Hugh Kenner, “The Portrait in Perspective”, in Dublin’s Joyce (London: Chatto & Windus 1955) [Chap. 8] - Full text

Chap. 8: “The Portrait in Perspective”


From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
                                                            -T. S. Eliot

Faites votre destin,
Ames désordonnées,
Et fuyez l’infini que vous portez en vous!

                                                            -Baudelaire

And yet he felt that, however he might revile and mock her image, his anger was also a form of homage.
                                                     - Portrait (P259/251)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which in its definitive form initiates the second cycle, was some ten years in the writing. A 1,000-page first draft was written around 1904-1906, about the same time as the bulk of Dubliners. This was scrapped and a more compressed version undertaken in 1908. the third and final text was being composed in 1911 and was finished early in 1914. [Gorman, James Joyce, NY: Farrar & Rinehart [1939], V-iii, VII-i VII-iii, VII-vi; Theodore Spencer, Introduction, Stephen Hero.] About one-third of the first draft (the Stephen Hero fragment) survives to show us what was going on during the gestation of this book, the only one which it cost Joyce far more trouble to focus than to execute.

Joyce first conceived the story of Stephen Dedalus in a picaresque mode. The original title was meant to incorporate the ballad of Turpin Hero, a reference to which still survives in the final text P252/244. Turpin spends most of the ballad achieving gestes at the expense of a gallery of middle-class dummies beginning with a lawyer:

... As they rode down by the powder mill,
Turpin commands him to stand still;
Said he, your cape I must cut off,
For my mare she wants her saddle cloth.
O rare Turpin Hero,
O rare Turpin O. [109]

This caus’d the lawyer much to fret,
To think he was so fairly bit;
And Turpin robb’d him of his store,
Because he knew he’d lie for more.
O rare Turpin Hero,
O rare Turpin O.

The lawyer’s mistake was to admit the plausible stranger to his intimacy. Stephen in the same way achieves a series of dialectical triumphs over priests, parents, and schoolfellows. The typical dialogue commences amid courtesies:

Stephen raised his cap and said “Good evening, sir.” The President answered with the smile which a pretty girl gives when she receives some compliment which puzzles her - a “winning&lrquo; smile:

 - What can I do for you? he asked in a rich deep calculated voice. ...

But cut-and-thrust soon follows:

 - May I ask you if you have read much of [Ibsen’s] writing? asked Stephen.
 - Well, no ... I must say ...
 - May I ask you if you have read even a single line?
 - Well, no ... I must admit ...

Stephen always relieves the interlocutor of his complacence:

 - I should not care for anyone to identify the ideas in your essay with the teaching in our college. We receive this college in trust. ...
 - If I were to publish tomorrow a very revolutionary pamphlet on the means of avoiding potato-blight would you consider yourself responsible for my theory?
 - No, no, of course not ... but then this is not a school of agriculture.
 - Neither is it a school of dramaturgy, answered Stephen. [S95/81]

The ballad ends with Turpin in jail condemned to the gallows; Stephen Hero was presumably to end, as the Portrait does, with Stephen Protomartyr on the brink of continental exile, acknowledged enemy of the Dublin people. This Stephen is an engaging fellow with an explosive laugh, S59/49, an image of the young Joyce whom Yeats compared to William Morris “for the joyous vitality one felt in him” or of the student Joyce who emerges from his brother’s Memoir:

Uncompromising in all that concerned his artistic integrity, Joyce was, for the rest, of a sociable and amiable disposition. Around his [110] tall, agile figure there hovered a certain air of youthful grace and, despite the squalors of his home, a sense of happiness, as of one who feels within himself a joyous courage, a resolute confidence in life and in his own powers . Joyce’s laugh was characteristic ... of that pure hilarity which does not contort the mouth. (Stanislaus Joyce, “James Joyce: A Memoir”, in Hudson Review, 11, 4, p.496.)

When Stephen’s uncompromising side occasionally becomes absurd, Joyce the recorder is always at hand to supply a distancing phrase: “the fiery-hearted revolutionary”; “this heaven-ascending essayist” S80/67; “he was foolish enough to regret having yielded to the impulse for sympathy from a friend”, S83/70. Toward the end of the existing fragment we find more and more of these excusing clauses: “No young man can contemplate the fact of death with extreme satisfaction and no young man, specialised by fate or her stepsister chance for an organ of sensitiveness and intellectiveness, can contemplate the network of falsities and trivialities which make up the funeral of a dead burgher without extreme disgust.” S168/150. This clumsy sentence, its tone slithering between detachment, irony, and anger, is typical of the bad writing which recurs in the Stephen Hero fragment to signal Joyce’s periodic uncertainty of Stephen’s convincingness.

The book ran down unfinished in 1906, stalled partly by its own inner contradictions, partly by the far maturer achievement of Dubliners. It had never, Joyce saw, had a theme; it was neither a novel, nor an autobiography, nor a spiritual or social meditation. It contained three sorts of materials that would not fuse: documentation from the past, transcribed from the Dublin notebooks; Joyce’s memories of his earlier self, transmuted by a mythopoeic process only partly controlled; and his present complex attitude to what he thought that self to have been.

