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Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel represents his first major foray into the brilliant style that would distinguish him later. The narrative follows the life of Stephen Dedalus (also a major character in the groundbreaking novel Ulysses) as he moves from childhood to young manhood and a career in academics and literary art. The prose moves alongwith Dedalus' progression from a simplistic, childlike tone to a clearer voice as he matures and finally a stream-of-consciousness style as he grows toward adulthood and intellectual freedom.
Dedalus is clearly Joyce in many regards, but he also represents the growth of the arts in the 20th century, particularly in the West. In order to disengage the haught-bourgeoisie that had dominated and consequently diluted the arts (from painting and architecture to music and novels), artists began to move in increasingly avant-garde directions, experimenting withand exploring new ways of expression. Joyce was at the forefront, crafting prose that reflected its subject more viscerally than nearly any writer before him.
Spurned by many on its initial publication for its frank handling of masturbation and other bodily functions, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is now considered one of the foremost literary works of the 20th century (or any other, for that matter). The journey of Dedalus from childish innocence to a sort of constructed, faux-maturity, and thence to actual intellectual and spiritual maturity is a bildungsroman of the first order, written in language that is both arresting and challenging.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviewshere.
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