It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. He tried to think what a big thought that must be; but he could only think of God. God was God's name just as his name was Stephen. Dieu was the French for God and that was God's name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. But, though there were different names for God in all the different languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages, still God remained always the same God and God's real name was God. (1.2.40)
Stephen understands that God exists and has a name, but he doesn’t quite understand what God’s purpose is or how He works. Not that any of us really understand that – after all, the point of organized religion is to explain these things – but Stephen is still grappling with the most basic concept of divinity.
There was a cold night smell in the chapel. But it was a holy smell. It was not like the smell of the old peasants who knelt at the back of the chapel at Sunday mass. That was a smell of air and rain and turf and corduroy. But they were very holy peasants. They breathed behind him on his neck and sighed as they prayed. (1.2.45)
Holiness, to Stephen, is tied up in sensory experience. Because he associates a certain smell with the physical space of the church, that smell becomes holy. Furthermore, the peasants’ presence in the church makes them holy, as well, even though we’re pretty sure that they’re just your average Irish peasants.
– No God for Ireland! [Mr. Casey] cried. We have had too much God In Ireland. Away with God! (1.3.66)
Mr. Casey blames God (and his Church) for the failure of Irish nationalism. His anger is connected to the downfall of Parnell because of his affair with Kitty O’Shea, which was condemned by the Church.
– We go to the house of God, Mr Casey said, in all humility to pray to our Maker and not to hear election addresses.
– It is religion, Dante said again. They are right. They must direct their flocks.
– And preach politics from the altar, is it? asked Mr Dedalus.
– Certainly, said Dante. It is a question of public morality. A priest would not be a priest if he did not tell his flock what is right and what is wrong. (1.3.25)
Conflicting views on the role of the Church arise here. Mr. Casey and Mr. Dedalus don’t believe that the Church should use its influence on politics, but Dante claims that it’s the duty of the priests to direct their congregations. This sets the stage for Stephen’s own struggles with religion.
On the way home uncle Charles would often pay a visit to the chapel and, as the font was above Stephen's reach, the old man would dip his hand and then sprinkle the water briskly about Stephen's clothes and on the floor of the porch. While he prayed he knelt on his red handkerchief and read above his breath from a thumb blackened prayer book wherein catchwords were printed at the foot of every page. Stephen knelt at his side respecting, though he did not share, his piety. He often wondered what his grand-uncle prayed for so seriously. Perhaps he prayed for the souls in purgatory or for the grace of a happy death or perhaps he prayed that God might send him back a part of the big fortune he had squandered in Cork. (2.1.5)
We get the feeling that Stephen doesn’t have a need for religion yet. As a child, he can only understand what adults might pray for from a theoretical perspective.
On Sunday mornings as he passed the church door he glanced coldly at the worshippers who stood bareheaded, four deep, outside the church, morally present at the mass which they could neither see nor hear. Their dull piety and the sickly smell of the cheap hair-oil with which they had anointed their heads repelled him from the altar they prayed at. (3.1.6)
At his point, Stephen is wholly dominated by his senses. He perceives the "dull piety" and the "cheap hair-oil" with the same physical disgust.
His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word, and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven; and at times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower. (4.1.4)
This passage highlights the mechanical nature of religious practice, unbeknownst to Stephen. Thanks to Joyce’s use of Free Indirect Discourse (see "Style" in our analysis section), we are allowed to see the ridiculousness of the image of the cash register, even though to Stephen, it is deadly serious.
– Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant?
– I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent? (5.3.100)
Stephen still values Catholicism over other religious systems; he recognizes it as "an absurdity" but still holds it above Protestantism. At least Catholicism is a "logical" absurdity. This whole distinction seems a little absurd.
He knelt before the altar with his classmates, holding the altar cloth with them over a living rail of hands. His hands were trembling and his soul trembled as he heard the priest pass with the ciborium from communicant to communicant.
Corpus Domini nostri
Could it be? He knelt there sinless and timid; and he would hold upon his tongue the host and God would enter his purified body.
In vitam eternam. Amen
Another life! A life of grace and virtue and happiness! It was true. It was not a dream from which he would wake. The past was past.
