Tag Archives: James Joyce

Bus Reads 3: Thoughts on Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’

joyce youngI daren’t say when I begun to read this book, or indeed when I finished it. However, I’ve got six more books to review after this one in order to catch up with where I’m at now with my reading. Hmm. The reason I’ve put this off for so long is that I’ve not really known what to say about this work. I mean, it is sublime, in my opinion. I adored it from start to finish, and find it so beautifully poetic that I took in more of the sound of the text and the feel of the words rather than any actual meaning. I probably read it in the way that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are better read, actually, considering that A Portrait of the Artist… does have a conceivable and intelligible plot.

Firstly, I think that this text works so well due to its nature as a bildungsroman based upon Joyce’s own youth, and interestingly, the actual text almost ‘comes-of-age’ along with Stephen due to the clever way in which the writing style alters almost imperceptibly throughout the story. Morrissey stated recently that when writing his Autobiography, he “…wrote the childhood sequence almost as a child might, and the adolescent period as an adolescent might, and the adult section as a ‘suicidalist’ might”, and save for the last point, this rings true for Joyce here. In the same way as a person ages imperceptibly if you see them over a long period, the text also matures and develops in a way that is not really noticeable unless you stop and take a step back. I was unable to tell when the writing begun to alter until it had done so for many pages, and see in this part of Joyce’s genius, as the text is so fluid and well crafted.

I also quite enjoyed the way in which religion is given such a prominent role in the text and shown to have influenced and shaped Stephen in various ways, but have been debating with myself recently whether or not the tortuously long sermon was required at the length it was. I suppose that the length and somewhat repetitive and cyclical nature of this highlighted the nature of religion to Stephen and to Joyce, not only in focus (mainly sin and salvation) and the way in which this the affects the narrative and the way that the protagonist views himself and his actions, but in its almost smothering, incessant inability to go away (as the sermon seems to have no way of ending). However, this did make it rather heavy going, as it was a lot more preachy than the sermons I am personally used to hearing, but did also show me another side to Joyce, as I didn’t realise he was able to write such text.

The section I had most issue with, though, was the way in which the book ended. After the way in which the blurb built the end of the text up, with Stephen’s final break with everything around him and need for Wildeian artistic freedom, I felt that this didn’t really come across. It was a bit of a damp squib, really- somewhat akin to a child having a tantrum, and then calmly walking out of the room. Perhaps it needs a second read to pick up on everything here.

That said, I  adored the book, and can only look towards my next reading of it!

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New books: July

july books

Up until the last few days in July, I’d only amassed the first four of these, and then…I weakened. Ahem. Anyway, they are as follows:

  • Nancy Mitford –  The Pursuit of Love     25p (Library book sale)
  • James Joyce –  Finnegans Wake     Free!
  • Leo Tolstoy –  Anna Karenina     50p
  • Philip K. Dick –  A Maze of Death     50p
  • Virginia Woolf –  To the Lighthouse     £1.49
  • Aldous Huxley –  Brave New World     99p
  • Graham Greene –  Brighton Rock     99p
  • Dante –  Inferno (trans. Robin Kirkpatrick)     £1
  • Teresa Monachino –  Words Fail Me     Free!

The two books that were free were given to me by my line manager at work, as he cleared out his office at the end of the school term (he’s leaving for a year) and didn’t want them. Obviously, greatly received by me though, especially considering I’ve been looking to get a copy of Finnegans Wake for a few months now. I’m quite interested in the cover, though, as it’s one I haven’t come across before. The 1990s Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition that keeps popping up on Google is the one with an image from the Book of Kells (I think it’s the Book of Kells- I should know considering the Early-Medieval period is my specialism), and the head of cartoon Joyce also appears on the spine, which is a tad unusual. This haul has also been profitable, as three of the books (Joyce, Huxley and Greene) were on my list of Classics to look out for. Usually, I don’t come across many of these if any, and those I get are just what I come across. And yes, I do have a list of Classics that I would like to own; a sort of wish list, if you like. The Dante book I do already own in a black Penguin Classics edition, translated by Mark Musa, but wanted to compare translations, and also fell in love with that cover. It’s embossed too, you know. Just zoom in on it or Google it. It’s a thing of beauty.

Also, just a quick point that the box room I mentioned we were going to clean out is now free of unnecessary and unused crap, and is home to books that are eagerly awaiting the arrival of shelves to sit on. I’ll be sure to take some pictures and get a post up when these are done.

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Bloomsday

Image: Join Mo Kang/The New York Times

Image: Join Mo Kang/The New York Times

You may or may not have been aware that today was Bloomsday- so named after the character of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s epic Modernist wordhaul ‘Ulysses’. The novel is set on the 16th June 1904, the day that Joyce and his future wife went on their first date, and since the book’s publication in 1922, there have been annual celebrations of the work around the streets and pubs of Dublin, with the first such day taking place in 1924. My own personal views and opinions regarding ‘Ulysses’ are rather mixed and I think tainted by the drawn out process that its reading became, so I will reserve comment until I finally get around to reading it again with a slightly more analytical mind on me. However, I cannot deny that the influence of this book has been enormous, and it does have numerous merits from a literary point, but for me the best thing is that the work inspires such an event each year, and in so many countries world-wide, not just in Ireland. Perhaps when I write, I should endeavour for such immortality!

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Bus Reads 2: Thoughts on Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’

Dubliners

The edition of my copy.

