Irish Paths and Notions - wk 5

My intention was to discuss the ways in which Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man acts as almost an Irish anti-Bildungsroman. The Bildungsroman of a good, Catholic Irish male person follows as: education (usually involving some form of physical violence via a member of the church within an educational facility), poverty as a feature that acts both as an inhibitor and a catalyst for personal growth, sexual desire, inner conflict regarding the political state of Ireland, and either a marriage (with lots of children) or a marriage to religion (aka, becoming a priest). Stephen Dedalus has almost a full Bingo card. He is educated at two different religious institutions: Clongowes and Belvedere (change due to poverty). He experienced undue affliction from his prefect because his glasses had been broken in an exchange expressed in language that feels almost religiously homoerotic: “[Stephen] thought of the hands which he had held out in the air with the palms up and of the firm touch of the prefect of studies when he had steadied the shaking fingers and of the beaten swollen reddened mass of palm and fingers that shook helplessly in the air” (Joyce 45). The posture here is reflective of a religious stance of prayer, but it is perverted into one of affliction—receiving a “firm touch” instead of what one might associate with forgiveness. This image is furthered with use of the word “mass,” which acts as a double for the mass of his hands and a Catholic mass, a religious gathering. The description feels sexual in nature due, again, to the posture taken by the penitent as well as the phrase “firm touch.” Stephen’s sexual development is seen a bit here, but continued through discussion of his adoration of Emma and his sexual experience with prostitutes. His feelings toward Ireland are discussed first with the Christmas dinner conversation and punctuated throughout his development, such as his discussion with Davin, when Stephen reflects on his race, his country, and the “nets” that such concepts “fl[i]ng” about him (Joyce 179). Stephen’s Bildungsroman bingo card would have been complete had he followed his path to become a priest. However, here is the divergence, into what I intended to call the Irish anti-Bildungsroman. I say intended because I learned that the word I wish exists: künstlerroman. Britannica says of a künstlerroman that, unlike its umbrella level Bildungsroman, its protagonist rejects the ending assigned to them: “Unlike many Bildungsroman, where the hero often dreams of becoming a great artist but settles for being a mere useful citizen, the Künstlerroman usually ends on a note of arrogant rejection of the commonplace life.” When Stephen decides to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist rather than pursuing a life of the religious nature, he rejects not only the traditional model of a Bildungsroman, but the model of what good, Irish, Catholic young men ought to be. As my Irish friends would say, Stephen’s “got notions.” 


As a note, I think that this "stages" concept is what makes/made Portrait so well-suited to serialization. Not having read how the book was broken up, I can't speak to its structure, but I can speak to how the book flows from one life-marker to the next, as one would anticipate from a coming of age/artist novel. In this way, readers of the serialization feel that anticipation and growth as a continuum. That feels fitting to the content. 

Jamie, I wish I had read your story before posting my own because we pick up on some of the same topics, especially in regards to Bildungsroman (thank you, Victorian Lit!) and sexuality. I like how you delve deeper into Stephen's thoughts on sexuality, however, and the difference between Emma and the prostitutes. When I studied this novel in undergrad, my professor talked about the religous being an aspect of Stephen's sexuality. He is fascinated by the Virgin Mary-type of woman--clean, virginal, pure--and the so-called "fallen" woman--freely sexual and the opposite of the Virgin Mary-type. This, too, I would argue is part of Stephen's "Bildungsroman" bingo because of the spiritual connotation here. I'm curious if Stephen's rejection of the religious, however, still might be considered Bildungsroman if only because the book seems to offer two paths to Stephen: one who follows religion or breaks with it. I suppose I'm thinking of the Christmas dinner scene with Dante and Simon, in which Stephen watches the pair offer only these two outlets in terms of identity.