Corpus Domini nostri.
The ciborium had come to him.
This is a deeply powerful depiction of the concept of "transubstantiation" – that is, the idea that the Communion wafer isn’t just a metaphor for the body of Christ, but it really is in essence the body of Christ. At this moment, Stephen believes that this sacrament will save him from his past life. Look for a related scene in Chapter Five where Stephen draws again upon transubstantiation, this time as a metaphor for art (5.2.16; see "Spirituality").
How beautiful and sad that was! How beautiful the words were where they said Bury me in the old churchyard! A tremor passed over his body. How sad and how beautiful! He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music. The bell! The bell! Farewell! O farewell! (1.2.82)
Stephen has strong emotional reactions to the aesthetic qualities of language, and though he can’t explain it, this "beautiful and sad" line acts powerfully upon him. The repetition of "beautiful and sad," "sad and beautiful" shows us that he just doesn’t have the vocabulary to express his complex response to this moment.
Suck was a queer word. The fellow called Simon Moonan that name because Simon Moonan used to tie the prefect's false sleeves behind his back and the prefect used to let on to be angry. But the sound was ugly. Once he had washed his hands in the lavatory of the Wicklow Hotel and his father pulled the stopper up by the chain after and the dirty water went down through the hole in the basin. And when it had all gone down slowly the hole in the basin had made a sound like that: suck. Only louder. (1.1.16)
Throughout the book, Stephen is arrested by certain words; he is unusually hung up on understanding the true meanings of words. Language, to him, possesses a certain quality of foreignness or mystery.
The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:
– O, Stephen will apologise.
– O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes. –
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
Stephen is a poet, and at this point, he doesn’t even know it. As a small child, he already demonstrates a keen ear and a fascination with language that reveals his artistic sensitivity from an early age.
Eileen had long white hands. One evening when playing tig she had put her hands over his eyes: long and white and thin and cold and soft. That was ivory: a cold white thing. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory. (1.3.46)
Stephen doesn’t fully understand the religious imagery of "Tower of Ivory" (a symbol for the Virgin Mary), so he appropriates the language to describe the hands of his friend, Eileen.
…the cry that he had strangled for so long in his throat issued from his lips. It broke from him like a wail of despair from a hell of sufferers and died in a wail of furious entreaty, a cry for an iniquitous abandonment, a cry which was but the echo of an obscene scrawl which he had read on the oozing wall of a urinal. (2.5.10)
For once we see Stephen’s mind overtaken by his body – the cry he utters is a shocking moment of brute expression.
It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour. (2.5.17)
This quote really could have gone under several different sections, but what we’d like to highlight is the sapping of Stephen’s linguistic powers – when he "surrenders himself" to the prostitute, her kiss effectively blots out his mind, and the best communication we can hope for is "vague speech."
The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey-fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many-coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose? (4.3.3)
Stephen returns to his appreciation of the physical world after he decides not to become a priest. As a result, Joyce rewards us with this rich explanation of why Stephen loves language so much. An interesting biographical note – Joyce himself was extremely shortsighted (he eventually went almost completely blind), so this is a personal explanation of the author’s love of language.
A feverish quickening of his pulses followed, and a din of meaningless words drove his reasoned thoughts hither and thither confusedly. (4.2.18)
Again, we see Stephen without any power of expression in a time of distress. Unlike the previous two instances, this "din of meaningless words" has nothing to do with physical lust. Rather, it’s an indignant response of that simply scatters his thoughts for a moment, rather than oppressing them.
His own consciousness of language was ebbing from his brain and trickling into the very words themselves which set to band and disband themselves in wayward rhythms:
The ivy whines upon the wall,
And whines and twines upon the wall,
The yellow ivy upon the wall,
Ivy, ivy up the wall.
Did anyone ever hear such drivel? Lord Almighty! Who ever heard of ivy whining on a wall? Yellow ivy; that was all right. Yellow ivory also. And what about ivory ivy? (5.1.15)
You know when you look at a word for so long that it ceases to have any meaning? That’s what we thought of when we read this passage. Language, which is so important to Stephen, starts to frustrate him when it loses significance. The topic of controlling (or not controlling) language that we saw earlier also makes an appearance here.
