Edited with James F. Carens
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Introduction from the book
James Joyce’s first manuscript to be accepted for publication appeared in print early in the first year of this century. That publication was a review of Henrik Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken and it appeared in the Fortnightly Review, a London periodical. Joyce was then eighteen years old and in the second year of study at University College in Dublin.
According to Stanislaus Joyce, almost a year before the publication of his brother’s review of the Ibsen play, James had remarked to his parents of a play they had attended together, “The subject of the play is genius breaking out in the home and against the home…It’s going to happen in your own house.” Such a declaration as this might be regarded as either the ironic jest or the arrogant boast of a precocious youth. Nevertheless, James Joyce’s Fortnightly article–a wonderment to his fellow students–and another Ibsenist paper he had delivered before the college Literary and Historical Society some weeks earlier–a direct assault on the conventional literary assumptions of his fellows and masters (Ellmann, 70ff.)–were surely evidence of something more intense than youthful braggadocio and more compelling than precocity. This Irish youth already knew that there was genius in him and he was determined that he would express it.
In the paper “Drama and Life,” in the Fortnightly essay on When We Dead Awaken, in the 1901 letter composed in the Dano- Norwegian he taught himself to write in order to greet the aging dramatist on his seventy-third birthday–Joyce, although he denied that he was a hero-worshipper, expressed his admiration for a cultural hero who defined for him the essential role of the modern European artist. In Ibsen, Joyce admired not merely the master’s dramaturgy, nor even just the verisimilitude of the plays, but the energy with which Ibsen seized upon the issues of his time, the courage that enabled him to stand alone against hypocrisy and convention. The paper “Drama and Life” pays tribute to Ibsen’s understanding that “even the most commonplace, the deadest among the living, may play a part in the great drama.” Above all, as he indicated when he wrote the master in 1901, Joyce admired Ibsen’s “impersonal power” and “wilful resolution to wrest the secret from life.” (Joyce’s language reveals how important the symbolic element in Ibsen was to him.)
During the summer of 1900, Joyce devoted himself to his first substantial creative effort, the lost or destroyed drama A Brilliant Career, a work apparently influenced by Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (Ellmann, 78ff.) A decade and a half later, Joyce would publish Exiles, a play in the tradition of Ibsen but intensely original in the way it dramatizes Joyce’s own psychic torments. Yet it cannot be said that Exiles is comparable in interest or inventiveness to Joyce’s major works. The stage was not really Joyce’s medium; it was in the rich detail, evocative imagery, and stylistic boldness of his narratives that he found the way to explore the social and psychological realities of the commonplace and to depict the world as he knew it: ironically, comically, and unencumbered by outmoded notions of heroic ideality.
Over the months when Joyce was reading and celebrating Ibsen, he was also reading widely among the recent works of other Scandinavian writers and of Russian, French, German, and Italian authors (Ellmann, 75 and passim). In these same months Dublin itself was pulsing with new literary energies. What came to be known as the Irish Literary Renaissance was budding and about to burst into flower. With the support of Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats was bent upon creating an Irish theatre entirely unlike the commercial theatre of London. George Moore, who after years in France had introduced French Symbolism and the Naturalism of Zola to England, had returned to Ireland and remained in Dublin for a decade. And J.M. Synge, who at the urging of Yeats returned from Paris, discovered a rich language and the material of his plays among the folk of Western Ireland and the Aran Isles. (It has even been suggested that Joyce originally intended A Brilliant Affair for production by the Irish Literary Theatre for which it would not have been suited). In October of 1901 Joyce published, at his own expense, “The Day of Rabblement,” having been denied publication in a new college magazine. The essay was a fierce attack on the direction the theatre was taking as well as on Yeats and Moore. Not a youth to suffer easily what he disdained, this undergraduate utterly rejected the influence of more established artists in Dublin. Although Joyce granted that Yeats’s The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) was a collection of poems “of the highest order,” he more grudgingly described “some” of Moore’s best novel, Esther Waters, as “fine original work.” Yeats he denounced for surrendering the original impulse of the Irish Literary Theatre to the “popular will” of the Irish rabble. Moore he assailed as a dated writer “struggling in the backwash of the tide which has advanced from Flaubert through Jakobsen to D’Annunzio,” the Italian writer Joyce then most esteemed.