Fortunately, the catalytic theme was not long in coming. In the late fall of 1906, he wrote from Rome to his brother about a new story for Dubliners, “Ulysses”. On February 6, 1907, he admitted that it “never got any forrarder than the title.” It coalesced, instead, with the autobiographical theme, and both subjects were returned to the smithy. A novel, Ulysses, as Joyce told a Zurich student ten years later, began to be planned as sequel to a rewritten Portrait. In 1908 Stephen Hero was discarded for good, and the job of lining up the two works began. And once the final balance of motifs for the Portrait [111] had been at last struck and the writing of the definitive text completed, the last exorcism, Exiles, took only three spring months. Ulysses and Finnegans Wake took seven and seventeen years, but their recalcitrance was technical merely. The Portrait includes their scenario: first “the earth that had borne him” and “the vast indifferent dome” (Penelope, Ithaca), then sleep and a plunge into “some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings”, P200/196. These are lyric anticipations of the dense epic and dramatic works to come; the actual writing of those works went forward during the next quarter-century with scarcely a false step.

Linking Themes
In the reconceived Portrait Joyce abandoned the original intention of writing the account of his own escape from Dublin. One cannot escape one’s Dublin. He recast Stephen Dedalus as a figure who could not even detach himself from Dublin because he had formed himself on a denial of Dublin’s values. He is the egocentric rebel become an ultimate. There is no question whatever of his regeneration. “Stephen no longer interests me to the same extent [as Bloom],” said Joyce to Frank Budgen one day.” He has a shape that can’t be changed.” [Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses, p.107.] His shape is that of aesthete. The Stephen of the first chapter of Ulysses who “walks wearily”, constantly “leans” on everything in sight, invariably sits down before he has gone three paces, speaks “gloomily”, “quietly”, “with bitterness”, and “coldly”, and “suffers” his handkerchief to be pulled from his pocket by the exuberant Mulligan, is precisely the priggish, humourless Stephen of the last chapter of the Portrait who cannot remember what day of the week it is, P206/201, sentimentalizes like Charles Lamb over the “human pages” of a second-hand Latin book, P209/204, conducts the inhumanly pedantic dialogue with Cranly on mother-love, P281/271, writes Frenchified verses in bed in an erotic swoon, and is epiphanized at full length, like Shem the Penman beneath the bedclothes, F176, shrinking from the “common noises” of daylight:

Shrinking from that life he turned towards the wall, making a cowl [!] of the blanket and staring at the great overblown scarlet flowers of the tattered wall-paper. He tried to warm his perishing joy in their scarlet glow, imaging a roseway from where he lay upwards to heaven all strewn with scarlet flowers. Weary! Weary! He too was weary of ardent ways. P260/252.

This new primrose path is a private Jacob’s, ladder let down to his bed now that he is too weary to do anything but go to heaven.

To make epic and drama emerge naturally from the intrinsic stresses and distortions of the lyric material meant completely new lyric techniques for a constation exact beyond irony. The Portrait concentrates on stating themes, arranging apparently transparent words into configurations of the utmost symbolic density. Here is the director proposing that Stephen enter the priesthood:

The director stood in the embrasure of the window, his back to the light, leaning an elbow on the brown crossblind, and, as he spoke and smiled. slowly dangling and looping the cord of the other blind, Stephen stood before him, following for a moment with his eyes the waning of the long summer daylight above the roofs or the slow deft movements of the priestly fingers. The priest’s face was in total shadow, but the waning daylight from behind him touched the deeply grooved temples and the curves of the skull. P178/I7S.

The looped cord, the shadow, the skull, none of these is accidental. The “waning daylight,” twice emphasized, conveys that denial of nature which the priest’s office represented for Stephen; “his back to the light “co-operates toward a similar effect. So “crossblind”: “blind to the cross” [Quotes Stephen Hero : 'hypocrites . they don’t believe in him; they don’t observe his precepts’, S141/124]; “blinded by the cross”. “The curves of the skull” introduces another death-image; the “deathbone” from Lévy-Bruhl’s Australia, pointed by Shaun in Finnegans Wake, F193, is the dramatic version of an identical symbol. But the central image, the epiphany of the interview, is contained in the movement of the priest’s fingers: “slowly dangling and looping the cord of the other blind.” That is to say, coolly proffering a noose. This is the lyric mode of Ulysses ’ epical hangman, “The lord of things as they are whom the most Roman of Catholics call dio boia, hangman god “, U210/201.

The Contrapuntal Opening
According to the practice inaugurated by Joyce when he rewrote “The Sisters” in 1906, the Portrait, like the two books to follow, opens amid elaborate counterpoint. The first two pages, terminating in a row of asterisks, enact the entire action in microcosm. An Aristotelian catalogue of senses, faculties, and mental activities is played against the unfolding of the infant conscience.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. ...
 His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
 He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down along the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
     O, the wild rose blossoms
     On the little green place.

 He sang that song. That was his song.
     0, the green wothe botheth.
 When you wet the bed, first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

This evocation of holes in oblivion is conducted in the mode of each of the five senses in turn; hearing (the story of the moocow), sight (his father’s face), taste (lemon platt), touch (warm and cold), smell (the oil-sheet). The audible soothes: the visible disturbs. Throughout Joyce’s work, the senses are symbolically disposed. Smell is the means of discriminating empirical realities (”His mother had a nicer smell than his father,” is the next sentence), sight corresponds to the phantasms of oppression, hearing to the imaginative life. Touch and taste together are the modes of sex. Hearing, here, comes first, via a piece of imaginative literature. But as we can see from the vantage-point of Finnegans Wake, the whole book is about the encounter of baby tuckoo with the moocow: the Gripes with the mookse. [Compare the opening sentence: “Eins within a space, and a wearywide space it wast, ere wohned a Mookse”, F152. Mookse is moocow plus fox plus mock turtle. The German “Eins” evokes Einstein, who presides over the interchanging of space and time; space is the Mookse’s “spatialty”.] The father with the hairy face is the first Mookse-avatar, the Freudian infantile analogue of God the Father. [114]

In the Wake

Derzherr, live wire, fired Benjermine Funkling outa th’Empyre, sin right hand son. F289.