– The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.
Stephen realizes that English will always be the language of the oppressor in Ireland; the Irish people neither created nor accepted it. The problem, then, is what language to speak at all – we later learn that Stephen dropped out of Irish language class.
He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
The Universe (1.2.38)
A slightly older Stephen attempts to identify his place in the world by his geographic position. We will see him repeat this grounding strategy in Chapter Two.
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…
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt. (1.1.1-3)
Stephen can only identify himself through his father’s words. This is Joyce’s attempt to mimic the disorganized interior voice of a child who can’t necessarily locate himself in society yet.
– I am Stephen Dedalus. I am walking beside my father whose name is Simon Dedalus. We are in Cork, in Ireland. Cork is a city. Our room is in the Victoria Hotel. Victoria and Stephen and Simon. Simon and Stephen and Victoria. Names. (2.4.16)
As in the list written on the flyleaf of his geography book, Stephen tries to ground himself via his geographic location; this time after the nightmarish realization of his sinfulness. However, like the last time, simply knowing names is not enough – without comprehension or significance, names mean nothing.
– No, said Heron, Dedalus is a model youth. He doesn't smoke and he doesn't go to bazaars and he doesn't flirt and he doesn't damn anything or damn all. (2.3.11)
We’re finally allowed a glimpse of how Stephen appears to the outside world. The disjuncture between the "model" outside and his sensitive, discontented interior is jarring, but not exactly surprising – we can’t imagine Stephen going around blabbing about his personal life.
he had heard about him the constant voices of his father and of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good catholic above all things […] When the gymnasium had been opened he had heard another voice urging him to be strong and manly and healthy and when the movement towards national revival had begun to be felt in the college yet another voice had bidden him be true to his country and help to raise up her language and tradition. In the profane world […] a worldly voice would bid him raise up his father's fallen state by his labours and, meanwhile, the voice of his school comrades urged him to be a decent fellow, to shield others from blame or to beg them off and to do his best to get free days for the school. (2.3.42)
Stephen’s response to all of these voices is that he prefers his own company, and he tries to ignore these nagging requests that sound so "hollow" and meaningless to him. However, at this point, Stephen still doesn’t know what he should pursue, and what his true identity is.
Could it be that he, Stephen Dedalus, had done those things? His conscience sighed in answer. Yes, he had done them, secretly, filthily, time after time, and, hardened in sinful impenitence, he had dared to wear the mask of holiness before the tabernacle itself while his soul within was a living mass of corruption. How came it that God had not struck him dead? The leprous company of his sins closed about him, breathing upon him, bending over him from all sides. (3.2.67)
Stephen feels as though he can’t identify with his sinful self. His identity throughout this section has been interestingly fractured, as though the sinning nighttime Stephen was a different being from his conscientious daytime Stephen – now, however, he is forced to admit that they are one and the same.
How often had he seen himself as a priest wielding calmly and humbly the awful power of which angels and saints stood in reverence! His soul had loved to muse in secret on this desire. He had seen himself, a young and silent-mannered priest, entering a confessional swiftly, ascending the altarsteps, incensing, genuflecting, accomplishing the vague acts of the priesthood which pleased him by reason of their semblance of reality and of their distance from it. In that dim life which he had lived through in his musings he had assumed the voices and gestures which he had noted with various priests. (4.2.15)
Stephen toys with the idea of being a priest the same way a little boy might fantasize about being Batman – he imagines himself in the costume and creates situations in which he might act. We know very well, however, that this fairy tale doesn’t have anything to do with the reality of the choice Stephen faces here.
He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world. (4.2.22)
Stephen, en route to his epiphany, reaffirms his otherness. The use of the word "destined" emphasizes the idea that Stephen feels that he is meant for greatness – how much of this attitude are we supposed to take at face value, and how much is Joyce’s irony?
Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawk-like man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being? (4.3.16)
The invocation of Daedalus signals a change in Stephen’s life. The imagery he uses underscores again the fact that he is destined for a different life. Here, the implication is that the name "Dedalus" has marked Stephen from the beginning – but then why isn’t the rest of his family also marked for something different? Does he think his family exists just to produce him?
I can't understand you, said Davin. One time I hear you talk against English literature. Now you talk against the Irish informers. What with your name and your ideas - Are you Irish at all? (5.1.110)
Stephen himself is grappling with this question. He feels the weight of English oppression but can’t connect to the Irish nationalist cause – the reality of his Irishness is impossible to avoid, but confusing nonetheless.
– Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning. (5.3.112)
Here, finally, Stephen demonstrates a clear and precise understanding of who he is at that exact moment. He is defined by his artistic goals and by his idealistic ambition to be true to his beliefs. However, do we, like Cranly, think he’s being too coldly idealistic?
It was nice and warm to see the lights in the castle. It was like something in a book. Perhaps Leicester Abbey was like that. And there were nice sentences in Doctor Cornwell's Spelling Book. They were like poetry but they were only sentences to learn the spelling from.
Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey
Where the abbots buried him.
Canker is a disease of plants,
Cancer one of animals.
It would be nice to lie on the hearthrug before the fire, leaning his head upon his hands, and think on those sentences. (1.2.11)
Here, we witness Stephen’s first moment of proto-poetic creation. Unbeknownst to him, he actually crafts what we fancypants writer types would call a "found poem," in which the writer re-shapes a prose text into a poetry. Even though Stephen doesn’t yet possess the vocabulary of literature (he can describe things as "nice" at best), he already has a vague sense of what poetry is.
Stephen Dedalus is my name
Ireland is my nation.
Clongowes is my dwellingplace
And heaven my expectation.
He read the verses backwards but then they were not poetry. (1.2.39)
Stephen is beginning to understand what makes poetry: rhyme and rhythm.
What are you laughing at? asked Stephen.
You, said Heron. Byron the greatest poet! He's only a poet for uneducated people.
He must be a fine poet! said Boland.
You may keep your mouth shut, said Stephen, turning on him boldly. All you know about poetry is what you wrote up on the slates in the yard and were going to be sent to the loft for. (2.3.32)
Nash pinioned his arms behind while Boland seized a long cabbage stump which was lying in the gutter. Struggling and kicking under the cuts of the cane and the blows of the knotty stump Stephen was borne back against a barbed wire fence.
Admit that Byron was no good.
At last after a fury of plunges he wrenched himself free. His tormentors set off towards Jones's Road, laughing and jeering at him, while he, half blinded with tears, stumbled on, clenching his fists madly and sobbing. (2.3.36)
This is a very notable moment – it’s the first time we see Stephen stand up for himself, despite the threat (and eventual reality) of physical violence. Of course, the reason for his rebellion is poetry.
…by dint of brooding on the incident, he thought himself into confidence. During this process all those elements which he deemed common and insignificant fell out of the scene. There remained no trace of the tram itself nor of the tram-men nor of the horses: nor did he and she appear vividly. The verses told only of the night and the balmy breeze and the maiden lustre of the moon. Some undefined sorrow was hidden in the hearts of the protagonists as they stood in silence beneath the leafless trees and when the moment of farewell had come the kiss, which had been withheld by one, was given by both. (2.2.23)
For the first time, we witness Stephen writing his own poetry. The poem he comes up with doesn’t sound like a work of genius, but we excuse him for that – after all, it’s only the second real poem he’s ever composed. It’s romantic and derivative of his reading (Byron and the good ol’ Count of Monte Cristo), but it’s remarkable to see the young man finally start to become the artist.
The pages of his time-worn Horace never felt cold to the touch even when his own fingers were cold; they were human pages […] even for so poor a Latinist as he, the dusky verses were as fragrant as though they had lain all those years in myrtle and lavender and vervain… (5.1.18)
This reference to Horace embodies the passion that Stephen feels for great literature. Even ancient works still have human life and warmth, despite their age, proving that art is eternal.