At the heart of Joyce’s argument was his insistence that the artist must “isolate himself from the crowd.” The true artist must free “himself from the mean influences about him” (CW, 70ff). From the commitment Joyce made in this essay of 1901 to the necessary apartness of the artist was but a short distance to the decision he made in 1904 to exile himself and his companion, Nora Barnacle, from Dublin and Ireland. The journey he made and the residences he established with Nora in Pola, and thereafter in Trieste and following that in Rome and then again in Trieste were unstable and stressful. But during the years of penury and stress, mostly as a teacher of English, among other things Joyce produced “The Dead” his first masterpiece and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the supreme novel in our language of the education and growth of a potential artist. Though usually identified as in the tradition of the Bildungsroman, Joyce’s Portrait belongs to a special class within that genre: it is an account of the maturation of a creative spirit, a Künstlerroman.
Critical attention has often been called to Joyce’s careful placing and dating of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the very last page by “Dublin 1904/Trieste 1914.” It is interesting that Joyce needed to draw attention to his fulfillment of a pledge made in his youth (Ellmann, 354), to his rejection of Ireland’s insularity, and to the exile that enabled him to become a mature artist. But in Joyce’s choice of the year 1904 as the initiating date of Portrait there are yet more important considerations than these. In Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce, still the authoritative work, however much one might question minor details, the biographer accepted the account of Stanislaus Joyce that on January 7, 1904 his brother James, having learned that a new Dublin journal was to appear, in a single day produced a work to which he gave the title “A Portrait of the Artist” and submitted it to Dana. Ellmann described this piece of prose as “an autobiographical story” and also as an “essay or story” and as an “essay narrative.” Actually neither the term “story” nor “essay” is adequate to define the quality of the “Portrait” of 1904, the author of which, indifferent to the purity of literary genres, mixes these two with a lacing of the prose poem. (In tone, Joyce shifts from apostrophic to ironic, from self-encomiastic to self-deflating, from misanthropic to humanistic.) The 1904 “Portrait” was, Ellmann indicated following Stanislaus, the basis for Stephen Hero, a long but unfinished autobiographical work, and also for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In a more recent biographical work on Joyce’s early years, Peter Costello followed the same line as Ellmann, though describing the piece of prose as a “long essay” and describing how Joyce, following the rejection of his essay, “sat down at the kitchen table,” and “embarked on…the scheme of a long satirical novel” (and “lying autobiography,” according to Stanislaus): that is, Stephen Hero. Not surprisingly, given these later descriptions of the 1904 “Portrait,” Dana’s John Eglinton (W.K.Magee), who later in the year did publish one of Joyce’s delicate lyrics, explained to him that he could not “print what I can’t understand (Ellmann, 147).”
It was not until Hans Walter Gabler’s critically edited text of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1993) that a crucial piece of evidence was introduced to question the authority of Stanislaus Joyce and the notion that the 1904 “Portrait” was linked to Stephen Hero. Observing that “We have all persistently overlooked” a letter of September 1916 from May, sister of James and Stanislaus, in which she describes how she had listened as Joyce read sections from his “autobiographical novel” to their mother some months before her death, Gabler argued the plausible view that Joyce had begun Stephen Hero nearly a year before he had been assumed to have done so and that the brief first “Portrait” represents Joyce’s attempt to liberate himself from the style of Stephen Hero and to approach a new kind of treatment.
Stylistically, the 1904 “Portrait” is dense, hyperbole-laden, and elusive. In method, it resembles not at all the discursive, rather conventional, almost plodding narrative mode of the surviving portion of Stephen Hero. Often bombastic, strained, and “poetical,” this “Portrait” is the work of a Joyce who has not yet found the brilliant techniques he would master for rendering fictional point of view and very little of the assured control of a dense metaphoric and mythic structure that would be his. And yet there is excitement in the reading of the first “Portrait” because of the uncertainties it provokes as we read it; and there are powerful moments, particularly when we recognize language we know to have been carried over to Portrait.
Throughout a reading of the rather extraordinary confession, a Joyce is revealed to us who gropes towards the central concerns we find in the later account of a youth growing into an artist, opening with the suggestion that autobiography must not be produced as an “iron memorial” but must render life as “a fluid succession of presents.” It implies a portrait to be “the curve of an emotion”: almost a prophecy of the rendering of consciousness Joyce would later achieve. The heroic figure of the young artist limned in 1904 disdains male competition and rivalry, but he refuses to submit to the conventional male compromise with mediocrity and thus staglike flashes his antlers in defiance. The heroic artist, hitherto devout and reverential, is described as he rebels against the falsehoods and repressions of religion; his “leaving” the Church and flirting with the esoteric–a Dublin enthusiasm not developed in Portrait but used to comic effect in Ulysses–are treated, the first with sympathy, the second with irony. Feminists may despise a long, entirely sexist passage. In this there are wading girls on the strand, a succubus figure who tempts the sleeping hero, another murky figure who drives him to masturbation, groups of whores, a particular whore, a “witch” who releases our hero from the “agony of the self-devourer,” but who is also “an envoy from the courts of life” (a phrase more wonderful in Portrait). This “witch” is “sacramental”; her kiss, an ecstasy. In every sense of the word, this passage is climactic. But the natural imagery of a litany to the sacramental whore suggests that the Virgin has not yet been discarded. In an apocalyptic conclusion State and Church, “Their Intensities and their Bullockships” are scorned and the rebirth of man, competition and aristocracies defeated, is envisioned. By the time he finished Portrait, Joyce knew better than to close on such a universal fantasy. By the time he wrote Ulysses, he knew how to convert such fantasy to joyous comedy, painful irony, and pathetic hope.
