Sometimes we see it,
history in the making.
Did you look – closely?
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
*If you would like a personal astrology report, please contact me at: email@example.com for further details.
Of course, much has been written about this novel since it was first published in 1916. To call ‘A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man’ (Penguin – this publication) a landmark, would be grossly understating its impact.
So I’m not attempting to go into great depth, all that has already been done. I merely want to convey my own recollections of first reading it, way back in school.
For me, it was this book and D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ that first truly opened my eyes to what we sometimes call serious literature. Both of them are, in their own way, semi-autobiographies and broke the mould of novel writing.
Naturally though, Lawrence and Joyce wrote in very different ways. I think Joyce wrote more intuitively, in a way which conjured up for me a wholly different milieu of imagery. He is a natural narrator, a story teller like many of his countrymen.
For example, when he describes Stephen Dedalus’ childhood, I get drawn into that world through the use of evocative child-like language; I become that child. I can remember endless classroom discussions about this part of the book.
And the world of Dublin in the late 19th century, was a very different world from that of the industrial Nottingham area, where Lawrence sets his book.
Although Joyce was to reject almost everything about his upbringing, his beliefs, his writing is nevertheless suffused with that imagery, bringing it alive, like new music as some describe.
So what are we to make of the criticism of those who first rejected his manuscript? The book is, when compared to more classic literature, without doubt somewhat formless and unconventional.
Yet, those of an artistic nature tend to be like this, especially over the last hundred years or so. I think Joyce, whose approach was understood and encouraged by none other than Ezra Pound, was simply bold enough to open up the taps of his creativity. The artist himself almost becomes like God, a creator in his own right, a bit like the Daedalus of legend, who built wings for himself and his son so that they could fly.
Joyce’s upbringing within the strict bounds of Catholicism, his training for the priesthood, was in retrospect the perfect grounding for such free artistry, once it was released from its captivity.
Ironically, Joyce’s world never seems to lose the colour of his Catholic upbringing, even though he ultimately rejected it. With Lawrence, the harsh, English Protestant world, seems altogether more grim, enlightened by the writer’s love of nature.
Joyce’s innate creativity, held back for so long, could only emerge later like a succession of Michelangelo masterpieces, hewn by the craft and intelligence of a native genius.
Unlike his other classics, Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses, I have successfully completed reading his first great novel.
Even so, one day I intend to finish the former two, although I suspect I will read ‘Portrait’ again before I do that.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
Look, I don’t think I’m weird about this. I really don’t. I think lots of you sniff your books. And probably other people’s too. The way books smell matters. The cheap hard white academic institutional paper of tenure books and reheated dissertations has a smell that tells you from the beginning that you will learn a […]
‘A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium’. By William Dalrymple.
I can’t tell how inspirational I found this book when I first read it.
At the time, around 1997, I was virtually reading nothing new beyond a few books on astrology or Buddhism, two subjects I was heavily into at the time.
Then one chance visit to a bookshop and this title seemed to shout out from the shelves, saying ‘Read Me!’ The cover and illustrations are simply stunning, produced by Dalrymple’s wife, Olivia Fraser. They fit hand in glove with the content in a way which leads you in with all the colourful and sensual allure of a Bazaar… but that would perhaps be an ironic observation, in that this book is a travelogue revealing the long slow demise of Orthodox Christianity in the Middle East.
Essentially the book is based on the journey of a Byzantine monk and historian, John Moschos, in 578 AD along the Silk Route which the author retraces, only to find that much of that culturally rich and colourful Christian soaked world has now gone and in further more rapid decline.
Humour and Grief
There are strong elements of humour, similar to Dalrymple’s earlier work ‘In Xandadu’ (which still leaves me in stitches when I re-read it), but ‘Holy Mountain’ is a much more serious, haunting book, leaving you practically grieving for the lost world of Byzantium, the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East.
From the first sentence, where the author describes in plain yet evocative prose the cell in which he is staying at the start of his journey from Mount Athos in Greece, you are led into another world, not only the rather fraught one of today within the author’s mind, but also this lost, remoter world, which somehow seems much more wholesome and meaningful than our own despite all the technology which allows me to write this.
Similarly his all-round historical knowledge of Byzantine and Islamic culture, plus his understanding of architectural detail are stunning, yet written succinctly in such a way as to not put you off with complication. It is a great gift.
In places he finds these vestiges of Orthodox Christianity, monasteries and churches barely holding on, plus apocalyptically minded priests, and his description of the characters he meets fills you with both hope and resignation too, a feeling that his generation might be the last to witness such places and people.
By the end, the author seems like a forlorn character, reminding me of Paul Morel in DH Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’, as he walks away after his mother had died. The sense of loss and hopelessness are overbearing at times.
In doing this review I have realised I must re-read this wonderful book once again. It was first published in the mid 1990s; I wonder how much of the world he describes is still there 22 years on?
So I can’t recommend this book enough, it brought back my love of reading.
I stood alone
like it was the end of our world, an
eerie glowing sky reflecting my heart, with
the solstice on its way. You
turned to look at me, that smile
I knew so well, your gracious nod
I’d never seen in real life. My hand
went through you – you were not
there anymore, just an echo like the
sonorous bells over pantiles, made
uniform by the morning rime. You said
I looked ‘frit!’ in the dialect
brought across to your city,
the voice of your
distinction. ‘Your life is not
your own,’ you said, ‘even the sun
never stands still, only seems to.’
So you told me not to worry, not
even care, to let it all go
now, that it’s better to die trying
than do nothing,
a short life
with meaning and all its
tortuous crosses borne, can become
a pilot light of inspiration. You
walked towards the sea, smiling
once more and unafraid, before vanishing
out of time into the
low glinting sun, a promise
of far off warmth
and the revelation to come
image and poem © copyright Dave Barker 2012