Document Type


Date of Award



Joyce, James, Portrait of the artist as a young man

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Zack Bowen

Second Advisor

William B. Stein

Third Advisor

Robert Kroetsch


Ideally the task of liberating the reader of A Portrait from the boundaries within which traditional literary interpretation, and more specifically New Criticism, have confined him, should involve a detailed study of the history of Western metaphysics and aesthetics (the latter has rarely not been a branch of the former), a careful examination of the novelistic tradition (with due emphasis on the development of the bildungsroman), and a close consideration of the massive criticism which now surrounds and obscures the text. Such a mammoth task would be a breakthrough for the readers of Joyce, for all those interested in the novel as a genre, and, most importantly, for any one engaged in the study of Modernism--it would, indeed, be a necessary and desirable move in the direction of rewriting literary history. One small step in this direction might conceivably be taken by devoting attention to one of the central issues raised in A Portrait, namely the relationship between aesthetics and religion. Seen in the contexts of the Western onto-theological tradition, and of the climate of thought prevalent at the time of the novel's appearance, this issue may be a pointer that leads to a better understanding of Modernist aesthetics, and to a recovery of the challenging newness of Joyce's text. The ramifications of such an approach are far flung, and it is important that they be made explicit, in order to shed some light on Modernism and its various manifestations. It is equally important to show that the frequent connection of aesthetics and religion or spirituality in Modernist writing betrays a transcendental urge which owes its origins to the metaphysical tradition that has formed the core of Western thought since the days of Plato and Aristotle. Stephen Dedalus represents the culmination of this tradition, while Joyce's critique of Stephen constitutes a serious challenge to it. In his first novel Joyce lays bare the grounds upon which Modernist aesthetics are founded.