It should be noted that John Eglinton and others involved in Dana were perfectly able to comprehend the sexual implications of “A Portrait of the Artist,” and that element alone would have been enough to alarm them to the point of rejection. Indeed, the rejections of publishers and eventually even the hostility of printers were to vex Joyce for most of a decade. Though W.B. Yeats could not but resent Joyce’s unfriendly words about the literary movement and his purported surrender to the rabble, he recognized Joyce’s talent and intervened at certain moments to support the younger man. It was Yeats who introduced Joyce in London to his friend Arthur Symons, and it was the latter who subsequently made the connection resulting in the publication of Joyce’s poems, Chamber Music in 1907 (Ellmann, 111, 232). But the excruciating publication histories of Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are distressing to follow. When the collection of Dublin stories, accepted early in 1906 by the English firm of Grant Richards, upset his printers, Richards demanded numerous censorious revisions and finally refused to honor the contract. A second negotiation was even more devastating for Joyce. Rejected by numerous publishers, Joyce finally responded to a request from Joseph Hone that he submit Dubliners to Maunsel and Co. of Dublin, in which Hone had investments. Unfortunately, Joyce had to deal with the managing editor of the firm, a cad as shabby in his business practices as he was narrow in his views of life and letters. After months of delay and demands for revisions and cuts, George Roberts finally offered Joyce the printed sheets, which Joyce intended to publish himself, only to be told that the printer had destroyed the very printed sheets Roberts had offered (Ellmann, 219 and passim).
In December of 1913, however, Joyce received a letter from Ezra Pound, hitherto unknown to him. This American expatriate had already established himself in the London literary world where he was bent upon reforming the language of contemporary poetry and prose. Pound was closely enough associated with W.B.Yeats to assist as the latter “remade” his poetry; and it was at the suggestion of Yeats that Pound contacted Joyce. A second letter from Pound followed quickly on the first, for Yeats had located Joyce’s “I hear an army” and Pound, delighted, requested permission to include it in his forthcoming anthology, Des Imagistes. When Joyce responded to his encouragement, sending him the opening chapter of Portrait and the complete Dubliners, Pound arranged for the serial publication of Portrait in the avant-garde magazine The Egoist in 1914-1915. Given this evidence of Joyce’s recognized talent, Grant Richards summoned enough courage to publish Dubliners in 1914. Both braver and shrewder, B.W. Huebsch published the American edition of Dubliners and the first edition of Portrait as a book in 1916, the Egoist Press edition following the next year.
The reader’s report to Duckworth, one of the firms that considered but rejected Portrait, anticipated some of the attitudes of the reviews that greeted Joyce’s novel on its publication. Duckworth’s reader, probably though not certainly Edward Garnett throughout the complete report, complained that Portrait seemed “‘a little sordid'” and “too ‘unconventional'”; he complained too that “ugly things, ugly words are too prominent.” The squeamishness of this line of thought has to be understood in terms of the lingering repressiveness and evasiveness of late Victorian culture weighing upon the new century but is nevertheless startling in a reader who did recognize the talent he confronted. Joyce, he argued, should be encouraged to rewrite the novel, now “too discursive, formless, unrestrained.” Stephen’s diary, at the conclusion of Portrait, particularly distressed this reader for whom it was “a complete falling to bits…the thoughts all in pieces.” Another possibility, of course, is that the publisher’s reader simply could not recognize the craft by which Joyce’s compression and selectiveness had produced a new kind of novel for a new century.
