Art and Torment James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“A brief anger had often invested him but he had never been able to make it an abiding passion and had always felt himself passing out of it as if his very body were being divested with ease of some outer skin or peel. He had felt a subtle, dark and murmurous presence penetrate his being and fire him with a brief iniquitous lust: it too had slipped beyond his grasp leaving his mind lucid and indifferent. This, it seemed, was the only love and that the only hate his soul would harbor” (Joyce 126)

The vivid language and style paints the bitter internal struggle between Steven’s desires and his strict piety. Desire is portrayed as an ominous presence that always seems to get past his piety which makes Steven intensely ashamed for. He tries to fight desire but it is useless—his soul allows it to enter and leave which he remains bitter over. To him, his desire and passion and lust are seen as sinful yet his heart allows it which only makes him more resentful towards it even though it is implied that he secretly wishes for it (for him to let passion take over.)

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford,2000, page 126.

Henry James, “The Middle Years” Commonplace Book Entry: Losing and Holding On

“He was lost, he was lost– he was lost if he couldn’t be saved. He was not afraid of suffering, of death; he was not even in love with life; but he had had a deep demonstration of desire. It came over him in the long, quiet hours that only with ‘The Middle Years’ had he taken his flight; only on that day, visited by soundless processions, had he recognised his kingdom.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, 335-55. New York: The Library of America, 1996. pp. 345-46.

Dencombe is drowning in his many, palpable losses. His health, his memory, his identity as a writer, and his time to fully realize his potential as a writer are all slipping through his fingers. But the futile fight to keep these things from slipping into loss is not only frustrating– it’s fear-inducing. Has he actually, finally, found his “kingdom,” or is he fearfully grasping for any purpose to hang onto the life he is already losing?