SCHOOLDAYS

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When he came to write A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce relied heavily on autobiography: in outline and in many details, the novel follows his own life from birth up to the age of twenty. His family and acquaintances often appear recognizably, with only a change of name, while schools, streets, businesses, hotels, and public figures generally appear under their real names--an unusual practice at the time that Joyce also followed in his book of short stories, Dubliners, and that caused him endless trouble when he tried to publish the book. But as Richard Ellmann clearly established, there are important differences between James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus. The timing of Stephen's attendance at Clongowes is altered so that Parnell's death occurs earlier. Although Joyce briefly attended a Christian Brothers' school after Clongowes, Stephen does not. Stephen avoids sports of all sorts, whereas Joyce was quite proud of winning a schoolboy race. Joyce in youth was called "Sunny Jim" by his family because of his cheerful disposition, while Stephen is more or less withdrawn and sullen. Joyce's relationship with his father appeared friendly to others, while Stephen's is increasingly bitter and tense. At parties Stephen is aloof, while Joyce, who could indeed be distant in manner, was also known for his songs (he had a voice of professional quality), his impersonations, and his occasional manic, spidery dances.

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                        Belvedere College
His family fortunes continued to worsen, in part because Joyce's father had been a paid canvasser for Parnell. Joyce began attending the Jesuit Belvedere College in Dublin in 1893. The following year, in a nation-wide examination, he won one of the top prizes, or "exhibitions," worth twenty pounds. That year or the next, he began to patronize local prostitutes. Meanwhile, he was chosen Prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary at school, an honor meant to recognize both his academic achievements and his moral character, and one that might well indicate that the boy was thought to have a vocation for the priesthood. A retreat sermon delivered by a priest from Clongowes in 1896 had a strong effect on Joyce, who was struggling with sexual guilt and self-hatred at the time, but during the following several years his precocious reading of Byron and "dangerous" modern authors like Meredith, Hardy, Ibsen, and his countryman Yeats had an even more powerful cumulative effect. From these he began to acquire a critical attitude toward social institutions of bourgeois Ireland, including the Church itself, and from Yeats in particular he learned to see the world of art as an autonomous sphere removed from the pragmatic world of everyday experience, and to see the figure of the artist as part prophet, part priest, the potential savior of his race. By the time he entered the Royal University in Dublin, also known as "University College," he was permanently disaffected from Catholicism, much to the distress of his mother.

 

Joyce's University experience was crucial in forming his character and public image. University College had been founded by the famous convert John Henry Newman in 1854 to offer a liberal Catholic education alternative to the predominantly secular Trinity College, where the sons of the Protestant Ascendancy were educated. But Newman had failed to win independence from the bishops in making his appointments, and by 1898, when Joyce entered, the school, controlled by the Jesuits, offered a conservative and intellectually undemanding curriculum. Modern thought and modern art were condemned or ignored. When Joyce began to enthuse about the playwright Ibsen, who had been praised by the London intelligentsia for years, he gained a great deal of local notoriety as a dangerously radical thinker.        biob.h2.jpg (78843 bytes)
                                       University College

 

But if the instructors were relatively backward, the student body at University College were sensitive to the political and social turmoil of the time. Parnell's cause had not died with him, but after the apparent failure of parliamentary activism, more radical Nationalists came to the fore. A local branch of the Gaelic League, which encouraged the study of the Irish language and the playing of native Irish sports, was established by Joyce's friend George Clancy (Davin in Portrait). Somewhat less publicly, it organized military training for Nationalists who hoped for a popular insurrection (such as the one that indeed occurred in 1916); Davin in A Portrait is said to be practicing military drill. But from Joyce's perspective, the most significant movement of the time was probably what later became known as the Irish Literary Renaissance.


THE IRISH LITERARY RENAISSANCE

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This movement, which was responsible for a period of immense literary productivity, lasted from roughly 1890 into the 1920's. It was spearheaded by William Butler Yeats, perhaps the greatest poet writing in English. Yeats, seventeen years Joyce's senior, formed the notion of a national literature that would take its inspiration from Irish myth and folktale.
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            William Butler Yeats
Under the influence of his friend George Russell (who wrote under the mystic name "AE") he imbued his work with a strong element of spiritualism, while under the influence of the Fenian John O'Leary and of Maud Gonne, the woman he loved, he also linked it to nationalist aspirations. The political and aesthetic dimensions to his work did not always coexist easily, however. In 1899 Yeats helped found the Irish Literary Theatre, and presented there his play Countess Cathleen. Although his later play Kathleen Ni Houlihan was enormously successful with Nationalists, Countess Cathleen, relying on an aristocratic figure who sells her soul to the devil in exchange for food for her starving people, caused riots protesting "a libel on Irish womanhood."         wpe6.jpg (31339 bytes)
       Yeats' Countess Cathleen

In Portrait Stephen is portrayed as one of the few students at University College who refuse to sign a petition against the play, and in so doing he appears to choose art over politics. Later, he recites a verse from the play. These details are in fact autobiographical.

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             Lady Augusta Gregory
Joyce knew many of Yeats's poems by heart, and may have been drawn to specialize in prose because he feared he could not compete as a poet. By the time he left University College Joyce had met a number of figures in the Revival, including Yeats, George Russell, and Yeats's patron and collaborator Lady Augusta Gregory.  On the strength of a few essays and verses he had begun to make a name for himself. But despite his enthusiasm for Yeats's work, Joyce from the beginning had serious reservations about the direction of Yeats's movement. For one thing, all the major figures were of the Protestant landholding class, and Yeats especially had an almost feudal respect for the "great families" like Lady Gregory's who were his models of aristocracy.
The remainder of Yeats's sympathy lay with the unlettered peasantry, whom he saw as a repository of folk wisdom and mystic insight. Joyce, a member of the urban poor with a very different notion of aristocracy, had little patience with this aspect of the Revival. And while he disliked British imperialism as strongly as Yeats's generation of writers, he was reluctant to join a movement such as the Gaelic League, which he saw as bigoted, backward-looking, and Church-dominated. With his friend George Clancy he briefly took Irish lessons from Padraic Pearse, a poet who was later executed after the 1916 Insurrection, but objected to Pearse's disparagement of the English language. Also, like Stephen he feared to commit himself wholly to a political movement in search of martyrs.

 

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                        Padraic Pearse

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