Der Erzherr (arch-lord), here a Teutonic junker, is the God who visited his wrath on Lucifer; the hairy attribute comes through via the music-hall refrain, “There’s hair, like wire, coming out of the Empire.”

Dawning consciousness of his own identity (”He was baby tuckoo”) leads to artistic performance (”He sang that song. That was his song.”) This is hugely expanded in chapter IV:

Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy ... of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth anew soaring impalpable imperishable being. P196/192.

By changing the red rose to a green and dislocating the spelling, he makes the song his own (”But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.” P8/I3)

His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor’s hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:
     Tralala lala,
     Tralala tralaladdy,
     Tralala lala,
     Tralala lala.

Between this innocence and its Rimbaudian recapture through the purgation of the Wake there is to intervene the hallucination in Circe’s sty:

THE MOTHER
(With the subtle smile of death’s madness.) I was once the beautiful May Goulding. I am dead. ...
STEPHEN
(Eagerly.) Tell me the word, mother, if you know it now. The word known to all men. ...
THE MOTHER
(With smouldering eyes.) Repent! 0, the fire of hell! U565/547. [115]

This is foreshadowed as the overture to the Portrait closes:

He hid under the table. His mother said:
- O, Stephen will apologise.
Dante said:
- O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes. Pull out his eyes. -
     Apologise, Apologise,
     Pull out his eyes.
     Apologise,
     Pull out his eyes,
     Pull out his eyes,
     Apologise.

The eagles, eagles of Rome, are emissaries of the God with the hairy face: the punisher. They evoke Prometheus and gnawing guilt: again-bite. So the overture ends with Stephen hiding under the table awaiting the eagles. He is hiding under something most of the time: bedclothes, “the enigma of a manner”, an indurated rhetoric, or some other carapace of his private world.

Theme Words
It is through their names that things have power over Stephen.

- The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. MY voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. P221/215.

Not only is the Dean’s English a conqueror’s tongue; since the loss of Adam’s words which perfectly mirrored things, all, language has conquered the mind and imposed its own order, askew from the order of creation. Words, like the physical world, are imposed on Stephen from without, and it is in their., canted mirrors that he glimpses a physical and moral world already dyed the colour of his own mind since absorbed, with language, into his personality. [116]

Words which he did not understand he said over and over to himself till he had learnt them by heart; and through them he had glimpses of the real world about him. P68/70.

Language is a Trojan horse by which the universe gets into the mind. The first sentence in the book isn’t something Stephen sees but a story he is told, and the overture climaxes in an insistent brainless rhyme, its jingle corrosively fascinating to the will. It has power to terrify a child who knows nothing of eagles, or of Prometheus, or of how his own grown-up failure to apologise will blend with gathering blindness.

It typifies the peculiar achievement of the Portrait that Joyce can cause patterns of words to make up the very moral texture of Stephen’s mind:

Suck was a queer word. The fellow called Simon Moonan that name because Simon Moonan used to tie the prefect’s false sleeves behind his back and the prefect used to let on to be angry. But the sound was ugly. Once he had washed his hands in the lavatory of the Wicklow hotel and his father pulled the stopper up by the chain after and the dirty water went down through the hole in the basin. And when it had all gone down slowly the hole in the basin had made a sound like that: suck. Only louder.
To remember that and the white look of the lavatory made him feel cold and then hot. There were two cocks that you turned and the water came out: cold and hot. He felt cold and then a little hot: and he could see the names printed on the cocks. That was a very queer thing. P6/12.

”Suck” joins two contexts in Stephen’s mind: a playful sinner toying with his indulgent superior, and the disappearance of dirty water. The force of the conjunction is felt only after Stephen has lost his sense of the reality of the forgiveness of sins in the confessional. The habitually orthodox penitent tangles with a God who pretends to be angry; after a reconciliation the process is repeated. And the mark of that kind of play is disgraceful servility. Each time the sin disappears, the sinner is mocked by an impersonal voice out of nature: “Suck!”

This attitude to unreal good and evil furnishes a context for the next conjunction: whiteness and coldness. Stephen finds himself, like Simon Moonan, [Ftn. here remarks that 'Joyce’s names should be scrutinised . &c.] engaged in the rhythm of [117] obedience to irrational authority, bending his mind to a meaningless act, the arithmetic contest. He is being obediently “good”. And the appropriate colour is adduced: “He thought his face must be white because it felt so cool.”

The pallor of lunar obedient goodness is next associated with damp repulsiveness: the limpness of a wet blanket and of a servant’s apron:

He sat looking at the two prints of butter on his plate but could not cat the damp bread. The table-cloth was damp and limp. But he drank off the hot weak tea which the clumsy scullion, girt with a white apron, poured into his cup. He wondered whether the scullion’s apron was damp too or whether all white things were cold and damp. P8/13.

