Drew's Reviews > A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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Sep 21, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, favorites
Read from September 21 to October 01, 2010

I had started Ulysses three times in college but never got past page 75 before giving up. That was my background with James Joyce. Like TS Eliot and others of the great modernist writers, I only knew Joyce as being a great writer beyond my own comprehension. Then I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at my local used bookstore in the dollar bin and decided to give it a try. I was unsure what to expect as I started the first page (moocows, baby tuckoos, and tralala lalas), but I gradually fell in line. Like some of the best writing, it took a bit of effort to follow the story, but with each section I felt rewarded for that effort.

The story follows the life of a young man (I assume its somewhat autobiographical) growing up in a strictly catholic society as he grows and matures. He rebels from the church, then returns with renewed vigor and zeal, but ultimately spurns the life of a priest for that of an artist. A few scenes were particularly memorable. The first being early in the story when the young man, probably seven or eight, is seated with the adults for the first time during an important religious holiday meal. The conversation between the men (his father and uncle) and women (mostly the aunt) turns somewhat hostile. We see through the young boy's eyes his first experience of someone questioning the authority of the church in everyday people's lives (and its coming from his own father). This scene paves the way for his eventual rebellion. Later, though, after having found comfort in brothels, he feels conviction and guilt during a fiery sermon about hell and sin. This is probably ten pages or so of the most grim description of biblical and non-biblical hell imaginable. It was gripping to read, but is also an insightful example of how religious leaders use fear to manipulate. After his personal conversion and demonstrated devotion to the church, his priest offers him an opportunity to enter the priesthood. It is at this moment that he realizes a priestly life is not for him; he wants to be an artist. For the first time in the story we get depictions of leaves and birds, we are given excerpts of his writings, and follow him as he decides he must leave his home to fully develop as an artist.

The writing style follows the life of the young man. I imagine the story that opens the book (moocows etc.) is some kind of tale told to the boy as a young child. The details are missing from events when he is younger, but as he grows the writing becomes more mature. Towards the end we see latin phrases popping up and more detailed depictions of the world the young man walks. I enjoyed watching the young man evolve before my eyes the same way the words themselves changed. Overall, it was a tremendously enjoyable read and well worth the effort. It may even convince me to try Dubliners or (less likely) give Ulysses another go.
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message 1: by k.wing (new) - added it

k.wing Make sure and write a review! Wanna know what you thought of it.


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