When A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published scarcely any of the reviewers questioned the author’s talent. But the review for the Irish Booklover insisted that no “clean-minded person” should allow the book within reach of any family member. (He did not explain how these pure beings could either understand or be depraved by what they read.) Even H.G. Wells, who had stronger praise than most for the realism of the book and the “reality” of Stephen and even felt that the technical innovations worked, turned prissy to complain of words both “coarse and unfamiliar.” Almost alone among the English reviewers, the reviewer for the Time Literary Supplement was clever enough to defend the language of Portrait as an aspect of the realism he found in Joyce. And in the United States, John Quinn, always a supporter of Irish art and letters, sprang to Joyce’s defense. In Vanity Fair, he contrasted the “soft, false, and dangerous” Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells to Joyce’s “bracing and hard and clean” novel.
To a man, these reviewers, Irish, English, and American, saw Joyce as working in the tradition of literary realism, or naturalism. Even Ezra Pound, when he wrote his note for The Egoist on the occasion of the Egoist Press edition, failed to explore other aspects of the novel. Claiming that this book “written by an Irishman in Trieste and first published in New York City” will remain a permanent part of English literature,” he praised the author as writing “the nearest thing to Flaubertian prose that we now have in English,” a mere hint at the precision and suggestiveness of Joyce’s language. But Pound, poet and translator, ignored such matters as design, structure, and patterns of imagery. So persistent was the view of Joyce’s Portrait as starkly realistic or naturalistic that when Harry Levin published the first critical introduction to Joyce’s oeuvre–something of a classic in the history of Joyce scholarship–both in the first edition (1941) and its revision twenty years later he defined Portrait as “fitting squarely into the naturalist tradition” by contrast to Finnegans Wake, a “symbolist experiment.” Yet Levin, citing Joyce’s own aesthetic, classifies Portrait as lyric and grants that the “germs of symbolism” are in the book. Nothing in his analysis implies Joyce’s “naturalism” to be of a kind influenced by biological or sociological theory; rather he seems to imply a naturalism more frankly carnal and physical in its depiction of experience and fearless in depicting aspects of human experience that a facile realism would avoid.10 Joyce himself, as early as the brief 1904 “Portrait of the Artist,” expressed disdain for the master of naturalism, Emile Zola, describing him as “a dull French novelist.” By 1950, moreover, it was possible for William York Tindall, who produced a series of books on Joyce, to observe even of the Dubliner stories, “These stories of trivial events are not naturalistic. The naturalistic details that appear in them are in the service of symbolism.” By the middle of the decade, the Joycean oeuvre was widely seen as shaped by the convergence of symbolism and realism/naturalism, though important voices protested the “symbol hunting.” Nevertheless, James Joyce himself published his first three stories, later to find their places among Dubliners, under the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus and then attached the flagrantly non-Irish patronymic Dedalus to the hero of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, more than drawing his reader’s attention to symbol and myth.
In the preface to his 1992 biographical study of Joyce’s early years, Peter Costello makes the following observation: “Born in 1882 and dead for over half a century, James Joyce has long ceased to be modern (Costello, 4).” The assertion emerges from Costello’s perspective on his subject, but our concern here is with the term “modern,” which like a related one, “modernism,” has meant many different things. “Modern history,” for instance may signify European history from the Middle Ages to the present; “modern literature” may imply, among other things, the literature in English from the last decade of the last century to the present, or only English literature of this century. “Modernism” has been used to describe certain religious tendencies of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, but it also refers to a phase of imaginative experiment and exploration among writers in English, particularly in the second and third decade of this century. It has proven useful to distinguish “contemporary” literature–perhaps post-World War II to the present, perhaps only the past two or three decades–from “early modern literature.” There are also the terms post-modern and post-modernist, used to describe writers and writing that differ from the “modernists” of the earlier decades of our century. (Some would apply the terms to the Joyce of Finnegans Wake or even to the Joyce of Ulysses.) Insufficiently prescient to determine what literary “tags” may seem appropriate around the middle of the twenty first century for another past and another present or how James Joyce will be regarded then, it seems entirely appropriate to define him as a modern and modernist, even if he was an early modern who was one of the “high modernists.” There terms and tags we use to place our writers are neither rational nor sufficient.
After decades of Joyce studies, the body of biographical, bibliographical, textual, and critical writing that has accumulated is vast–not a mountain but perhaps a mountain range. As Bernard Benstock observed in an earlier volume on Joyce in this series, the “explosion in Joyce studies was a phenomenon of the 1960’s.” Certainly the founding of the James Joyce Quarterly in 1963, the establishment of a Joyce Foundation with an international perspective, the development of International Joyce Symposia, all encouraged the phenomenon. But these developments themselves were consequences of the sense, prevalent in the American academic world in particular, that Joyce was of central importance in the literature of the age. Nor does there seem to be any sign of a diminution of interest in Joyce such as certain of his contemporaries suffered. In the case of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a computer search early in the preparation of this volume provided the information that between 1986 and 1996 two hundred and forty items, mostly journal articles, chapters in books, and essays in collections, were published–a substantial rise over the preceding decade, probably registering the impact of another “explosion” in Joyce studies due to theoretical approaches. While computer searches are not entirely definitive, given some slight distortions in the process of classification, they surely do provide substantial evidence of the level of interest in a particular period, as this one did.