Throughout the first chapter an intrinsic linkage, white-cold-damp-obedient, insinuates itself repeatedly. Stephen after saying his prayers, “his shoulders shaking”, “so that he might not go to hell when he died”, “curled himself together under the cold white sheets, shaking and trembling. But he would not go to hell when he died, and the shaking would stop.” P16/20. The sea, mysterious as the terrible power of God, (”was cold day and night, but it was colder at night”, P14/I9; we are reminded of Anna Livia’s gesture of submission: “my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father”, F628. “There was a cold night smell in the chapel. But it was a holy smell”, P14/19. Stephen is puzzled by the phrase in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin: Tower of Ivory. “How could a woman be a tower of ivory or a house of gold? “ He ponders until the revelation comes:

Eileen had long white hands. One evening when playing tig she had put her hands over his eyes: long and white and thin and cold and soft. That was ivory: a cold white thing. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory. P36/40.

This instant of insight depends on a sudden reshuffling of, associations, a sudden conviction that the Mother of God, and the symbols appropriate to her, belong with the cold, the white, and the unpleasant in a blindfold morality of obedience. Contemplation focussed on language is repaid:

Tower of Ivory. House of Gold. By thinking of things you could, understand them. P45/48.

The white-damp-obedient association reappears when [118] Stephen is about to make his confession after the celebrated retreat; its patterns provide the language in which he thinks. Sin has been associated with fire, while the prayers of the penitents are epiphanized as “soft whispering cloudlets, soft whispering vapour, whispering and vanishing.” P164/163. And having been absolved:

White pudding and eggs and sausages and cups of tea. How simple and beautiful was life after all! And life lay all before him....

The boys were all there, kneeling in their places. He knelt among them, happy and shy. The altar was heaped with fragrant masses of white flowers: and in the morning light the pale flames of the candles among the white flowers were clear and silent as his own soul. P168/166.

We cannot read Finnegans Wake until we have realized the significance of the way the mind of Stephen Dedalus is bound in by language. He is not only an artist: he is a Dubliner.

The Portrait as Lyric
The “instant of emotion”, P2S 1/244, of which this 300-page lyric is the “simplest verbal vesture” is the exalted instant, emerging at the end of the book, of freedom, of vocation, of Stephen’s destiny, winging his way above the waters at the side of the hawklike man: the instant of promise on which the crushing ironies of Ulysses are to fall. The epic of the sea of matter is preceded by the lyric image of a growing dream: a dream that like Richard Rowan’s in Exiles disregards the fall of man; a dream nourished by a sensitive youth of flying above the sea into an uncreated heaven:

The spell of arms and voices: the white arms of roads, their promise of close embraces and the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon, their tale of distant nations. They are held out to say: We are alone - come. And the voices say with them: We are your kinsmen. And the air is thick with their company as they call to me, their kinsman, making ready to go, shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth. P298/288.

The emotional quality of this is continuous with that of the Count of Monte Cristo, that fantasy of the exile returned for vengeance (the plot of the Odyssey) which kindled so many of Stephen’s boyhood dreams:

The figure of that dark avenger stood forth in his mind for whatever he had heard or divined in childhood of the strange and terrible. At night he built up on the parlour table an image of the wonderful [119] island cave out of transfers and paper flowers and strips of the silver and golden paper in which chocolate is wrapped. When he had broken up this scenery, weary of its tinsel, there would come to his mind the bright picture of Marseilles, of sunny trellises and of Mercedes. P68/70.

The prose surrounding Stephen’s flight is empurpled with transfers and paper flowers too. It is not immature prose, as we might suppose by comparison with Ulysses. The prose of “The Dead” is mature prose, and “The Dead” was written in 1908. Rather, it is a meticulous pastiche of immaturity. Joyce has his eye constantly on the epic sequel.

He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how, but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. P71/73.

As the vaginal imagery of gates, secret places, and darkness implies, this is the dream that reaches temporary fulfilment in the plunge into profane love, P113/114. But the ultimate (”secret place” is to be Mabbot Street, outside Bella Cohen’s brothel; the unsubstantial image of his quest, that of Leopold Bloom, advertisement canvasser-Monte Cristo, returned avenger, Ulysses; and the transfiguration, into the phantasmal dead son of a sentimental Jew:

Against the dark wall a figure appears slowly, a fairy boy of eleven, a changeling, kidnapped, dressed in an Eton suit with glass shoes and a little bronze helmet, holding a book in his hand. He reads from right to left inaudibly, smiling, kissing the page. U593/574.

That Dedalus the artificer did violence to nature is the point of the epigraph from Ovid, Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes; the Icarian fall is inevitable.

In tedious exile now too long detain’d
Dedalus languish’d for his native land.
The sea foreclos’d his flight; yet thus he said,
Though earth and water in subjection laid.
O cruel Minos, thy dominion be,
We’ll go through air; for sure the air is free.
Then to new arts his cunning thought applies,
And to improve the work of nature tries.

Stephen does not, as the careless reader may suppose, become an artist by rejecting church and country. Stephen does not become an artist at all. Country, church, and mission are an inextricable unity, and in rejecting the two that seem to hamper him, he rejects also the one on which he has set his heart. Improving the work of nature is his obvious ambition (”But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could”)’ and it logically follows from the aesthetic he expounds to Lynch. It is a neo-platonic aesthetic; the crucial principle of epiphanization has been withdrawn. He imagines that “ the loveliness that has not yet come into the world”, P297/286, is to be found in his own soul. The earth is gross, and what it brings forth is cowdung; sound and shape and colour are “the prison gates of our soul”; and beauty is something mysteriously gestated within. The genuine artist reads signatures, the fake artist forges them, a process adumbrated in the obsession of Shem the Penman (from Jim the Penman, a forgotten drama about a forger) with “Macfearsome’s Ossean”, the most famous of literary forgeries, studying “how cutely to copy all their various styles of signature so as one day to utter an epical forged cheque on the public for his own private profit.” F181.

