March 27, 2013

100 Best Novels: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce, it's time to talk. You were always the cute boy in school, the one who was popular and good-looking, the one who I admired from afar. Everyone else thought so, too. We had never actually spoken to each other, but I thought for sure I would swoon once we did. I thought for sure you would sweep me off my feet.

Then we actually met.

James Joyce, once you started speaking to me, the fantasy quickly crumbled away. I'm sad to say that I no longer have a crush on you.

Ugh, don't you hate it when that happens? James Joyce is considered one of the best writers of all time, and his books make several appearances on the 100 Best Novels list. I had always wanted to read one of his books. I assumed that I would love anything of his that I picked up. Go Ireland! Go people of Ireland!

It just didn't work out that way. I struggled to get through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I appreciated its structure and the way that the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus gradually becomes his own person throughout the novel. Particular passages I even quite enjoyed. Overall, though, I never once felt immersed in the story, and I found myself reading it with a decidedly begrudging attitude. That's not how I like to read, particularly during a project like this where I want to get back into the joy of reading great literature, but so it goes. It was bound to happen eventually, and it just so happens that it was with James Joyce.

Since I try to find the silver lining whenever possible, I'm going to skip a recap of what I didn't like and share instead on a few excerpts that stuck out to me and that made parts of the novel a worthy read. 

His heart trembled; his breath came faster and a wild spirit passed over his limbs as though he were soaring sunward. His heart trembled in ecstasy of fear and his soul was in flight. His soul was soaring in an air beyond the world and the body he knew was purified in a breath and delivered of incertitude and made radiant and commingled with the element of the spirit. (p. 183)

The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails. (p. 233)

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. (p. 275)

If I take a step back from the particulars of the novel, I do like the overall notion of an artist's path to self-discovery. Stephen goes through many transformations, being shaped by so many forces throughout his life before he decides to leave Dublin and his family in a sort of self-imposed exile and reclaim (or perhaps discover) his own voice. The entire novel is peppered in quotations and allusions to other thinkers, and it's interesting to think of how Stephen frames his experience through the worI love that the narrative structure changes from third-person to first-person to reflect this shift. The composition of this novel is pretty neat in that sense. I also like the many allusions to the myth of Icarus and Daedalus and how ultimately, this is drawn upon again in the final words of the novel to suggest that Stephen


Have others suffered through or perhaps even enjoyed James Joyce? What do you do when you come across a book that disappoints?

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100 Best Novels

1. "Ulysses," James Joyce
2. "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," James Joyce
4. "Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov
5. "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley
6. "The Sound and the Fury," William Faulkner
7. "Catch-22," Joseph Heller
8. "Darkness at Noon," Arthur Koestler
9. "Sons and Lovers," D. H. Lawrence
10. "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck
11. "Under the Volcano," Malcolm Lowry
12. "The Way of All Flesh," Samuel Butler
13. "1984," George Orwell
14. "I, Claudius," Robert Graves
15. "To the Lighthouse," Virginia Woolf
16. "An American Tragedy," Theodore Dreiser
17. "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," Carson McCullers
18. "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt Vonnegut
19. "Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
20. "Native Son," Richard Wright
21. "Henderson the Rain King," Saul Bellow
22. "Appointment in Samarra," John O' Hara
23. "U.S.A." (trilogy), John Dos Passos
24. "Winesburg, Ohio," Sherwood Anderson
25. "A Passage to India," E. M. Forster
26. "The Wings of the Dove," Henry James
27. "The Ambassadors," Henry James
29. "The Studs Lonigan Trilogy," James T. Farrell
30. "The Good Soldier," Ford Madox Ford
31. "Animal Farm," George Orwell
32. "The Golden Bowl," Henry James
33. "Sister Carrie," Theodore Dreiser
34. "A Handful of Dust," Evelyn Waugh
35. "As I Lay Dying," William Faulkner
36. "All the King's Men," Robert Penn Warren
37. "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," Thornton Wilder
38. "Howards End," E. M. Forster
39. "Go Tell It on the Mountain," James Baldwin
40. "The Heart of the Matter," Graham Greene
41. "Lord of the Flies," William Golding
42. "Deliverance," James Dickey
43. "A Dance to the Music of Time" (series), Anthony Powell
44. "Point Counter Point," Aldous Huxley
45. "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway
46. "The Secret Agent," Joseph Conrad
47. "Nostromo," Joseph Conrad
48. "The Rainbow," D. H. Lawrence
49. "Women in Love," D. H. Lawrence
50. "Tropic of Cancer," Henry Miller
51. "The Naked and the Dead," Norman Mailer
52. "Portnoy's Complaint," Philip Roth
53. "Pale Fire," Vladimir Nabokov
54. "Light in August," William Faulkner
55. "On the Road," Jack Kerouac
56. "The Maltese Falcon," Dashiell Hammett
57. "Parade's End," Ford Madox Ford
58. "The Age of Innocence," Edith Wharton
59. "Zuleika Dobson," Max Beerbohm
60. "The Moviegoer," Walker Percy
61. "Death Comes to the Archbishop," Willa Cather
62. "From Here to Eternity," James Jones
63. "The Wapshot Chronicles," John Cheever
64. "The Catcher in the Rye," J. D. Salinger
65. "A Clockwork Orange," Anthony Burgess
66. "Of Human Bondage," W. Somerset Maugham
67. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad
68. "Main Street," Sinclair Lewis
69. "The House of Mirth," Edith Wharton
70. "The Alexandria Quartet," Lawrence Durrell
71. "A High Wind in Jamaica," Richard Hughes
72. "A House for Ms. Biswas," V. S. Naipaul
73. "The Day of the Locust," Nathaniel West
75. "Scoop," Evelyn Waugh
76. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," Muriel Spark
77. "Finnegans Wake," James Joyce
78. "Kim," Rudyard Kipling
79. "A Room With a View," E. M. Forster
80. "Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh
81. "The Adventures of Augie March," Saul Bellow
82. "Angle of Repose," Wallace Stegner
83. "A Bend in the River," V. S. Naipaul
84. "The Death of the Heart," Elizabeth Bowen
85. "Lord Jim," Joseph Conrad
86. "Ragtime," E. L. Doctorow
87. "The Old Wives' Tale," Arnold Bennett
88. "The Call of the Wild," Jack London
89. "Loving," Henry Green
90. "Midnight's Children," Salman Rushdie
91. "Tobacco Road," Erskine Caldwell
92. "Ironweed," William Kennedy
93. "The Magus," John Fowles
94. "Wide Sargasso Sea," Jean Rhys
95. "Under the Net," Iris Murdoch
96. "Sophie's Choice," William Styron
97. "The Sheltering Sky," Paul Bowles
98. "The Postman Always Rings Twice," James M. Cain
99. "The Ginger Man," J. P. Donleavy
100. "The Magnificent Ambersons," Booth Tarkington


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