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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist Book CoverBy James Joyce
Review by Camilla (History)

This novel, which takes place between 1890 and the early 20th century, is set against a backdrop of social and political unrest. Stephen Dedalus renounces his community, refusing to accept the constraints of political involvement, religious devotion, and family commitment. However, at the end of the novel he states that he will “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”.

Central to the novel is the concept of language and vernacular and, as a historian, this something that greatly interested me. It introduced me to the importance of dialect in expression of self which is something that I have found to be enormously illuminating when I analyse primary sources. It also shows struggle, and this trajectory explores the emergence of a boy into a man who tries to forge his own identity in a context where identities are forced upon you. Joyce explores all this through language and speech.

At a time when England is grappling with its place in the world, shaped not only by the tragic departure from the European Union but also the pandemic, the way in which the protagonist Stephen navigates Ireland, a country which throughout the 20th century was torn between its shared consciousness, definitely struck a chord with me. Finally, it poses the interesting question of how connected one should be to a homeland, especially when that homeland is trying to clarify its own political and cultural identity. This is a great read and I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who loves a good book about identity, language, and the creative mindset.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
ISBN-13: 9780199536443

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

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