One can sense all this in the first four chapters of the Portrait, and Ulysses is unequivocal:

Fabulous artificer, the hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back . U208/199.

The Stephen of the end of the fourth chapter, however, is still unstable; he had to be brought into a final balance, and shown at some length as a being whose development was virtually ended. Unfortunately, the last chapter makes the book a peculiarly difficult one for the reader to focus, because Joyce had to close it on a suspended chord. As a lyric, it is finished in its own terms; but the themes of the last forty pages, though they give the illusion of focussing, don’t really focus until we have read well into Ulysses. The final chapter, which in respect to the juggernaut of Ulysses must be a vulnerable flank, in respect to what has gone before must be a conclusion.

This problem Joyce didn’t wholly solve; there remains a moral ambiguity (how seriously are we to take Stephen?) which makes the last forty pages painful reading.

Not that Stephen would stand indefinitely if Ulysses didn’t [121] topple him over; his equilibrium in Chapter V, though good enough to give him a sense of unusual integrity in University College, is precarious unless he can manage, in the manner of so many permanent undergraduates, to prolong the college context for the rest of his life. Each of the preceding chapters, in fact, works toward an equilibrium which is dashed when in the next chapter Stephen’s world becomes larger and the frame of reference more complex. The terms of equilibrium are always stated with disquieting accuracy; at the end of Chapter 1 we find:

He was alone. He was happy and free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would be very quiet and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind for him to show him that he was not proud. P64/66.

And at the end of Chapter III:

He sat by the fire in the kitchen, not daring to speak for happiness. Till that moment he had not known how beautiful and peaceful life could be. The green square of paper pinned round the lamp cast down a tender shade. On the dresser was a plate of sausages and white pudding and on the shelf there were eggs. They would be for the breakfast in the morning after the communion in the college chapel. White pudding and eggs and sausages and cups of tea. How simple and beautiful was life after all! And life lay all before him. P168/166.

Not “irony” but simply the truth: the good life conceived in terms of white pudding and sausages is unstable enough to need no underlining.

The even-numbered chapters make a sequence of a different sort. The ending of IV, Stephen’s panting submission to an artistic vocation:

Evening had fallen when he woke and the sand and arid grasses of his bed glowed no longer. He rose slowly and, recalling the rapture of his sleep, sighed at its joy. ... P201/197

- hasn’t quite the finality often read into it when the explicit parallel with the ending of II is perceived:

. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly”, parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though,, they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour. P114/115. [122]

When we link these passages with the fact that the one piece of literary composition Stephen actually achieves in the book comes out of a wet dream (”Towards dawn he awoke. O what sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet”, P254) we are in a position to see that the concluding “Welcome, O life! “ has an air of finality and balance only because the diary-form of the last seven pages disarms us with an illusion of auctorial impartiality.

Controlling Images: Clongowes and Belvedere
Ego vs . authority is the theme of the three odd-numbered chapters, Dublin vs. the dream that of the two even-numbered ones. The generic Joyce plot, the encounter with the alter ego, is consummated when Stephen at the end of the book identifies himself with the sanctified Stephen who was stoned by the Jews after reporting a vision (Acts VII, 56) and claims sonship with the classical Daedalus who evaded the ruler of land and sea by turning his soul to obscure arts. The episodes are built about adumbrations of this encounter: with Father Conmee, with Monte Cristo, with the whores, with the broadshouldered moustached student who cut the word “Foetus” in a desk, with the weary mild confessor, with the bird-girl. Through this repeated plot intertwine controlling emotions and controlling images that mount in complexity as the book proceeds.

In chapter I the controlling emotion is fear, and the dominant image Father Dolan and his pandybat; this, associated with the hangman-god and the priestly denial of the senses, was to become one of Joyce’s standard images for Irish clericalism hence the jack-in-the-box appearance of Father Dolan in Circe’s nightmare imbroglio, his pandybat cracking twice like thunder, U547/531. Stephen’s comment, in the mode of Blake’s repudiation of the God who slaughtered Jesus, emphasizes the inclusiveness of the image: “I never could read His handwriting except His criminal thumbprint on the haddock.”

Chapter II opens with a triple image of Dublin’s prepossessions: music, sport, religion. The first is exhibited via Uncle Charles singing sentimental ballads in the outhouse; the second via Stephen’s ritual run around the park under the eye of a superannuated trainer, which his uncle enjoins on him as [123] the whole duty of a Dubliner; the third via the clumsy piety of Uncle Charles, kneeling on a red handkerchief and reading above his breath “from a thumb-blackened prayerbook wherein catchwords were printed at the foot of every page.” P67/69. This trinity of themes is unwound and entwined throughout the chapter, like a net woven round Stephen; it underlies the central incident, the Whitsuntide play in the Belvedere chapel (religion), which opens with a display by the dumb-bell team (sport) preluded by sentimental waltzes from the soldier’s band (music).

While he is waiting to play his part, Stephen is taunted by fellow-students, who rally him on a fancied love-affair and smiting his calf with a cane bid him recite the Confiteor. His mind goes back to an analogous incident, when a similar punishment had been visited on his refusal to “admit that Byron was no good”. The further analogy with Father Dolan is obvious; love, art, and personal independence are thus united in an ideogram of the prepossessions Stephen is determined to cultivate in the teeth of persecution.

