Preface to the 2016 Digital Multimedia Edition of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A century after its publication, can we find new ways of reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? This multimedia exploration of Joyce’s first published novel was inspired by the new insights which digital analysis offer into the world of the novel and the society of the city it portrays in such painstaking detail. The novel opens a window into the Dublin which shaped Joyce and the characters in his fiction. To some extent Joyce’s Dublin has been romanticised in recent years. Joyce’s work has been rightly celebrated for bringing to life a Dublin which had already changed forever when A Portrait of the Artist was first published in the pages of The Egoist and then in novel form for the first time in New York on December 28th 1916. At its heart, this is a novel about the evolution of an artist’s voice and vision. The novel opens with baby Stephen’s fascination with nursery rhymes and songs and ends with the young artist leaving Dublin in pursuit of ‘the reality of experience’, with the modest ambition ‘to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.’ Part of the power of the novel, however, is in the way in which these abstractions are anchored in a very particular place and time. The son of the once comfortable middle class Dedalus family can joke in the end about his mother putting his ‘new secondhand clothes together’ for his journey, but the descent from prosperity to near destitution is scrupulously mapped in the novel and the precarious nature of prosperity speaks powerfully to more recent Dublin history.

Corner of Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green, 1890s. Source: The British Library

Joyce’s Dublin has usually been understood as a place of connections, where everyone meets everyone else eventually, either in the streets of the city or its pubs. This first novel reveals a more complex picture. As Stephen grows, like any child, his world changes. In the first chapter the child is embedded in his own family, but through their arguments even at the Christmas dinner table, politics is intertwined with personal life. As Stephen goes on to school and then university, this pattern of political, religious and eventually aesthetic conflict being deeply imbedded in personal relationships persists. As a schoolboy, he is picked on for liking the poetry of the immoral Byron. At university, he argues even with his closest friend Cranly about nationalism. These conflicts around what Joyce would call in Ulysses ‘the big words that make us so unhappy’ have obscured another isolating force in the novel. Like Joyce’s own family, Stephen Dedalus’s family experiences downward social mobility in the novel due to his father’s drinking, general incompetence and neglect. This is where social network analysis offers a fascinating new insight into the novel. The social networks of each chapter are remarkably distinct. In a city as small as Dublin, the Dedalus family are not presented as maintaining any social connections larger than the family, except for their rather complex negotiations with the church. Beneath the political, religious and artistic divisions, lies a starkly socially segregated city. Put simply, friendships do not survive poverty in the Dublin this novel so painstakingly reproduces. This new way of looking at the novel puts social inequality and division centre stage.

Clockwise from top left: James Joyce, Giorgio Joyce, Nora Joyce (née Barnacle), Lucia Joyce. Source: The UCD Digital Library

Carefully reproducing the text of the novel exactly as it was published in 1916, each chapter in this edition includes a map of the social networks and the audio version of the chapter. Archival photographs from the period are included to give readers a window into the time and place of the novel. Readers inspired to explore Joyce’s Dublin are offered a map to find the places mentioned in the novel and how they correspond to the places where Joyce himself lived as a young man, which they can access in Google maps on location. This version invites new readers of Joyce to dip in to his first novel, then read and listen at leisure. The team at University College Dublin hope readers returning to the novel as old friends will find here a new way to enjoy and engage with it.

Professor Gerardine Meaney, University College Dublin, 29th December 2016.