A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | Study Guide

James Joyce

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, first published between 1914 and 1915, is regarded as one of the finest works of the Irish novelist. The novel traces the personal growth and development of Stephen Dedalus, a young man in rebellion against his Irish Catholic upbringing. By exploring enigmatic forms of narration, Joyce was able to present his character's coming-of-age in a way no author had done before.

The novel stands as a testament to Joyce's literary craftsmanship, and it resonates with readers more than a century later. In the novel, Joyce blended allusions to Irish politics and heritage, Greek mythology, and his own personal upbringing.

1. Joyce burned the precursor to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was based on an unpublished, semiautobiographical novel of Joyce's entitled Stephen Hero. Unable to find a publisher for Stephen Hero, Joyce reportedly burned a portion of the manuscript in "a fit of momentary despair."

2. One publisher couldn't understand Joyce's writing—and thus rejected the novel.

A publisher wrote Joyce a rejection letter for an early draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, stating, "I can't print what I can't understand." Although he was disheartened by this rejection, Joyce immediately began making substantial revisions to the manuscript.

3. A patron set up a press specifically to publish A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Harriet Shaw Weaver, owner of the magazine the Egoist, was a great fan of Joyce's writing and was dedicated to helping him find success. Weaver created the Egoist Press specifically so that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man could be released in book form.

4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was first published in a magazine edited by the poet Ezra Pound.

Ezra Pound was the editor of the magazine the Egoist, in which A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was first serialized before appearing in book format. Pound had already received acclaim for his poetry in the United States and abroad.

5. Joyce used a unique literary technique called "free indirect speech."

Free indirect speech is a literary device that manipulates scenes of interaction between characters by melding the uses of third-person and first-person narration. Though A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is narrated in third person, the book's narrator can often be mistaken for the protagonist and vice versa.

6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the defining English-language work of a genre called "Künstlerroman."

The novel is an important example of Künstlerroman, which refers to a "coming-of-age" narrative, in which a protagonist is shown to develop into an artist, poet, or musician. This type of novel was widespread in German literature throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, but A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the defining work of the genre in English.

7. Joyce did not use quotation marks to convey a character's speech in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce rejected the typical literary convention of using quotation marks to convey dialogue. Instead, Joyce alerts the reader to characters' statements by using a dash in front of a paragraph when someone is speaking.

8. Joyce never included a dedication in any of his published works.

Joyce's texts, including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, do not feature any sort of dedication, despite this being an entrenched literary custom. Joyce did dedicate one work—to himself—writing, "To My own Soul I dedicate the first true work of my life." This dedication appears in a play submitted by Joyce in 1900 entitled A Brilliant Career. Frustrated, the author destroyed the play's working script in 1902.

9. Joyce's discussions of bodily functions scandalized British and American readers.

In both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his later novel Ulysses, Joyce's inclusion of bodily functions made his works controversial (and even cause for censorship) in Britain and the United States. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen encounters a familiar smell: "That is horse piss and rotted straw, he thought. It is a good odour to breathe." Readers were also taken aback at his lack of a moral stance regarding the promiscuity and alcoholism of his characters.

10. Joyce modeled Simon Dedalus on his own father.

Simon Dedalus, father of main character Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, was an homage to Joyce's father, John Stanislaus Joyce. Joyce had a complex relationship with his father, seemingly maintaining affection for him despite his father's abuse, alcoholism, and carelessness with money. The author may have been building on his siblings' feelings about his father in his depiction of Simon as a resentful, embittered man.

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