I bought this 4 years ago, whilst I was reading ‘Ulysses’, but only read it at the beginning of this year, as after finishing the aforementioned epic last summer (I did take a 3 year break from it- it didn’t take me 4 years to read), I didn’t feel like approaching Joyce for a while. However, I am so glad that I did. So glad, indeed, that I devoured ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ immediately afterwards. But that’s for the next post. Suffice to say, I adore both that work and this one.

Having read ‘Ulysses’ first, I was pleasantly surprised just how readable the ‘Dubliners’ collection is, with the prose style being at turns simple and yet poetic, and actually intelligible. There is such an attention to detail in the stories that the reader is placed within the action (or more often the inaction) to an immersive extent, and the mundane lives of the characters are presented through a microscope. For example, take this line from ‘A Painful Case’:

One evening as he was about to put a morsel of corned beef and cabbage into his mouth his hand stopped. His eyes fixed themselves on a paragraph in the evening paper which he had propped against the water-carafe. He replaced the morsel of food on his plate and read the paragraph attentively. Then he drank a glass of water, pushed his plate to one side, doubled the paper down before him between his elbows and read the paragraph over and over again. The cabbage began to deposit a cold white grease on his plate. The girl came over to him to ask was his dinner not properly cooked. He said it was very good and ate a few mouthfuls of it with difficulty.

This is fairly representative of the collection as a whole, to be honest, but I do not mean this as a negative at all- I like this painfully close attention to detail. However, this attention to the minutiae of everyday Dublin existence does allow Joyce to neglect plot somewhat- or at least create plots that share this mundane and somewhat pedestrian social environment. I didn’t really notice this as I read the text, but have been increasingly aware of the fact while mulling over what I should write on this post. Looking at the plot summaries on Wikipedia, I am still none the wiser as to what I should write regarding the narrative substance of the tales.

This aside, the collection truly bewitched me as I read it, and I will most certainly read it again (partly so as I can attempt a closer understanding of the individual plots). I will also say that I missed some of the messages of the text which are left to the reader due to the unfinished nature of many of the plot strands of the stories, so will make more of an effort to look out for these next time too. To be fair, perhaps a better way of summing the book up would be as a collection of scenes or vignettes, rather than stories. If it is approached like this- with less expectation of narrative completeness- then perhaps the text works on a higher level. Nevertheless- I loved it as it was, with my confusion intact.

To finish off, here is my favourite line from the book, which incidentally is the final line of the closing story (or novella), ‘The Dead’:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Pure poetry, and a hint of things to come with regards to Joyce’s next work.

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More newly acquired books (and ‘Reclaimed Books part 1’)

picture203

Please forgive the truly abysmal quality of the above photo (and the below photo, too, to be fair); the iPhone I normally take the pictures on has finally died, having soldiered on for about a year and a half with a slowly disintegrating screen. I’ve had to resort to dangling the laptop upside down and using the camera on this, which made for some interesting contortive poses trying not to get my arm in shot. Anyhoo. These are the four books I’ve acquired recently (I assume that you won’t be able to pick out the titles on the image):

  • Rudyard Kipling-  Kim     50p
  • Jostein Gaarder-  Through a Glass, Darkly     50p
  • George Orwell-  Nineteen Eighty-Four     99p
  • Zelda Fitzgerald-  Save Me the Waltz     99p

Now, I already owned a copy of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that I bought from the Oxfam in Turl Street, Oxford, but I managed to drop it in a puddle a few minutes after purchasing it, and haven’t been happy with its crinkled state since then. I’ve meant to get a new edition, but had reservations due to technically still already having the book, and because I liked the cover of my edition so much:

1984

The cover of my rain-soaked edition of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

The spine had a nice flourescent stripe down it that really helped it to make a statement on the shelf, but I hadn’t got round to reading it due to the awkwardness of trying to turn the crinkled pages. The copy I recently purchased, however, had an introduction and a note on the text that are absent from the edition I did have, so this is actually a far better buy.

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picture204

Now, I come onto the part of this post that is titled at the top ‘Reclaimed Books part 1.’ By this, I mean these are a few books that were at my parents from before I moved out and which I have picked up (or ‘Reclaimed’). As such, these aren’t new, but I’m showing them here as I will eventually get posts up on them (or most of them) when I read them- even if this isn’t for a while yet. Eventually, when we manage to purchase some shelving and I sort all of my books out (archaeology, anthropology, poetry, classics, music, space and other random things), I will put pictures on here and then post on any of these as and when I read them or feel like mentioning them, but for now my recent purchases, these and a few others are all that I can read as they are all I can physically put my hands on without burying myself under boxes and paperwork. Anyhoo- as you can only read three of the titles in the image, these are the books I ‘Reclaimed’ (from L to R):

  • William Golding-  The Scorpion God (I have already read this, but may read it again)
  • William Golding-  The Spire
  • T.S.Eliot-  Murder in the Cathedral (I have this in his ‘Collected Poems and Plays’, but like to have stand-alone copies too)
  • John Wyndham-  The Day of the Triffids
  • John Milton-  Paradise Lost
  • Stephen Hawking-  A Brief History of Time
  • James Joyce-  Dubliners

At the moment, I’m still reading ‘Metamorphosis and other stories’, but expect review and thoughts etc. in due course.

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More books…

photo (1)

Erm… I’ve been buying again. Only a few this time, though:

  • James Joyce-  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man     £1.49
  • Kingsley Amis- Lucky Jim     £1.49
  • Anne Carson- Glass and God     99p
  • Jonathan Swift- Gulliver’s Travels     £1

Thoughts etc. when I get around to reading them.

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