“To arts unknown he bends his wits, and alters nature.”
― Ovid, Metamorphoses.
Myriads of evocative images permeate the debut novel of the most influential Irish modernist, conveying the entire spectrum of feelings ranging from religious fervour to the ardour of lust. A master of intertextuality, Joyce intermingles philosophical discussions (unfortunately, often one-sided, despite their doubtless intellectual splendour) with “scraps of poetry and madness” – playful allusions to ancient myths and historical events. Nevertheless, a vivid combination of excessive naturalism and vague surrealism may be exhausting for the reader, as the rigorous author does not attempt to ease the acute transitions from one state of consciousness into another. It is only for the literary adventurers themselves to decide whether this egocentric coming-of-age journey is worth the effervescent, yet turbulent ride.
Joyce’s literary style evokes both rapture and horror, as the sagacious narrator delves deeper into the unconscious, depicting pleasures of Heaven and tortures of Hell as if they were unravelling before his very eyes. Reimagining Tolstoy’s majestic composition Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, as he already did in the tripartite short story collection Dubliners, Joyce painted three semi-autobiographical portraits in his premier Künstlerroman, using raw emotion to combine fact and fiction. Nevertheless, the Irish author dismantled stylistic traditions embraced by previous literary giants. Instead, Joyce had developed a closer, individualistic perspective, refracting each feeling and action through the character’s mind, as if merging the readers with his consciousness, whether they like it or not.