I’m about halfway through The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man , it is the prequel to Ulysses and I couldn’t suggest strongly enough to read it first!! I, lacking the intellectual capacity to fully enjoy Ulysses, would have benefited greatly from reading this book first. Now I look back on some of my interpretations of Ulysses as entirely wrong (I.e. the reason why Stephen wouldn’t kneel at his mother’s deathbed). It is also imperative to read Joyce’s biography before delving into The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, the book follows his life story almost verbatim. The title has a literal meaning, the artist and the young man being Joyce.
At first it starts with the same mental gibberish that is throughout Ulysses. The thirty page introduction by Don Gifford was a bad omen when I first opened the book. “Good Grief!” I thought, this needs that much explanation, “please tell me I don’t have to buy another study guide.” The opening finds Stephen as a baby and describes the infantile wanderings of his developing brain (that was not a good sign either)! He eventually goes off to a boarding school and Joyce displays his insecurities and fears for the reader. It’s amazing how Joyce can remember how he felt at so many different intervals of his life. I would have liked to have counted the use of the words: queer, wet, cold, and damp. But, I’m lazy and didn’t want to go back and do the tally. He even writes, “the sunlight was queer and cold.” WHAT? Most of these chapters are in a narrative style with little dialogue which is difficult to follow. I had the same issues with Ulysses, Who is talking, what relation is this person to Stephen?
To my thankful delight, the book takes a 180 and becomes thoroughly enjoyable. Joyce as a young man is intriguing, brilliant, isolated and struggles with immorality. The other characters in the book are so tangible that you will think of them as being like several people you have met or know. So, clichéd I know, but you can’t judge a book by its cover or in this case the author.
Interestingly enough, Joyce while seeking treatment for his eye in Zurich brought along his daughter Lucia who suffered from schizophrenia. She was examined by Carl Jung who felt she and her father suffered from schizophrenia from reading Ulysses! Apparently, the book should have a medical disclaimer on the front of it. According to Jung, she and her father were two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that he was diving and she was falling.