In selecting the critical essays for this volume, the editors made certain fundamental choices. Given the numerous available collections of critical essays on Portrait or with essays on Portrait, both those of a retrospective and historical nature and those reflecting recent critical approaches, it seemed appropriate to select essays dominantly of the 1960’s to the present and not immediately available in other collections. Thus we have sought challenging criticism, whether expressing a traditional critical method or committed to one of the more recent theoretical approaches. We did not seek articles confirming our own assumptions and commitments. (Indeed, there are instances where one or another or both of us may be in disagreement with particular lines of argument.) We sought what was informed and informative, stimulating and exacting. Moreover, we sought criticism unburdened by jargon and cliché, rejecting elaborate conceptual structures concealing an inner emptiness. In some very few instances, we have reprinted sections from published books and collections, because what these had to offer seemed of particular import; and in certain instances we were made especially grateful by the willingness of authors to rework published texts, editing their work so as to make it available to a new audience.
In the tripartite structure of this collection of essays the reader will find that the first group deals with major issues that have been raised and sometimes fiercely argued throughout the decades in which Portrait has been read and analyzed. The second group of essays is as paradoxical as Joyce would appreciate, for not only is it concentrated on what unifies his design but it probes the complexity brought to the work by allusion, figurative language, symbol, and myth. The final group of essays is, as the heading implies, most focused on theoretical approaches. In this group we have not sought essays representing every major theoretical stand but rather essays in which the theoretical commitment of the author may lead to a variety of new responses on the part of the reader.
Over the course of Joyce studies, not surprisingly there have been sharp differences about particular aspects of and elements in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Among these are the concept of the epiphany and its relation to Stephen’s aesthetic theory or to that of the mature James Joyce, the quality of the poem Stephen composes in the last chapter of the novel, and the degree to which Stephen’s diary at the novel’s end succeeds in bringing closure. The first group of essays in this collection deals with these and related matters.
Theodore Spencer was not entirely fortunate to be the first to deal with the surviving fragment of Stephen Hero and its history as confusedly given by Sylvia Beach. Though Spencer gave a succinct account of the differences between Stephen Hero and Portrait, much of what he reported about the composition of the fragment had to be corrected later. The most influential aspect of Spencer’s analysis was what he had to say about the development of Stephen’s aesthetic theory, in particular about the term epiphany and its relation to Joyce’s major works. Citing Stephen’s definition of epiphany, Spencer then applied the term to Dubliners–“a series of epiphanies”–and also to Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake.
By 1964 Robert Scholes had concluded that a general and careless use of the term epiphany had developed. Even today one cannot help but enjoy the gusto with which Scholes took on the Joyce establishment, specifically Hugh Kenner and others who argued that the absence of any allusion to epiphany in Portrait revealed Joyce’s disdain for the character of Stephen. Robert Scholes’s essay also advanced a tough-minded demonstration of how Joyce reveals the limits of the aesthetic theory and demonstrated then the various uses to which Joyce put his early collection of epiphanies. Several years later, in Epiphany in the Modern Novel and elsewhere, Morris Beja defended, against the Scholes argument, his own position that the Joycean epiphany is a uniquely modernist fictional technique, distinct from intense moments in earlier fiction. Any reader of this collection will find that the term epiphany is constantly used to refer not only to Joyce’s early vignettes but also to intense climactic and revelatory moments in the works of other writers. Still, the case Scholes made that the term should be used exclusively for those early brief efforts of Joyce continues usefully to provoke and challenge. At present the term used so precisely by the “heroic” Stephen for aesthetic analysis, now altogether detached from a literary context, may appear in a modish but sub-literary context to imply anything or nothing.
