Why do so many readers of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses find Stephen Dedalus unlikable? Michael Chabon thinks him a pill, a hard to take bolus. Bloom is more to his liking now.
Reading it at twenty, I had identified with Stephen Dedalus, a grave mistake. Stephen Dedalus is a pill. Doubtless I was kind of a pill myself at twenty, but that didn’t make Stephen any more appealing even then.
His reading of Bloom is a common sentimental one which does not correspond to the archetype of the violent expulsion of the suitors. The malleable (Mollyable) assent of Molly hardly counts as affirmation.
. Where a bachelor had seen Bloom’s devotion to Molly as pathetic, a husband saw it as noble and, at the same time, as simply her due.
Leaving Bloom aside and focusing on Stephen D. for the moment I see in Joyce’s writing an element of the Ignatian exercises which as a good Jesuit boy he would be familiar with. Visualisation is an important aspect of this spiritual discipline. But why would an unbeliever adopt the M.O. of a medieval priest?
—It is a curious thing, do you know, Cranly said dispassionately, how your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve. Did you believe in it when you were at school? I bet you did.
Whether he did or not his teachers are saturated in the synaesthesic method with yearly month long retreats. This has formed their minds and this mind they transmit in a perfectly conscious way. Joyce was aware of this so there was no indoctrination in his case. He adopted it in the ‘Portrait’. Consider the First Day of the Third Week:
The first prelude is taken from the his tory: how Christ sent from Bethania to Jerusalem the two Disciples to prepare the Supper, whither Himself also, with the others, afterwards went; and there, after the eating of the Paschal Lamb, and supper finished, He washed all their feet, and gave them His most sacred Body and Blood. Lastly, He preached to them after the departure of Judas, who was about to sell Him.
The second, from the composition of the place, by considering the said way as rough or smooth, short or long, with the other circumstances which might belong to it ; then viewing the place of the Sup per as wide or narrow, plain or adorned, and the like........
The first point will be, to see them that are at supper, and draw something to my profit.
The second, to hear the same, what they are saying, arid thence gather fruit.
The third, to attend to what they are doing, and profit by everything.
Gentle reader for your edification I have abstracted from the ‘composition’ of hell elements which are replicated in the famous sermon of Chapter 3:
The first prelude is here the forming of the place; which is
to set before the eyes of the imagination the length, breadth, and depth of hell.
The second consists in asking for an intimate perception of the punishments which the damned undergo ; that, if at any time I should be forgetful of the love of God, at least the fear of punishment may re strain me from sins.
The first point is, to see by the imagination the vast fires of hell, and the souls inclosed in certain fiery bodies, as it were in dungeons.*
The second, to hear in imagination the lamentations, the howlings, the exclamations, and the blasphemies against Christ and His saints, thence breaking forth.
The third, to perceive by the smell also of the imagination, the smoke, the brim stone, and the stench of a kind of sink or filth, and of putrefaction.
The fourth, to taste in like manner those most bitter things, as the tears, the rot tenness, and the worm of conscience.
The fifth, to touch in a manner those fires by the touch of which the souls themselves are burnt.
Elsewhere the template of the Spiritual Exercises is applied. There is the ‘examen’ (examination of conscience and consciousness), there is the self-abnegation. Dedalus feels himself humiliated and mocked, oppressed by bosthoons (ignorant churls). The girl that he is attracted to flirts with a priest:
And thus there arise three degrees of perfection ; namely, poverty, self-abasement, and humility; which are diametrically opposed to riches, honour, and pride, and introduce at once to all virtues.
He admires Davin’s rack of well made boots, and is tripped by his broken heel on a grating to the mocking of a ‘young wan’. Done, done, done.