Joyce was thoroughly at home with the visual, and relied on it to achieve some of his most
Robert S. Ryf, A New Approach to Joyce, 1964
Joyce's own contribution to English prose is to provide a more fluid medium for refracting sensations and impressions through the author's mind-to facilitate the transition from photographic realism to esthetic impressionism. In the introductory pages of the Portrait of the Artist, the reader is faced with nothing less than the primary impact of life itself, a presentational continuum of the tastes and smells and sights and sounds of earliest infancy. Emotion is integrated, from first to last, by words. Feelings, as they filter through Stephen's sensory apparatus, become associated with phrases. His conditioned reflexes are literary....
This is the state of mind that confers upon language a magical potency. It exalts the habit of verbal association into a principle for the arrangement of experience. You gain power over a thing by naming it; you become master of a situation by putting it into words. It is psychological need, and not hyperfastidious taste, that goads the writer on to search for the mot juste, to loot the thesaurus.
Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, 1960
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher, Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York