In Chapter V of Portrait Stephen Dedalus performs two creative acts: he develops an aesthetic theory–one not burdened with the notion of epiphany–and he composes a poem, a villanelle. The theory and the poem have been subjects of debate among Joyce’s interpreters, as Cordell Yee’s essay on the influence of Aquinas and Robert Adams Day’s essay on the “Villanelle of the Temptress” manifest. Were Yee’s tone not so ironical, one might describe this essay of his as polemical! It is Yee’s aim to refute the notion that the aesthetic of Stephen dilutes Aquinas with late Romantic notions and to confront those he regards as detractors of Stephen’s creativity. He insists that the form and design of Stephen’s aesthetic is itself an artistic creation and the triumph of a hero. The late Robert Adams Day’s treatment of the “Villanelle Perplex” would have its place in such a collection as this if for no other reason than that, with civility and wit, it embodies a phase of modern American literary study. Day toys with our “post-deconstructionist” age and merges the old New Criticism and certain of its enemies–biography and the intentional fallacy. He urbanely refutes those who have praised the art of Stephen’s villanelle but then paradoxically praises the art of Joyce who saw that his own early and very minor poem fit perfectly Stephen’s age, culture, and talent.
Michael Levenson’s essay on Stephen’s diary opens with the observation that “remarkably little attention has been paid to the ending” of Joyce’s Portrait, which is not to say that hostile judgements have not been delivered against the novel’s conclusion. Indeed, from the inept report by Duckworth’s reader to Kenner’s complaint that the novel closes on “a suspended chord” and Wayne Booth’s protest against the openness of the ending, little progress was made in critical understanding of the function of the diary. Levenson himself perceives the diary as belonging to a unique narrative genre that demands seriality and resists closure, thus leading to paradox, ambiguity, and irony. His critical approach is one that explores the diary and all that precedes it, recognizing that words, images, and details of the diary are intricately related to phrases, details, and situations found throughout the earlier parts of the novel. This definitive explication dispels any notion that the final passage of Portrait is random or the novel’s ambiguities either evasive or inconclusive.
Last among the first group of essays is Hans Walter Gabler’s recent merging of two essays of major importance in the history of Joyce textual scholarship. In combining the substance of “The Christmas Dinner Scene, Parnell’s Death, and the Genesis of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1975) with “The Seven Lost Years of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1976) in “The Genesis of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” Gabler has made anew our understanding, through the manuscript history, of Joyce’s artistry as he fused the complex elements of the work. The Gabler portmanteau version of his essays is both exciting as an instance of literary detection and essential to our comprehension of Joyce’s craft. The cooperative nature of literary scholarship could not be better illustrated than by the fact that Hans Walter Gabler’s demonstration of the chiastic arrangement of the parts within Portrait enabled Levenson to demonstrate that matching elements within the coda to Portrait reverse the overture, thus returning us from the last words of the diary to the first words of the book.
Although it has been possible for many decades to recognize Portrait as belonging in the tradition of the Bildungroman (or Künstlerroman, if you wish), it has not been possible to associate it with other works in the genre among English works of fiction except in the most general terms. The reprinting here of David Hayman’s analysis of structural affinities between Flaubert’s L’Education Sentimentale and Portrait, published first in a European journal, at last makes another of many scholarly contributions by Hayman available, as it should be. Given that Hayman establishes Joyce’s significant indebtedness to Flaubert, Jakobsen, and D’Annunzio, one can understand why attempts to link Joyce’s work to the English tradition have been unrewarding. The principle concern of Hayman’s essay is to demonstrate Flaubert’s profound impact on Joyce and to establish ways in which the technical and stylistic experiments of Flaubert stimulated Joyce’s experiments in point of view and structure. Comparative and formalist in approach, Hayman links the two writers by close analysis of parallel scenes and structures as the case is made that Joyce’s technique of epiphany and anti-epiphany (Hayman’s coinage) originate in Flaubertian techniques then given a conceptual significance by Joycean theory. In view of Robert Scholes’s condemnation of the critical use of the term epiphany and the present debasement of the term in recent popular usage, it is important to draw attention to the scrupulous and informed treatment that Hayman gives to Stephen’s aesthetic theory. One must attend as well to the conclusion Hayman draws that the ironic “Joyce has used the epiphany with more daring and greater subtlety” than the satiric and comic Flaubert.
In 1923 T.S. Eliot published an important review of Ulysses in which he observed that Joyce had “written one novel–the Portrait” and famously claimed that the triumph of Ulysses (for which Eliot seemed to find the term novel inadequate) was the “manipulation of a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity.” It took decades of critical reading before Portrait could be seen as, like Ulysses, a fusion of naturalist novel and symbolic romance in which densely woven patterns of symbol and myth were pervasive. Several essays in this second group affirm, no less than Eliot on Ulysses, the deep structure which underlies Portrait. These essays range in interest from Aristotle to neoplatonism to Cretan and Irish myth and even to significant Biblical prototypes.
