James Joyce's first published novel (PMD suggests that it might be Joyce's second, with Dubliners being the first. He's not certain, and neither am I at the moment, but I think he may well be right). By all accounts, it's a reasonably autobiographical fictionalization of Joyce's childhood and adolescence by way of Joyce's alter ego Stephen Dedalus. Stephen, of course, turns up later in Joyce's Ulysses.

Some people find it intolerable because of the way the style tracks Stephen's growth and development. When he is a child, the style is (on the surface) childlike; when he's a hyper-religious young adolescent, the style is bombastic; etc. The odd thing is, it's not clear that Joyce could write any other way. He couldn't speak for himself directly; he could only create a doppleganger and then speak for it. His correspondence reads nothing like his fiction. He was only James Joyce when he was being somebody else. Many years later, Jorge Luis Borges anticipated this in his essay about Shakespeare being "Everyone and No One".

Much later . . .

My theory about Joyce's identity thing has been called into question: First by somebody I know who suggested that maybe Joyce just damn well didn't put much effort into his letters, and second by a selection of the letters themselves: Correspondence Regarding Joyce's "Dubliners". I'm still going to keep the theory, because I like it, and I like the Borges joke. Feel free to vote this node into oblivion; I don't mind. That wouldn't be random voting, of course, but maybe somebody can make an exception just this once. I'll just go back to voting up nodes with obscene titles now.

In childhood the maze is built
A winding way the senses forge.
Tunnels formed from light and hearing
Leading unto a sinful gorge.
Dedalus, Stephen

Redemption, religion, rebirth
The holy cloth false feathers make.
And wax of sprirt is the gum
Freeing wings lay out life to take.
Stephen Dedalus

A smell rebreeds the memory
Of life he lost, a life of sight.
The Godly wax begins to melt,
Proceed towards the blinding light
Dedalus, Stephen.

Of course, even really great books like this one are met with controversy at the time of publication. James Joyce's style of writing caught much of the public off-guard, and it was simultaneously praised and scorned. No book is liked by everyone all of the time.

Here is a selection of comments from not-so-favorable reviews.


culled from The Egoist, June 1917, p. 74

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