They really wrote that?! Belated St. Patty's Day Edition

Published by Wexter in the blog Wexter's blog. Views: 139

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

The eternally-wandering protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, has arrived in the part of Dublin where "women and girls dressed in long vivid gowns traversed the street from house to house." Without a clue as to how he should feel or act, Stephen remains in the middle of the street until approached by a lady of the night:

Her room was warm and lightsome. A huge doll sat with her legs apart in the copious easy-chair beside the bed. He tried to bid his tongue speak that he might seem at ease, watching her as she undid her gown, noting the proud conscious movements of her perfumed head.

Even the doll's awaiting entry. Very subtle writing there, Jimmy. Though I can't help wondering whether or not the doll also charges by the hour.


The character of Stephen Dedalus spends the entire novel in search of that unknown transcendental experience that will finally give his life meaning. Has he found it?

As he stood silent in the middle of the room she came over to him and embraced him gaily and gravely. Her round arms held him firmly to her and he, seeing her face lifted to him in serious calm and feeling the warm calm rise and fall of her breast, all but burst into hysterical weeping. Tears of joy and relief shone in his delighted eyes and his lips parted though they would not speak.

She passed her tinkling hand through his hair, calling him a little rascal.

—Give me a kiss, she said.


The epithet of "little rascal", given to us in the form of indirect speech, tells us that the two will remain in anonymity and will exchange nothing else but fluids.

His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.

With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.


At this point the chapter closes. Stephen has remained frozen only to awaken with a kiss in a vein similar to "Snow White" or "Sleeping Beauty". He surrenders to her, though his entire experience is remembered mostly for the kiss and for nothing much else. It may be implied--if even to go as far as that-- that the two had coitus, but there is no real indication. All we get is his experience and his innermost feelings, and that is mostly from the repetition of the word "pressure" when describing the application of the prostitute's lips to his.

There will be more to come on James Joyce, but that will have to wait for a very special day in June.

Stay tuned.

Excerpts of the novel taken from Project Gutenberg
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