Hellfire and damnation! (Blog 2/8)

It seems fitting that the very middle section of A Portrait is dedicated to the physical and spiritual pains of damnation, immediately after Stephen spends a good portion of his time and money on vices. As Stephen believes his resolve to abandon faith has grown stronger, we see that his resolve is not as absolute as previously thought.

The mimicry of Dante’s Inferno here works brilliantly in tandem with Stephen's dilemma because it displays how tethered Stephen is to his religion and the idea of damnation. Further, we spend the entire novel taking note of how attuned to senses Stephen is, be it sights, sounds, or smells (especially smells, especially foul smells), which is another reason why Father Arnell’s sermon resonates so deeply with him. It terrifies him because it is terrifying. Stephen is not immune to fire and brimstone. Stephen is still extremely vulnerable, indicating that despite the notion that Stephen had forgone his innocence, there is still that childlike fear of God deeply instilled in him: "His eyes were dimmed with tears and, looking humbly up to heaven, he wept for the innocence he had lost" (Joyce 150). As the novel continues, Stephen’s piety increases more and more as his home life becomes more unstable. Religion becomes a crutch. 

Throughout Father Arnell's sermon, I couldn't help but imagine the impact this section had on readers at the time. As 21st century scholars, I feel like we can read this section with a certain objectivity, but I can't imagine that was the case for early 20th century audiences. Catholic and/or religious readers probably felt a sense of relief at Stephen's repentance and a certain disgust at his sins. 

I think about this because of the ever present and disturbing act of book banning and I wonder this: Was book banning a thing during modernism? If not, did people want it to be? Was it a thing in Ireland or Europe? If so, how explicit did a book have to be to earn that reputation? I wonder because I’ve never really considered book banning outside of an American context/perspective. Afterall, this book does hit a lot of themes that were/still are quite controversial.





Your questions at the end made me want to Google, and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I am! Joyce actually had one of his own books banned in the UK: Ulyssses was published in 1922, but, according to Wikipedia, it was only unbanned in 1936. Ireland's list of banned books is really long! But the only book in our course's time period that I see here is the 1928 book Married Love by Marie Stopes. The reason for its ban is its discussion of birth control (says the same article on Wikipedia). From what we know about Irish ethnoreligiosity, this ban would have been due to Catholic strongholds in thinking. I think a book ban has less to do with what's explicit and more to do with what in it goes against the minds in power. I suppose that's "explicit," but the definition of that term seems wildly fluid to different groups. For instance, a book which includes drinking wine would be explicit to some Southern Baptist minds, but Catholic minds, where wine drinking is more accepted, wouldn't consider the same content explicit.