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Celebrating the Sacred in Ordinary Life

James Joyce and the Renaissance Magus


Tom Absher

This book is an introductory examination of the Hermetic tradition in the Renaissance and how James Joyce made use of certain of its salient features in his four works of fiction: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. This book makes a useful contribution to literary studies of Joyce’s work as well as introductory cultural studies of the Hermetic tradition, its philosophy and important figures, like Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno.

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Chapter 5. Portrait




Joyce’s four fictional works are linked together in interesting ways. Dubliners leaves us with its devastating portrayal of paralysis, spiritual and emotional stasis as a way of life in Dublin, and in Portrait, the next work in the sequence, that culture of emptiness is everywhere present in Stephen Dedalus’ life. It seems as if Portrait is about one Dubliner who is determined not to end up in Dubliners, who is taking the profound, painful, and risky steps to leave Dublin so he can reinvent himself as an artist. His story is linked in another way with the short-story collection that ends with “The Dead” and Gabriel Conroy’s very small, very tentative steps to go on his soul journey to possibly restart, reawaken his life. Joyce has no illusions about this journey, which Gabriel considers and Stephen makes concrete plans for, because neither book shows the journey anything like completed. Gabriel has had his epiphany and contemplates acting on it but we don’t see what happens next.

Stephen makes more progress, but in Ulysses, the next work in the chronology, we learn that Stephen has come home from Paris for his mother’s final days and has made little or no progress in his personal and vocational transformations. Back in Dublin he found work teaching in a small school for boys which he is resigning from, but at the end of the day on which Ulysses takes place, it is not at all clear...

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