The dream-world Stephen nourishes within himself is played against manifestations of music, sport, and religion throughout the chapter. The constant ironic clash of Dublin vs. the Dream animates chapter II, as the clash of the ego vs. authority in chapter I. All these themes come to focus during Stephen’s visit with his father to Cork. The dream of rebellion he has silently cultivated is externalized by the discovery of the word Foetus carved in a desk by a forgotten medical student:

It shocked him to find in the outer world a trace of what he had deemed till then a brutish and individual malady of his own mind. His monstrous reveries came thronging into his memory. They too had sprung up before him, suddenly and furiously, out of mere words.... P101/102.

The possibility of shame gaining the upper hand is dashed, however, by the sudden banal intrusion of his father’s conversation (”When you kick out for yourself, Stephen, as I daresay you will one of these days, remember, whatever you do, to mix with gentlemen .”).

Against the standards of Dublin his monstrous reveries acquire a Satanic glamour, and the trauma is slowly diverted into a resolution to rebel. After his father has expressed a resolve to “leave him to his Maker” (religion), and offered to “sing a tenor song against him” (music) or [124] “vault a fivebarred gate against him” (sport), Stephen muses, watching his father and two cronies drinking to the memory of their past:

An abyss of fortune or of temperament sundered him from them. His mind seemed older than theirs: it shone coldly on their strifes and happiness and regrets like a moon upon a younger earth. No life or youth stirred in him as it had stirred in them. He had known neither the pleasure of companionship with others nor the vigour of rude male health nor filial piety. Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. P107/108.

After one final effort to compromise with Dublin on Dublin’s terms has collapsed into futility (”The pot of pink enamel paint gave out and the wainscot of his bedroom remained with its unfinished and illplastered coat”, P110/111), he fiercely cultivates his rebellious thoughts, and moving by day and night “among distorted images of the outer world”, P111/112, plunges at last into the arms of whores. “The holy encounter he had then imagined at which weakness and timidity and inexperience were to fall from him”, P112/113, finally arrives in inversion of Father Dolan’s and Uncle Charles’ religion: his descent into night-town is accompanied by lurid evocations of a Black Mass (Cf. Ulysses, 583/565):

The yellow gasflames arose before his troubled vision against the vapoury sky, burning as if before an altar. Before the doors and in the lighted halls groups were gathered arrayed as for some rite. He was in another world: he had awakened from a slumber of centuries. PI 13/114.

Controlling Images: Sin and Repentance
Each chapter in the Portrait gathers up the thematic material of the preceding ones and entwines them with a dominant theme of its own. In chapter III the fear-pandybat motif is present in Father Arnall’s crudely materialistic hell, of which even the thickness of the walls is specified; and the Dublin-vs.-dream motif has ironic inflections in Stephen’s terror-stricken broodings, when the dream has been twisted into a dream of holiness, and even Dublin appears transfigured:

How beautiful must be a soul in the state of grace when God looked upon it with love!
 Frowsy girls sat along the curbstones before their baskets. Their [126] dank hair trailed over their brows. They were not beautiful to see as they crouched in the mire. But their souls were seen by God; and if their souls were in a state of grace they were radiant to see; and God loved them, seeing them. P162/160.

A rapprochement in these terms between the outer world and Stephen’s desires is too inadequate to need commentary; and it makes vivid as nothing else could the hopeless inversion of his attempted self-sufficiency. It underlines, in yet another way, his persistent sin: and the dominant theme of chapter III is Sin. A fugue-like opening plays upon the Seven Deadly Sins in turn; gluttony is in the first paragraph (”Stuff it into you, his belly counselled him”), followed by lust, then sloth (”A cold lucid indifference reigned in his soul”), pride (”His pride in his own sin, his loveless awe of God, told him that his offence was too grievous to be atoned for”), anger (”The blundering answer stirred the embers of his contempt for his fellows”); finally, a recapitulation fixes each term of the mortal catalogue in a phrase, enumerating how “from the evil seed of lust all the other deadly sins had sprung forth”, P120/120.

Priest and punisher inhabit Stephen himself as well as Dublin: when he is deepest in sin he is most thoroughly a theologian. A paragraph of gloomy introspection is juxtaposed with a list of theological questions that puzzle Stephen’s mind as he awaits the preacher:

... Is baptism with mineral water valid? How comes it that while the first beatitude promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor of heart, the second beatitude promises also to the meek that they shall possess the land? ... If the wine change into vinegar and the host crumble into corruption after they have been consecrated, is Jesus Christ still present under their species as God and as man?
 - Here he is! Here he is!
 A boy from his post at the window had seen the rector come from the house. All the catechisms were opened and all heads bent upon them silently. P120/120.

Wine changed into vinegar and the host crumbled into corruption fits exactly the Irish clergy of “a church which was the scullery-maid of Christendom”. The excited “Here he is! Here he is!” following hard on the mention of Jesus Christ and signalling nothing more portentous than the rector makes the point as dramatically as anything in the book, and the [126] clinching sentence, with the students suddenly bending over their catechisms, places the rector as the vehicle of pandybat morality.

