Joyce's life had a strong impact on this early novel. Biographical information informs the reader about that impact. Essays also survey the spectrum of critical evaluations, explanations and appreciations of the book, revealing a kaleidoscope of fruitful approaches to which readers now have access and to which more insights can and will be added.
The publication of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man confirms the creation of a new kind of fiction for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Joyce used for the novel's protagonist's name an alternate spelling of Stephen Daedalus, the pseudonym he himself employed in the serial publication of his first short stories, and like those stories his novel avoids the conventional action-based plot structure of earlier works. Instead, it shapes itself subtly to the emotional, thoughtful and aesthetic responses of its protagonist, Stephen (now Dedalus), to the events of his life. Can we draw approximate equal signs between author and protagonist, since approximate equal signs exist between pseudonym and protagonist? One can frame the issue logically:
- James Joyce took the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus.
- Stephen Dedalus is a version of the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus.
- Therefore Stephen Dedalus is a version of James Joyce.
Whatever we make of the protagonist's relationship to the author, his work attains a vastly more exact presentation of human occurrences moment by moment than exploit-centered plotting allows. Portrait replaces the standard resolutions that plots end on with powerfully realized experiences.
The review in this volume of Joyce's life helpfully places his largely autobiographical novel in the context of his life and time, powerfully enlarging our understanding of the biographical fields the story covers. There is also a survey of the spectrum of critical evaluations, explanations and appreciations of the book, revealing a kaleidoscope of fruitful approaches to which readers now have access and to which more insights can and will be added. Another essay explores Joyce's troubling connection between what the clergy claims to be, a brotherhood of religious purity, and the diseased sexuality, including moral turpitude.
Joyce viewed and worked on A Portrait at different periods of his life and, as a result, apart from irony, the narrative can be read from his different perspectives at one time. There is an ongoing ironic distance between Stephen's developing understanding of events and what is actually happening. It plays itself out in succeeding chapters of the narrative as if they were short stories.
The relationships between Stephen Dedalus and his mythological progenitor, Daedalus, according to the Ancient Greeks the first great artist, architect and inventor of human flight, are clearly invoked in their almost identically spelled names. However, Daedalus is only one of the significant mythological analogues. One essay here enlarges the range of our mythological considerations, adding Aphrodite and Pygmalion to the mix.
Each Critical Insights is divided into four sections:
An Introduction – The book and the author
These essays aim to provide a background to the title and author that is an historical, cultural, and biographical foundation for the reader.
These essays utilize common critical approaches to further analyze the author's work. Each essay is 2,500-5,000 words in length and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes.
- Chronology of Joyce's Life
- Works by James Joyce
- About the Editor
In sum, the essays collected here provide a wide spectrum of useful information and critical approaches.