A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Silence, exile, and cunning."- these are weapons Stephen Dedalus chooses in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And these, too, were weapons that its author, James Joyce, used against a hostile world. Like his fictional hero, Stephen, the young Joyce felt stifled by the narrow interests, religious pressures, and political squabbles of turn-of-the-century Ireland. In 1904, when he was twenty-two, he left his family, the Roman Catholic Church, and the "dull torpor" of Dublin for the European continent to become a writer. With brief exceptions, he was to remain away from Ireland for the rest of his life. It was a bold move for several reasons. In spite of his need to break away from constrictions on his development as a writer, Joyce had always been close to his family. He still admired the intellectual and artistic aspects of the Roman Catholic tradition that had nurtured him. And the city of Dublin was in his soul. (Asked later how long he had been away from Dublin, he answered: "Have I ever left it?") But Joyce did achieve his literary goal in exile. The artistic climate of continental Europe encouraged experiment. With cunning (skillfulness) and hard work, Joyce developed his own literary voice. He labored for ten years on Portrait of the Artist, the fictionalized account of his youth. When it appeared in book form in 1916, twelve years after Joyce's flight from Ireland, it created a sensation. Joyce was hailed as an important new force in literature. Portrait of the Artist is usually read as an autobiography, and many of the incidents in it come from Joyce's youth. But don't assume that he was exactly like his sober hero, Stephen Dedalus. Joyce's younger brother Stanislaus, with whom he was very close, called Portrait of the Artist "a lying autobiography and a raking satire." The book should be read as a work of art, not a documentary record. Joyce transformed autobiography into fiction by selecting, sifting, and reconstructing scenes from his own life to create a portrait of Stephen Dedalus, a sensitive and serious young boy who gradually defines himself as an artist. Still, Joyce and Stephen have much in common. Both were indelibly marked by their upbringing in drab, proud, Catholic Dublin, a city that harbored dreams of being the capital of an independent nation but which in reality was a backwater ruled by England.
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