Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man: James Joyce

For the first book of our British Novel course, this was certainly a hefty one. This text comes with a giant reputation.

Difficult. Dense. Classic.

“I’ve tried to get through Joyce but never could.”

That’s what I heard more often than not.

The thing is, I feel anxious when faced with these titles, these foundations of our cannon of literature. I feel like I’m not going to understand it, not going to get it, not going to be able to talk about it or process it. I feel like it comes with such a HUGE reputation…It’s  the Claire Standish of the literary world and I’m Allison Reynolds*, forever in the corner eating pixie stix sandwiches while the cool kids absorb and explicate all of the worlds best words.

I am happy to report that this particular work…

I got it.

I read it.

I was determined.

I still really believe that a titch of Jameson and a romp with a randy redhead would help the process…but whatever.

There are moments of brilliance. Beautifully woven words and images, it’s the perfect tiramisu. Layered with delicate flavors and scenes and delicious illusions and ohmygod-I-understand-what-he’s-talking-about!!! It’s that Oprah moment when she sing talks her point home.


I don’t love it.

I don’t really even like it.

The work, as a whole.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m even an English major. What the hell???

But it just is what it is. I read it. I like parts of it. The Catholic church, the Ireland of it all, the weakness of the character’s spirit and the evolution of said spirit…all depicted with vivid, clear words. So beautiful. So clear. So perfect. Still not my favorite.

I’m not a reader that seeks the Happily Ever After. I don’t need the happy ending. *dirty* (come on. we all –– that’s a different post) This story just had SO little joy. SO little hope. Even as the protagonist grew up, survived the wars of family, God, country…the scar tissue was still so raw and red and tender…it was painful to ingest.

So. That’s where I am with the class. Book One: down. All required postings: Done. James Joyce:My Bitch. . . not really my bitch. But finishing was something I do feel like I deserve a pat on the back for. People who are far smarter than I have professed to throwing this story to the dogs.

I am intrigued by the man. I’m intrigued by the fact that we as students of literature, scholars of the humanities, still profess that THIS is a work to be studied. When does it become A WORK TO BE STUDIED? And when does it become something that doesn’t translate anymore? What happens with an iconic work when it fails to reach the masses? These are questions I have. I’m sure I’m not the only one to ask them. I’m sure a revisiting is in order. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get moist at the thought. I’d like to know more about Joyce…I think a trip to Dublin is just what I need.

Who’s with me?

*google it.


8 thoughts on “Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man: James Joyce

  1. I’ve never been able to pick up his books. I just look at them and think, “Dry, heavy, ponderous….ummm…something else. Chick lit…Jane Austen!”. Congrats on finishing that tome. Its a biggie. And I’ll be next to you on the plane to Dublin. They have a literary pub crawl which is great. Beer and Books for all!!


  2. I will so read Joyce if it means I get to go to Dublin. I am pretty sure randy red heads are off limits on said trip and for said reading, but am sure all whiskey will be sanctioned.

    He is still on my list . . . But it will not happen until I am no longer wrapping my head around how to get kids to quit writing badly written essays.


  3. I don’t have any proof of this but I suspect that it’s still a work to be studied because he was the first, or one of the first, to write something so dark without the happy ending to bring you out of it. Dickens, writing in a similar time frame, I think, still ties it all together in a hopeful way. He’s also writing real life, bringing a piece of history to light in a different medium so it has relevance from that, too.

    In our day and age of automated printing and electronic books when everyone (in our culture) has relatively easy access to books do we all have access to literature? How does your feeling inadequate to the texts before you read them impact the answer to that question?


  4. I would say yes, we all have access to literature. I would then put this piece on the table and ask the question: What Is Literature?


    It’s a great piece, and really a question that is asked on a daily basis when studying literature.

    I would also suggest a different word other than inadequate. I don’t feel inadequate per se. That suggests a different class system the likes of “books” and “literature.” Perhaps more star struck by the history and criticism that comes with them. In that vein, I always read closer, than farther. Meaning that I give just a little extra attention to it.


  5. OK, I feel this way, too, is why I bring it up but doesn’t it feel sometimes like, “Well, that’s not for you.” or at least, “This is hard, super hard, are you sure you want to read it?” I hang out with folks who read Anna Karenina for fun, and are convincing me to do the same. That’s a different mind set to what I have and to what most people seem to have. Is that because someone is teaching us that literature is only for special folks?

    I’m probably going to try this new translation of Anna Karenina anyway.


  6. I still don’t think so. I don’t think it’s being presented with an untouchable air—I don’t know. Maybe it is. I have never had anyone say to me, This is hard. I don’t think you’ll like it. Be it teacher or friend or whoever. I’ve always deduced that on my own. It’s been my experience that I trudge through a whole lotta blerg, and stumble quite by accident upon a Zora and my life changes. I’ve never read Anna…but I had a prof in undergrad that waxed poetic any chance he got about it.


  7. I’ve never read Joyce, but that’s not because I think he’d be too difficult. I read for the story and I guess it does come down to what is literature?

    There was never a doubt in my mind that this would be too difficult for you ever.


  8. Oh Misti, I am happy for you that you made Joyce your bitch, but alas I did not. That book made me it’s bitch:( I struggled to get through it and I hated every moment of it. The miserableness of the characters made me feel depressed reading it. Oh well, at least we are done with that book! I can say I read it once.


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