Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.
In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:
This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.
Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read
Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.
I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.
The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).
See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.