Dan Sandman

19: A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce

In Autobiography, Books, Fiction on 10/05/2013 at 12:00 pm

A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce (hands)

It was a fine Bank Holiday Monday at the start of May. Children were playing in Chalcot Square; one toddler was pushing his shrunken toy monster truck along, flattening the grass that shone brightly in the afternoon sunlight. Dr. Sandman requested that we move into the shade because his neck was burning. Mrs. Sandman tolled me that, before the 1960s, the square was privately owned by its residents until it was made public by the council. The three of us were having a picnic, surrounded by millionaire houses and local famous people, ordinarily eating sandwiches and crisps. Along the road, Primrose Hill was predictably full of tourists out for a glimpse of sun. The square was much nicer.

Sitting on a wooden bench, surrounded by picnic remains, a couple of things occurred to me. One hundred odd years ago, James Joyce wrote a brilliant story called A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man and here I am reading it. One hundred odd years ago, before the start of World War One (that British compass of time), somebody cleverly turned his life into art and got it bounded in a book. Here I am, with two of my loved ones on a sunny day, thinking about childhood, the Catholic religion, Ireland, and searching for meaning. Because of a book, written when my grandfathers were young men, I am thinking.

A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce

Thoughts are fleeting things, less predictable than tourists on Primrose Hill when it’s sunny: books focus thoughts. Thinking about passing a driving test, read a book; thinking about playing guitar, read a book; thinking about how the internet works, read a book. Read a book, near a child pushing a shrunken toy monster truck, flattening the grass that shines brightly in the afternoon sunlight, read a book. Through reading, learn more about the world. Maybe, at some point, write about what is learnt. Put in bits of experience; add a dose of artistic licence; chuck in some entertainment; structure and edit it so its nice to read: become an artist.

I think this is more or less what Joyce was doing. You know. Creating fiction using real experience to, as Ezra Pound put it, make it new.

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