Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It was on this day in 1916 that James Joyce published his first novel: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce had tried to write the same story in several forms before. In 1904, he wrote an autobiographical essay, but it was rejected. When he got the rejection letter, he sat down at his kitchen table and sketched out a plan to expand the essay into a novel, and within a year, he had written 900 pages of a book about a character named Stephen Dedalus, entitled Stephen Hero.

Then he left Ireland, started teaching English for almost no money, and was trying to support his family. He found it harder and harder to finish his novel. So he decided to write short stories instead, and he wrote a collection called Dubliners. A publisher in London accepted it, but then the publisher asked him to clean up some of his language. He did that, but then the publisher wanted the subject matter changed, then an entire story removed, and finally Joyce refused.

So Joyce decided to return to his novel. But he didn’t like it anymore. He thought it was too conventional. So he started from scratch, and he re-titled it A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce had spent nearly 10 years trying to get his fiction published, and then, in 1913, he received two letters — one from a publisher who wanted to reconsider publishing Dubliners, and a second from Ezra Pound, who was looking for new fiction to publish in a magazine. Dubliners was published in 1914, and Pound published a serial version of A Portrait of the Artist. The complete novel came out on this day in 1916, with its famous first line: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”

The novel ends with Stephen Dedalus as a young man, vowing to leave Ireland and to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

From The Writer’s Almanac

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