The last of the theological questions is the telling question. Stephen never expresses doubt of the existence of God nor of the essential validity of the priestly office - his Non serviam is not a non credo, and he talks of a “malevolent reality” behind these appearances P287/277 - but the wine and bread that were offered for his veneration were changed into vinegar and crumbled into corruption. And it was the knowledge of that underlying validity clashing with his refusal to do homage to vinegar and rot that evoked his ambivalent poise of egocentric despair. The hell of Father Arnall’s sermon, so emotionally overwhelming, so picayune beside the horrors that Stephen’s imagination can generate, had no more ontological content for Stephen than had “an eternity of bliss in the company of the dean of studies”, P282/273.

The conflict of this central chapter is again between the phantasmal and the real. What is real - psychologically real, because realized - is Stephen’s anguish and remorse, and its context in the life of the flesh. What is phantasmal is the “heaven” of the Church and the “good life” of the priest. It is only fear that makes him clutch after the latter at all; his reaching out after orthodox salvation is, as we have come to expect, presented in terms that judge it:

The wind blew over him and passed on to the myriads and myriads of other souls, on whom God’s favour shone now more and now less, stars now brighter and now dimmer sustained and failing. And the glimmering souls passed away, sustained and failing, merged in a moving breath. One soul was lost; a tiny soul; his. It flickered once and went out, forgotten, lost. The end: black cold void waste.
 Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived. The squalid scene composed itself around him; the common accents, the burning gasjets in the shops, odours of fish and spirits and wet sawdust, moving men and women. An old woman was about to cross the street, an oilcan in her hand. He bent down and asked her was there a chapel near. P162/160.

That wan waste world of flickering stars is the best Stephen has been able to do towards an imaginative grasp of the communion of Saints sustained by God; “unlit, unfelt, unlived” explains succinctly why it had so little hold on him, once fear had [127] relaxed. Equally pertinent is the vision of human temporal occupations the sermon evokes:

What did it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lost his soul? At last he had understood: and human life lay around him, a plain of peace whereon antlike men laboured in brotherhood, their dead sleeping under quiet mounds. P144/143.

To maintain the life of grace in the midst of nature, sustained by so cramped a vision of the life of nature, would mean maintaining an intolerable tension. Stephen’s unrelenting philosophic bias, his determination to understand what he is about, precludes his adopting the double standard of the Dubliners; to live both the life of nature and the life of grace he must enjoy an imaginative grasp of their relationship which stunts neither. “No one doth well against his will,” writes Saint Augustine, “even though what he doth, be well;” and Stephen’s will is firmly harnessed to his understanding. And there is no one in Dublin to help him achieve understanding. Father Arnall’s sermon precludes rather than secures a desirable outcome, for it follows the modes of pandybat morality and Dublin materiality. Its only possible effect on Stephen is to lash his dormant conscience into a frenzy. The description of Hell as “a strait and dark and foul smelling prison, an abode of demons and lost souls, filled with fire and smoke”, with walls four thousand miles thick, its damned packed in so tightly that “they are not even able to remove from the eye the worm that gnaws it”, is childishly grotesque beneath its sweeping eloquence; and the hair-splitting catalogues of pains - pain of loss, pain of conscience (divided into three heads), pain of extension, pain of intensity, pain of eternity - is cast in a brainlessly analytic mode that effectively prevents any corresponding Heaven from possessing any reality at all.

Stephen’s unstable pact with the Church, and its dissolution, follows the pattern of composition and dissipation established by his other dreams: the dream for example of the tryst with “Mercedes”, which found ironic reality among harlots. It parallels exactly his earlier attempt to “build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him” P110/111, whose failure, with the exhaustion of his money, was epiphanized in the running-dry of a pot of pink enamel paint. His regimen at that time:

He bought presents for everyone, overhauled his rooms, wrote out [129] resolutions, marshalled his books up and down their shelves, pored over all kinds of price lists ...

is mirrored by his searching after spiritual improvement:

His daily life was laid out in devotional areas. By means of ejaculations and prayers he stored up ungrudgingly for the souls in purgatory centuries of days and quarantines and years.... He offered up each of his three daily chaplets that his soul might grow strong in each of the three theological virtues.... On each of the seven days of the week he further prayed that one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost might descend upon his soul. P170/167.

The “loan bank” he had opened for the family, out of which he had pressed loans on willing borrowers “that he might have the pleasure of making out receipts and reckoning the interests on sums lent” finds its counterpart in the benefits he stored up for souls in purgatory that he might enjoy the spiritual triumph of “achieving with ease so many fabulous ages of canonical penances”. Both projects are parodies on the doctrine of economy of grace; both are attempts, corrupted by motivating self-interest, to make peace with Dublin on Dublin’s own terms; and both are short-lived.

As this precise analogical structure suggests, the action of each of the five chapters is really the same action. Each chapter, closes with a synthesis of triumph which the next destroys. The triumph of the appeal to Father Conmee from lower authority, of the appeal to the harlots from Dublin, of the appeal to the Church from sin, of the appeal to art from the priesthood (the bird-girl instead of the Virgin) is always the same triumph raised to a more comprehensive level. It is an attempt to find new parents; new fathers in the odd chapters, new objects of love in the even. The last version of Father Conmee is the “priest of the eternal imagination”; the last version of Mercedes is the “lure of the fallen seraphim”. But the last version of the mother who said, “O, Stephen will apologise” is the mother who prays on the last page “that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels”. The mother remains.

The Double Female
As in Dubliners and Exiles, the female role in the Portrait is less to arouse than to elucidate masculine desires. Hence the complex function in the book of physical love: the physical [129] is the analogue of the spiritual, as St. Augustine insisted in his Confessions (which, with Ibsen’s Brand, is the chief archetype of Joyce’s book). The poles between which this affection moves are those of St. Augustine and St. John: the Whore of Babylon and the Bride of Christ. The relation between the two is far from simple, and Stephen moves in a constant tension between them.

