A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Analysis: Steaminess Rating
Exactly how steamy is this story?
Though we don’t get a whole lot of detailed action in this book, sex is very present throughout. How could it not be? If you’re inside the mind of a hormonal, hyper-sensitive teenager, it’s only natural that you should have a whole lotta mental hanky-panky going on. The complicated thing about Stephen’s inner sex life is its clash with religion. Before his break with religion in Chapter Four, any hints of sexuality are accompanied by an underlying current of guilt and confusion. His earliest sexual fantasies are wrapped up in imaginary characters (Mercedes from The Count of Monte Cristo), real-life objects of adoration (Eileen and Emma), and religious imagery (the Virgin Mary).
The "R" rating comes from what actually happens outside of Stephen’s mind. We hear all about his bodily urges, and there are many not-so-obscure references to masturbation and generally impure thoughts. At the end of Chapter Two, he loses his virginity to a prostitute in Dublin’s seedy red-light district, which sends him into a brief stage of general lechery. Then, after a period of trying to avoid erotic thoughts, his artistic epiphany and break with Catholicism at the end of Chapter Four bring sexual desire back into the equation.
In short, we don’t ever get down and dirty – but we certainly have a good idea of what Stephen is up to through his guilty, horny adolescent years.