Review from a Transgressive Fiction Fan

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a 1916 novel and cornerstone of literary modernism by Irish author James Joyce. The story follows Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s fictional alter-ego, and charts his path to personal and artistic maturity through his stream of consciousness. This is a non-linear narrative style typical of modernist prose in which a character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions are portrayed in a continuous flow and often disrupt the linear narrative of events and dialogue in the story. Stephen’s stream of consciousness begins at the start of his life, thus the first thing we are exposed to in the novel corresponds with the first thing Stephen remembers as a child: a nursery rhyme from his father about a moo-cow.

One of the unique qualities of the novel is growing with Stephen as the story progresses, not just chronologically and philosophically, but also on a narrative and linguistic level. Young Stephen is profoundly impacted by external agencies of power like his friends, parents, and Jesuit education. The result is a sensitive and deeply introspective child who ultimately faces challenging philosophical encounters about art, sex, language, religion, and nationality. Moreover, Stephen’s intellectual maturity manifests itself in his developing vocabulary and grammatical style throughout his stream of consciousness. For example, he always has an acute awareness for sensuous qualities like sound, smell, colour, humidity, and temperature from an early age and develops psychological associations with each. However, later in the novel, his descriptions of these qualities are less polarised and become more poetic, especially after his rejection of religion.

“Insightful” Review from a Mainstream Reader

James Joyce is full of crap. I’d like to track down whoever invented stream-of-consciousness writing and kick him in the groin.

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