His desire, figured in the visions of Monte Cristo’s Mercedes, “to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld” draws him toward the prostitute (”In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself”, P 114/114) and simultaneously toward the vaguely spiritual satisfaction represented with equal vagueness by the wraithlike E- C-, to whom he twice writes verses. The Emma Clery of Stephen Hero, with her loud forced manners and her body compact of pleasure, S66/56, was refined into a wraith with a pair of initials to parallel an intangible Church. She is continually assimilated to the image of the Blessed Virgin and of the heavenly Bride. The torture she costs him is the torture his apostasy costs him. His flirtation with her is his flirtation with Christ. His profane villanelle draws its imagery from religion - the incense, the eucharistic hymn, the chalice - and her heart, following Dante’s image, is a rose, and in her praise “the earth was like a swinging swaying censer, a ball of incense”, P256/248.

The woman is the Church. His vision of greeting Mercedes with “a sadly proud gesture of refusal:

- Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes. P68/71

is fulfilled when he refuses his Easter communion. Emma’s eyes, in their one explicit encounter, speak to him from beneath a cowl, P76/78. “The glories of Mary held his soul captive”, P118/118, and a temporary reconciliation of his lust and his spiritual thirst is achieved as he reads the Lesson out of the Song of Solomon. In the midst of his repentance she functions as imagined mediator: “The image of Emma appeared before him,” and, repenting, “he imagined that he stood near Emma in a wide land, and, humbly and in tears, bent and kissed the elbow of her sleeve”, P 132/131. Like Dante’s Beatrice, she manifests in his earthly experience the Church Triumphant of his spiritual dream. And when he rejects her because she seems to be flirting with Father Moran, his anger is couched in [130] the anti-clerical terms of his apostasy: “He had done well to leave her to flirt with her priest, to toy with a church which was the scullery-maid of Christendom” P258/250.

That Kathleen ni Houlihan can flirt with priests is the unforgivable sin underlying Stephen’s rejection of . But he makes a clear distinction between the stupid clericalism which makes intellectual and communal life impossible, and his long-nourished vision of an artist’s Church Triumphant upon earth. He rejects the actual for daring to fall short of his vision.

The Final Balance
The climax of the book is of course Stephen’s ecstatic discovery of his vocation at the end of chapter IV. The prose rises in nervous excitement to beat again and again the tambours of a fin-de-siècle ecstasy:

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 an 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. An ecstasy of flight made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs.
 - One! Two! ... Look out!
 - O, Cripes, I’m drownded! P196/192.

The interjecting voices of course are those of bathers, but their ironic appropriateness to Stephen’s Icarian “soaring sunward “ is not meant to escape us: divers have their own “ecstasy of flight”, and Icarus was” drownded”. The imagery of Stephen’s ecstasy is fetched from many sources; we recognize Shelley’s skylark, Icarus, the glorified body of the Resurrection (cf. “His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her graveclothes”, P197/193) and a tremulousness from which it is difficult to dissociate adolescent sexual dreams (which the Freudians tell us are frequently dreams of flying). The entire eight-page passage is cunningly organized with great variety of rhetoric and incident; but we cannot help noticing the limits set on vocabulary and figures of thought. The empurpled triteness of such a cadence as “radiant his eyes and [131] wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept face” is enforced by recurrence: “But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face”, P199/195. “Ecstasy” is the keyword, indeed. This riot of feelings corresponds to no vocation definable in mature terms; the paragraphs come to rest on images of irresponsible motion:

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him. P200/196.

What “life” connotes it skills not to ask; the word recurs and recurs. So does the motion onward and onward and onward:

A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on! P200/196.

It may be well to recall Joyce’s account of the romantic temper:

... an insecure, unsatisfied, impatient temper which sees no fit abode here for its ideals and chooses therefore to behold them under insensible figures. As a result of this choice it comes to disregard certain limitations. Its figures are blown to wild adventures, lacking the gravity of solid bodies.... S78/66.

Joyce also called Prometheus Unbound “the Schwarmerei of a young jew”.

And it is quite plain from the final chapter of the Portrait that we are not to accept the mode of Stephen’s “freedom” as the “message” of the book. The “priest of the eternal imagination” turns out to be indigestibly Byronic. Nothing is more obvious than his total lack of humour. The dark intensity of the first four chapters is moving enough, but our impulse on being confronted with the final edition of Stephen Dedalus is to laugh; and laugh at this moment we dare not; he is after all a victim being prepared for a sacrifice. His shape, as Joyce said, can no longer change. The art he has elected is not “the slow elaborative patience of the art of satisfaction”. “On and on and on and on” will be its inescapable mode. He does not see the girl who symbolizes the full revelation; “she seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird”, P199/195, and he confusedly apprehends a sequence of downy and feathery incantations. What, in the last chapter, he does see he sees only to reject, in favour of an incantatory “loveliness which has not yet come into the world”, P197/186.

The only creative attitude to language exemplified in the book is that of Stephen’s father:

- Is it Christy? he said. There’s more cunning in one of those warts on his bald head than in a pack of jack foxes.

His vitality is established before the book is thirty pages under way. Stephen, however, isn’t enchanted at any time by the proximity of such talk. He isn’t, as a matter of fact, even interested in it. Without a backward glance, he exchanges this father for a myth.

[End chap.]


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