The rain-laden trees of the avenue evoked in him, as always, memories of the girls and women in the plays of Gerhart Hauptmann […] he foreknew that as he passed the sloblands of Fairview he would think of the cloistral silver-veined prose of Newman; that as he walked along the North Strand Road, glancing idly at the windows of the provision shops, he would recall the dark humour of Guido Cavalcanti and smile; that as he went by Baird's stonecutting works in Talbot Place the spirit of Ibsen would blow through him like a keen wind, a spirit of wayward boyish beauty; and that passing a grimy marine dealer's shop beyond the Liffey he would repeat the song by Ben Jonson… (5.1.10)
Amidst the squalor of Stephen’s home and his city, he takes refuge in the literature he loves. This reminds us of his thoughts in the first chapter, when he took his mind off the unpleasantness of Clongowes by focusing on the words he enjoys in his textbooks.
Smoke went up from the whole earth, from the vapoury oceans, smoke of her praise. The earth was like a swinging swaying censer, a ball of incense, an ellipsoidal fall. The rhythm died out at once; the cry of his heart was broken. His lips began to murmur the first verses over and over; then went on stumbling through half verses, stammering and baffled; then stopped. The heart's cry was broken. (5.2.6)
The "heart’s cry" of inspiration urges Stephen to write. In this moment of poetic creation, we see Stephen struggling through the transition from idea to verse; Joyce describes a process familiar to any would-be writer.
The simplest epical form is seen emerging out of lyrical literature when the artist prolongs and broods upon himself as the centre of an epical event and this form progresses till the centre of emotional gravity is equidistant from the artist himself and from others. The narrative is no longer purely personal. The personality of the artist passes into the narration itself, flowing round and round the persons and the action like a vital sea. This progress you will see easily in that old English ballad Turpin Hero which begins in the first person and ends in the third person. (5.1.150)
This is Joyce’s clever reference to Portrait of the Artist itself, which moves from the third person to the first person. Incidentally, the original title of Joyce’s coming-of-age story was Stephen Hero, which makes this comparison all the more evident.
Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race […] Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead. (5.5.35)
Stephen rejoices at the thought of the world waiting for him, but he asserts his Irish identity even as he plans to leave the country. In doing so, he declares the true mission of his art: to understand and create the essence of one’s people. This is a lofty goal, and perhaps an arrogant one – after all, he doesn’t just say he will express the soul of the Irish people, he claims that he will "forge" it, which implies that Ireland’s conscience is still undefined. In his final line, Stephen calls upon Daedalus, his "old father." With country, family, and religion all left behind, his only allegiance now is to his art. He asks for the master craftsman’s protection in the struggles yet to come.
Wells had said that they had drunk some of the altar wine out of the press in the sacristy and that it had been found out who had done it by the smell. […] That must have been a terrible sin, to go in there quietly at night, to open the dark press and steal the flashing gold thing into which God was put on the altar in the middle of flowers and candles at benediction while the incense went up in clouds at both sides as the fellow swung the censer and Dominic Kelly sang the first part by himself in the choir. But God was not in it of course when they stole it. But still it was a strange and a great sin even to touch it. He thought of it with deep awe; a terrible and strange sin: it thrilled him to think of it in the silence when the pens scraped lightly. But to drink the altar wine out of the press and be found out by the smell was a sin too: but it was not terrible and strange. (1.4.34)
Now Stephen’s thoughts get more complicated; he understands that some sins are worse than others, but he can’t come up with precise reasons why this should be so.
The fellows all were silent. Stephen stood among them, afraid to speak, listening. A faint sickness of awe made him feel weak. How could they have done that? He thought of the dark silent sacristy. There were dark wooden presses there where the crimped surplices lay quietly folded. It was not the chapel but still you had to speak under your breath. It was a holy place. (1.4.8)
Stephen and the other boys are discussing a mysterious crime some older students committed. After Wells suggests that they stole the altar wine and drank it, Stephen is horrified. This is his first encounter with sin, and it is inconceivable to him.