Sidney Feshbach’s “A Slow and Dark Birth” proffers one thread that will surely guide us through the labyrinth. Grounding his argument in Joyce’s use of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought as well as in neoplatonist symbolic concepts, Feshbach relates these elements to the five chapter structure that embodies the stages of Stephen’s spiritual development. Feshbach’s critical method is a nice balance of the history of ideas and formalist concern with parallel incidents, verbal clusters, patterns of imagery, and fundamental rhythms of each chapter. Both Feshbach’s essay and Diane Fortuna’s exhaustive treatment of Joyce’s use of Cretan myth and “pagan” mystery rituals represent complementary stages in critical comprehension of the spiritual implications and mythic structure of Joyce’s book. Fortuna’s revised version of her original essay is commanding and intense from the moment that she points to the elaboration of detail in Joyce’s design, noting that the first name of Stephen’s father, Simon, is an anagram of Minos, for whom the labyrinth was created. Opening with an account of archaeological discoveries made by Sir Arthur Evans and the myth analyses of such anthropologists as Sir James Frazer and Jane Harrison with which the Dublin intelligentsia and James Joyce were made familiar in the first decade of the century, Fortuna moves on to the central elements of the Cretan mysteries: the labyrinth (which she relates to the Inferno of Dante), lustration, epiphany, Minotaur, ritual sacrifice, descent into the underworld, rebirth, and ritual dance. Strange as it may seem that these mysteries should be of interest to a gifted Dubliner seeking fame as a writer in the first decade of our century, it is worth reflecting that the pagan labyrinth had such appeal as a symbol of quest, death, and rebirth that it is used as a design in some of the major cathedrals of Europe. The young writer who named his hero after Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and the great artificer Daedalus knew exactly what he was doing and what universal myth he was exploiting. The weight of Fortuna’s evidence and the sweep of her argument are nothing shorth of gripping, as she relates the myth to the structure, details, imagery, and episodes of Joyce’s poetic triumph in prose.
In another ancient culture, Nehama Aschkenasy has discovered more evidence of James Joyce’s love of correspondences. Her unique grounding in both Judaic studies and Joyce is manifest in her treatment of the Davin-Stephen passage in the fifth chapter of Portrait. Selecting this single episode for analysis, Aschkenasy is entirely persuasive in a startling demonstration that the story of Jael and Sisera (Judges, 4) together with passages from Proverbs depicting the “eternal woman” and “prototypical seductress” are behind the passage in Portrait. Any Joycean tempted to scoff at the notion of such a dimension in early Joyce will not scoff at Aschkenasy’s restrained authority as she sets forth her evidence. And prototypical chauvinists will have to thank her for the restraint with which she notes Stephen’s transposition of the values found in the Biblical text: there is “a certain amount of gynophobia” in Stephen. F.L. Radford also focuses on a particular episode in Joyce’s novel/romance, and he also startles us with this thesis which reveals Joyce’s voracious eclecticism. Radford’s thesis is that Joyce, scorner of the Celtic Twilight and Irish Revival, was in his early study of Celtic materials, whatever his initial motive, far more engrossed than he has been taken to be. Throughout Portrait, Radford argues, the Irish “otherworld” is evoked, and at the climactic moment of the girl on the beach, images, allusions, and details from Celtic myth suffuse the atmosphere, amounting to no less than a sub-text that Joyce fully intended, even though Stephen may not have. Once read, Nehama Aschkenasy and F.L. Radford should enrich any subsequent reader’s response to the art of Joyce. Of course neither they nor others represented in this particular group argue for a reductive correlation between a single source and Portrait. Individually, the essays explore in detail layers within a rich, dense, complex, and organic structure. Taken together, they reveal the analogical sensibility of a writer fascinated by correspondences, metaphors, motifs, and myths and able to make something quite new of them.
Among the essays in this second group, Maurice Beebe’s treatment of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in relation to Impressionism is unique: Beebe deals not with a particular structural rhythm or figurative pattern in the novel but with the influence of a style, both pictorial and literary, upon Joyce. Richard Ellmann has asserted that Joyce, though once expressing an interest in portraiture, tended to disparage painting (Ellmann, 491); Peter Costello has maintained that Joyce had little interest in visual art, but did keep, during the college years, “a well-marked copy of the catalogue of the National Gallery (Costello, 162).” Moreover, despite Joyce’s poor vision, Portrait is as emphatically visual as it is auditory. Beebe’s essay is richly ad persuasively detailed, beginning with its account of Joyce’s own translation of an essay on Portrait by the Italian Diego Angeli, which Joyce himself placed in The Egoist. Angeli’s essay identifies Joyce with the naturalism of the late Impressionists; and, in a subtle, scrupulous analysis of Joyce’s prose, Beebe links Portrait to the literary Impressionism of Flaubert, Moore, Pater, and James as well as to the vistazo effect sought by the Impressionist painters.
