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Depiction, Ontogeny, and Lyric in A Portrait

From: Joyce Studies Annual
2013
pp. 172-206

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The title A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man gives three cues to the novel’s reader. The phrase “A Portrait” names one depiction among others. The specifying “of the Artist” points to the subject portrayed and to an archetype, the latter revealed by the Ovidian epigraph “Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes” (P 1).1 And “as a Young Man” assigns a gender and a stage of life. In this study, I take these cues, tie them to the issues of ontogeny and lyric vocation, and see the novel as the genesis of an artist as a lyric poet.2

“Face? There Was No Face Seen” (p 221)

Seeing A Portrait’s title as a conceptual net cast forward across the words that follow, we are led to look for pictorial depiction and the arts. We look specifically for the portraiture of painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography, along with music, dance, drama, architecture, and the decorative arts.3

Portraits of the sort just mentioned tend to show two sets of subjects, the first Stephen’s ancestors in “the old portraits on the walls” (P 16) of his childhood homes. During the Christmas dinner scene in I.iii, for example, Simon Dedalus sides with Mr. Casey in his disagreement with Dante over the role of the Irish priesthood in the fall of Parnell.4 In doing so, Simon “pointed to the portrait of his grandfather on the wall,” praising him as “a good Irishman when there was no money in the job. He was condemned to death as a whiteboy” (P 33).5 During an early move in the Dedalus family’s descent into poverty, “the family portraits leaned against the walls” (P 60), instead of being hung. This image of domestic transit anticipates Stephen’s exclamation, “Still another removal!” and his later remark to his siblings, “Why are we on the move again, if it’s a fair question?” (P 157).

The second set of subjects, Jesuits in “the portraits of the saints and great men of the order” (P 50) near the rector’s room at Clongowes Wood College, and in pictures “in the college parlour” (P 148) at Belvedere, is more noteworthy for its pictorial depiction. Stephen is vaguely aware of the portraits at Clongowes when, seeking to right the wrong of his pandying by the prefect of studies, Father Dolan, he goes in search of the rector, Father Conmee, through “the low dark narrow corridor that led to the castle” (P 50):

He peered in front of him and right and left through the gloom and thought that those must be portraits. It was dark and silent and his eyes were weak and tired with tears so that he could not see. But he thought they were the portraits of the saints and great men of the order who were looking down on him silently as he passed: saint Ignatius Loyola holding an open book and pointing to the words Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam in it, saint Francis Xavier pointing to his chest, Lorenzo Ricci with his berretta on his head like one of the prefects of the lines, the three patrons of holy youth, saint Stanislaus Kostka, saint Aloysius Gonzaga and blessed John Berchmans, all with young faces because they died when they were young, and Father Peter Kenny sitting in a chair wrapped in a big cloak.

(P 50–51)

Because the weak-eyed Stephen is barely able to see, the pictorial and identifying details here are the work of the narrator, and include the naming of seven subjects, the description of Saint Ignatius pointing to “an open book,” the quoting of the Jesuit motto Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, and references to other gestures and posture. To Stephen we assign the two inferences “He . . . thought that those must be portraits and he thought they were the portraits of the saints and great men of the order,” along with the comparison “like one of the prefects of the lines” and the echo of Joyce’s title in “all with young faces because they died when they were young.” In a novel whose title promises a portrait, this passage is the only sustained description...



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