On a long bus ride, this reporter took along a book to read. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," by James Joyce. This was one of those books that was required reading in high school that somehow never really got read. The list of books was long back then for this reporter's high school English and composition class. And even though, the instructor scolded me as well as many others for not really "getting into the book" for we all used "Cliff Notes" study guides despite the derision from teachers, I thought I would try to discover what the instructor thought was so great about Joyce's book. The old paperback was still in good condition being boxed away for many years.
"A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man" starts out in a very familiar tone,"The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived." Reading along further I began to understand, the writing was Joyce's style and that it was written the way an adolescent or youngster would describe things. Jumping from one thing to another in a very spontaneous but honest way.
This reporter soon recalled why this Joyce novel in particular never struck my interest, it was too choppy. And, not that easy to follow with all that brogue-like slang. And, after reading Albert Camus' "The Stranger" with its particular existential edge, this work of Joyce's seemed oddly quaint.
Yet, being on a bus for more than an hour, the type of bus ride that winds around every suburban dell, glen and shopping center, why not keep reading!
Like most novel writing, it is easy to see the biography behind the phrases. Joyce was very much an Irishman living in a 19th Century setting with a very strong caste system of sorts in place.
The Church was an overly dominant presence. Joyce describes through the character of Stephen Dedalus, incidents of mistreatment if not outright abuse at the hands of the Jesuit priest teachers.
What struck me most as I read about his hands being hit with a stick and Stephen Dedalus' character being berated frequently by teachers, was how much power these clergy had. These authority figures had way too much influence over the lives of others.
Today, we question this, even oppose such influences. Yet in Joyce's time that was the status quo. This reporter had the impression that what Joyce was describing through the fictional character of Stephen Dedalus was a broken spirit, trying to mend.
Yet even amid hardships he finds meaning and self-respect. Reading works by Joyce, especially this novel it is one way to get a sense of that Celtic energy, ever ancient but resilient that runs through the Irish people.
This is not to say that this reporter is eager to visit Ireland, look up ancestry and hang out in pubs. Yet reading Joyce now as a grown up, I can comprehend a bit more of an artist, a writer that I did not quite understand before. The Irish are story tellers and Joyce's work is entertaining, especially on a long bus ride.