Bildungsroman,Print Culture, and the Multiple Versions of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: 'In the Smithy of My Soul'

Small, Conor
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University of Delaware
The above passage, the penultimate one in James Joyce’ now-canonized modernist novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is indicative of the process of creation and dissemination that the “literate” underwent to write his first great work. I propose to read and analyze that process in order to mine various alternate readings. A Portrait is the impressionistic coming-of-age story of Joyce’s literary alter ego Stephen Dedalus growing up and becoming an exile in turn-of-the-century colonial Dublin. Joyce was able to pull material from his own life and experiences to write the novel and become a leading modern writer in his own time; but that transformation took 10 years and was built on a lifetime’s worth of development. What began as a realistic, traditional bildungsroman called Stephen Hero in 1904 was rewritten and revised over 10 years while Joyce resided in several countries. The resulting text, A Portrait, was first serialized in a little modernist magazine called The Egoist and then published by its successor The Egoist Press, Ltd. That process of shaping the text now gives Joyce’s A Portrait texts all new meanings, both as physical products in multiple states and as social products within literature. Thus I will examine those texts from 1904 to 1914 that became A Portrait, derived from Stephen Hero through the Egoist serial stories. These mutable texts comprise a variety of things: the multiple constructions in which Stephen Hero, published after Joyce’s death, is now presented, the meanings that A Portrait accumulated by appearing within The Egoist alongside the philosophy of its editor Dora Marsden, the censorship A Portrait was subjected to by printers of The Egoist, and the readings that come forward when examining the texts with these things in mind—all topics addressed respectively in the following chapters. The resulting revelations are not about A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a complete, demarcated work, but about the process of creation and how Joyce’s work was presented. Issues of language become emphasized, the ability to develop is questioned, and literary merits are discovered or re-emphasized. Contemporary debates of what the novel is and what it can do were stirred by these early texts and attempts to aestheticize reality. Again, these discussions do not aim at reaching another understanding of the canonical A Portrait but at reading that text’s development, an analysis of Joyce forging a work “in the smithy of my soul,” for its own meaning so that readers may come to conceptualize that alongside their reading of the magnum opus.
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION::Languages and linguistics::Other Germanic languages::English language , Literature