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"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man": Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 45, Number 1, Fall 2007
pp. 166-170 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0041

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Reviewed by
"A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man": Authoritative Text, Backgrounds And Contexts, Criticism, edited by John Paul Riquelme, with the text edited by Hans Walter Gabler, with Walter Hettche. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2007. xxx + 490 pp. $11.25.

Before I begin this review, I should make clear my connections with the editor, the project, and the publisher. I have known John Paul Riquelme for over twenty years and have admired his Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction for longer than that.1 I am thanked in the preface of this volume for my early response to a questionnaire, though my inability to recollect what I said makes me wonder about the value of my contribution. And I have edited two of Oscar Wilde's works—The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray—for the Norton Critical Editions series, working with the same excellent editor at Norton, Carol Bemis, who was involved with Riquelme's [End Page 166] project. Having noted all this, I still cannot imagine that my enthusiasm for this edition would have been one jot less had none of these connections existed. In a market that already has a number of fine editions of Joyce's first published novel, Riquelme has produced a masterful compilation of scholarship, interpretation, and background material supporting a superb text version of the novel.

Any edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will present the compiler with difficult choices. A Norton Critical Edition, because of its prescriptive layout, its wide-ranging target audience (from high school students to seasoned literary critics), and the expectations already raised by Margot Norris's superlative Norton Dubliners, offers a daunting trial. In every respect, Riquelme has met those challenges.

Perhaps the trickiest decision for this edition lay in selecting the copy text. In this regard, Riquelme very shrewdly turned to the best editor of Joyce's writing available, Hans Walter Gabler. For the past thirty years, Gabler has been writing about the textual cruxes of A Portrait and has produced an important edition of his own, brought out by Garland Publishing in 1993. Riquelme's choice to use Gabler's 1993 version in this edition has allowed Gabler to join his project. Although the Norton volume does not contain Gabler's full editorial apparatus, it does benefit from his abilities as a textual critic. Further, the judicious selection of Gabler's notes and his masterful introduction to the compilation of the work will enable anyone with an interest in Joyce's composition process to form a clear sense of how the book came together.

Ancillary material shows equal attention to detail and balances accessibility with sophistication. Riquelme's explanatory notes fill in the intellectual, historical, cultural, and spiritual contexts from which the narrative emerges without overburdening the reader with excessive and intrusive asides.2 The chronology of historic events from 1798 to 1916 provides a useful thumbnail sketch for readers unfamiliar with the political background alluded to in A Portrait (227-30). And a series of political cartoons and broadside covers graphically illustrates English and Irish attitudes toward Charles Stewart Parnell and the political events that defined his career (241-44).

Of course, the value of the Norton Critical Editions has always depended upon the secondary material in their volumes. Their aim to appeal to broad audiences makes the selections to be included in these sections both crucial and difficult. In his choices, both for background information and for critical commentaries, Riquelme has shown great sensitivity to the central cultural issues that give direction to the narrative and to the interpretive issues that demand the reader's attention.

The "Background and Contexts" section begins with essays relating [End Page 167] to the Irish nationalist movement (227-303). Although the names of the essayists will have little familiarity for any contemporary reader without a broad knowledge of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century Irish history, the writings provide invaluable material for understanding the political tensions that run through the opening and closing sections of A Portrait. Selections from John Mitchel's 1861 book The Last Conquest of Ireland...