In the first of the essays in the final group, James Sosnoski urges his readers to “imagine” a conference at which three hundred successive papers would be delivered on Joyce’s Portrait. Having evoked this grotesque vision, comic or tragic, Sosnoski then captures us by promising a rational discourse on the “controversy about ‘aesthetic distance’ in A Portrait“: that is to say on the nature of Joycean irony. Thereafter in rigorous analysis and argument this writer explores various “warrants” that have been advanced to support claims about the text, specifically as to how it should be read. Of the arguments that flourished in the ‘Fifties and thereafter, Sosnoski asserts that despite apparently irreconcilable conflicts the major players actually made “reconcilable claims.” It is to reader response theory (which often complements other theoretical positions) that Sosnoski turns in the hope of the development of a critical community. Like other influential “theories,” reader response analysis originated in Europe, but in the American Jonathan Culler’s Structural Poetics Sosnoski notes a comprehensive sense of the response of experienced readers to writer, text, and context.
R.B. Kershner’s “The Artist as Text” turns to the Russian critic M.M.Bakhtin, who managed to fuse the influence of Russian Formalism with sufficient political orthodoxy to survive, for a provocative concept of the relation of the artist to the language. In Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination (a posthumous translation of which appeared in the United States in 1981) Kershner finds a complex of ideas that help to reveal how words create Stephen’s world and certain characteristic techniques of Joyce as well, including the relation between narrator and protagonist. Kershner writes very persuasively of Bakhtin’s concept of the stratification of language, which helps to explain how, as Stephen matures, words still make his world, words derived from the multiple strata of language that have shaped his consciousness. The Stephen Dedalus who has sought individuality and a unique imaginative independence never realizes how little he is his own creator, how much the creature of the language he has absorbed: surely as ironic a reading of Portrait as any.
The final three essays in this group, all products of the present decade, represent the triumph of various theoretical approaches. What is particularly interesting about the three essays seen in relation to one another is the variety of means they employ in scrutinizing Joyce’s Portrait. Thomas Singer writes of Portrait in relation to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In a tour de force, Singer has shown how the careers of the Dubliner and the Viennese briefly intersected, how words created the world of each, how each disdained the ideal and the absolute, regarding the ordinary as extraordinary, how the aesthetic of each complemented that of the other, and how each conceived of the appropriate uses of silence. This writer uses Wittgenstein to cast light on Joyce and Joyce to illuminate how the philosopher transformed the positivist tradition. Few individual essays have had as much to tell us about the modernity of Joyce. By contrast to Singer’s running parallel of two sensibilities, Michael McDonald examines the dialectic of harmony and dissonance throughout Portrait, influenced by the aesthetic theory of Theodore Adorno. (McDonald’s readers are urged to attend to the dense footnotes supporting his analysis and ranging far beyond the concepts of Adorno.) It is McDonald’s argument that both Joyce and Stephen to some degree responded to a longing among early revival writers for transcendence of discord. Stephen sought harmony in an idealized aesthetic, failing to realize that life cannot be transformed by art without the necessary clash between dissonance and harmony , whereas Joyce recognized that pure harmony is not attainable and that art must accept the dialectic of the clash.
It seems more than appropriate that this collection of essays on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man should close with the redaction Vicki Mahaffey has prepared from a segment of her book, Reauthorizing Joyce. In “Framing, Being Framed, and the Janus Faces of Authority” Mahaffey gives us a reading of the five chapters of Portrait, another reading informed by a wide-ranging familiarity with the theoretical criticism that has altered the landscape of critical thinking about literature in the past two decades. The multiple puns of Mahaffey’s title–evoking cinema, portraiture, the influence of culture on character, and even modern slang–prepare Mahaffey’s readers for the fearless exploration of paradox in the text. Semiotics, Deconstruction, Reader Response Theory, Mainline Feminism, Derrida, Lacan: these are all here, handled freshly and independently. In Vicki Mahaffey’s criticism, the author of a work has not entirely disappeared, though not to the diminution of reader, character, and social context. In Portrait, she writes, language “acts as a complex frame of reference for the perception of author, character and reader….” If she thinks that Stephen Dedalus, both as a Christ-like hero and Satanic heretic, remains a slave to the vision of transcendence that has “framed” him, unlike extremists who have seemed utterly to condemn Joyce’s protagonist, she does not assume that Joyce handled his irony as if it were a meat cleaver.