James Joyce's first and most widely read novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the story of Stephen Dedalus, a young man struggling to decide between a religious vocation and an artistic one. The aftermath of the struggle that is so poignantly and unflinchingly recorded forms a large part of the story of Joyce's masterwork, Ulysses, in which Stephen reappears as a main character.
In A Portrait of the Artist, Joyce renounces an episodic framework in favor of a group of scenes which radiate backward and forward. As such, the book more closely resembles a random series of portraits than a chronological narrative. Using his own childhood and adolescence as the basic theme of the story, Joyce attempts to recreate the past by embracing it.
Don Gifford, a renowned Joyce scholar, has contributed an introduction focusing on the social, political, and cultural climate of turn-of-the-century Ireland, offering a deeper understanding of the work.
James Joyce was born in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin in 1882. He attended Belvedere College, a Jesuit school, from 1893 to 1898 and graduated from University College, Dublin in 1902. Freeing himself from the strictures of religion, family, and his homeland, Joyce fled Ireland in 1904 accompanied by Nora Barnacle, a young Galway woman he'd met earlier that year. They lived in such European cities as Pola, Trieste, and Rome, together with their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, while Joyce supported them by teaching English and taking clerical jobs. Drawing on his experiences and childhood in Ireland, Joyce published Dubliners in 1914, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916. The family settled in Zurich in 1915, and relocated to Paris in 1920. There, Joyce continued his fascination with dissolving the boundaries between life and literature in his masterwork, Ulysses, published in 1922 on his fortieth birthday. In 1923, Joyce began to compose his "Work in Progress." Seventeen years in the making, the book was published as Finnegans Wake in 1939. Joyce died in Zurich in 1941.