I have this volume containing DUBLINERS and PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN that I got at Barnes&Noble a few years back. I’ve adapted and adopted a couple of bits that “Stephen” wrote in one of his books at college.


  •  Swetergrl
  • “Class of Elements” – Woman
  • South Texas
  • United States of America
  • The World
  • The Universe

Swetergrl is my name,

America is my nation.

Border Plains my “dwellingplace”

And Avalon my “expectation”.

I’ve adapted these (badly) from PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN.

“Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes” METAMORPHOSES VIII, Ovid

  • “and he sets his mind to unknown arts”

Ireland has cultivated extraordinary writers over the past couple hundred years. What I think sets Irish writers apart (and this includes Irish playwrights) from other British writers is their manipulation of language. England is no slouch in the literature department, but there’s something special about the quality of Irish literature. Its prose often has a special fluidity of phrase, a musical quality, a poetic quality in its manipulation of imagery and phrasing. PoTAAAYM, at the beginning sounds like a bedtime story, a nursery rhyme, even.

I like stories that incorporate other forms of writing. PORTRAIT contains a lot of verse bits and songs, diary entries, even a letter to mum. Also, the language is ordinary, everyday English, but the incredible thing is how the different personalities of his writing flow together so seamlessly. Whoever the editor was, editing this work must have been hell, but wow! What a creation! I think I’ve figured out why Joyce used m-dashes for the dialogue – when you’re writing with stubby pencils or scratchy fountain pens, quotation marks must be a bitch to get right. It’s easier to just do this: — . Plus, it’s easier to follow down the page.

He went up to his room after dinner in order to be alone with his soul:…”

I love that line. I wish my students would give that a try. They literally do not know how to be alone with their thoughts.

And can I just say, Joyce leaves off commas in weird places. If my students ever see how he leaves off commas that should go after starter clauses in his sentences or hyphens left out of hyphenated adjectives, they are going to be quite vexed. Again, those itty bitty punctuation marks are probably left out because of some quirk of Joyce’s writing accoutrements or the cost of printing. Hey, in poverty-ridden, post-industrial revolution Ireland, if you can save a few bob on typesetting by leaving out a few dozen commas,…

I really liked the diary entries at the end of the story. They remind me of the last time I went to England. It was going to be my second trip. I was thrilled and nervous because it would be my first time abroad as an independent woman. My previous travels had been as a student :


Stephen was off to make his way in the world, and I, I was going on vakay. But I kept a diary in the month leading up to the trip and the trip itself. The diary was my stress reliever, my calculator, my day-runner, my book of lists. No detail was too small to make note of. Unfortunately, and because no detail was too small to make note of, and the fact that it’s full of emotional diarrhea, it’s completely tedious and virtually unreadable. I guess that’s why I’ll never be James Joyce — or even a patch on James Joyce.

A lot of readers don’t like Joyce. He was texting when texting wasn’t cool. If you’ve ever been to Texts From Last Night, you know what I mean. Any and every random thought is just thrown down. But therein lies the art of Joyce – it sounds like rambling, but it’s planned, designed rambling. It’s purposeful rambling.

So where am I heading with this? I like the story. For lots of reasons.

Did I mention this volume has an introduction? One of those long-ass, wankfest introductions. It sounds like a doctoral thesis. Really dry, academic cardboard prose. I got the impression even Don wasn’t enjoying it after a while. One of the more interesting bits was the section on a woman’s place in Irish society at the turn of the century. Interesting and depressing. Depressing. They had to wear a burka over their soul. Then he put in a history of Ireland! Oh hell Nah! That took some guts to create a potted history of an island practically as old as time.

I would have appreciated an appendix with translations of the Latin phrases.

I couldn’t let March pass without a nod to Joyce. He made it possible for writers to make their characters think and sound like real people and not propped-up marionettes.


Music in the Works of James Joyce


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