James Joyce: A Classic Review

Harry Levin in The Atlantic Monthly:

[Ed. note: This review — which first ran in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly, December, 1946 — covers three books, Ulysses; Finnegan’s Wake, andA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.]

Book Those who confuse a writer with his material find it all too easy to make a scapegoat out of Joyce. They make Proust responsible for the collapse of France because he prophesied it so acutely; and, because Joyce felt the contemporary need to create a conscience, they accuse him of lacking any sense of values. Of course it is he who should be accusing them. His work, though far from didactic, is full of moral implications; his example of aesthetic idealism, set by abnegation and artistry is a standing rebuke to facility and venality, callousness and obtuseness. Less peculiarly Joycean, and therefore even more usable in the long run, is his masterly control of social realism, which ingeniously springs the varied traps of Dublin and patiently suffers rebuffs with Mr. Bloom. The heroine of Stephen Hero, who has almost disappeared from the Portrait, says farewell after “an instant of all but union.” By dwelling upon that interrupted nuance, that unconsummated moment, that unrealized possibility, Joyce renews our apprehension of reality, strengthens our sympathy with our fellow creatures, and leaves us in awe before the mystery of created things.

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