Was that a sin for Father Arnall to be in a wax or was he allowed to get into a wax when the boys were idle because that made them study better or was he only letting on to be in a wax? It was because he was allowed, because a priest would know what a sin was and would not do it. But if he did it one time by mistake what would he do to go to confession? Perhaps he would go to confession to the minister. And if the minister did it he would go to the rector: and the rector to the provincial: and the provincial to the general of the Jesuits. (1.4.38)
This is an interesting and provocative thought for someone of any age: what do priests do when they sin? Who do they confess to? And ultimately, who decides what is a sin and what is not?
He turned to appease the fierce longings of his heart before which everything else was idle and alien. He cared little that he was in mortal sin, that his life had grown to be a tissue of subterfuge and falsehood. Beside the savage desire within him to realize the enormities which he brooded on nothing was sacred. (2.5.8)
Stephen gives into his physical desires and impure thoughts – the guilt we saw earlier is absent here. What has changed inside him?
The letters cut in the stained wood of the desk stared upon him, mocking his bodily weakness and futile enthusiasms and making him loathe himself for his own mad and filthy orgies. The spittle in his throat grew bitter and foul to swallow and the faint sickness climbed to his brain so that for a moment he closed his eyes and walked on in darkness. (2.4.13)
After seeing the eerie "Foetus" graffiti in the anatomy theatre, Stephen can’t block it out of his mind; it reminds him of his own dirty thoughts and acts. This is the first time (of many to come) that we see Stephen overwhelmed by guilt at his own sins, which indicates his rapidly evolving sense of individual responsibility.
His blood was in revolt. He wandered up and down the dark slimy streets peering into the gloom of lanes and doorways, listening eagerly for any sound. He moaned to himself like some baffled prowling beast. He wanted to sin with another of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult with her in sin. (2.5.10)
This is heavy-duty drama. We have to wonder- is this just a typical moment of sordid teenage lust, raised through Joyce’s extravagant prose into a moment of existential rebellion?
In the silence their dark fire kindled the dusk into a tawny glow. Stephen's heart had withered up like a flower of the desert that feels the simoom coming from afar. (3.1.20)
That "later" we just mentioned in the last thought? Turns out to be now. At the news of the religious retreat, Stephen knows that some kind of reckoning is coming. This confirms our suspicion that his guilty conscience has been around all along – it was just hiding for a while.
Every word of it was for him. Against his sin, foul and secret, the whole wrath of God was aimed. The preacher's knife had probed deeply into his disclosed conscience and he felt now that his soul was festering in sin. Yes, the preacher was right. God's turn had come. Like a beast in its lair his soul had lain down in its own filth but the blasts of the angel's trumpet had driven him forth from the darkness of sin into the light. The words of doom cried by the angel shattered in an instant his presumptuous peace. (3.2.13)
This is the definite end of Stephen’s uneasy period of debauchery. He says that it’s the preacher’s knife that stabs him, but it’s actually his own intense guilt, honed sharp after being left to its own devices for some months, that really kicks into action.
He would follow a devious course up and down the streets, circling always nearer and nearer in a tremor of fear and joy, until his feet led him suddenly round a dark corner. The whores would be just coming out of their houses making ready for the night, yawning lazily after their sleep and settling the hairpins in their clusters of hair. He would pass by them calmly waiting for a sudden movement of his own will or a sudden call to his sin-loving soul from their soft perfumed flesh. (3.1.2)
Stephen has gone from guilty schoolboy to "sin-loving" man unbelievably fast. One wonders if he’s actually an unrepentant sinner, or if he is subconsciously putting his guilt out of his mind and saving it for later.
His soul was fattening and congealing into a gross grease, plunging ever deeper in its dull fear into a sombre threatening dusk while the body that was his stood, listless and dishonoured, gazing out of darkened eyes, helpless, perturbed, and human for a bovine god to stare upon. (3.2.8)
The awareness of Stephen’s sins and his "dishonoured" body cause this moment of dull horror. He begins to realize that it may be too late for his soul to ever recover.
It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak. (1.2.45)
Stephen’s intellectual curiosity is always at work. He is frustrated by his lack of understanding, but his capability for abstract thought simply isn’t developed enough to comprehend these giant concepts.
– She too wants me to catch hold of her, he thought. That’s why she came with me to the tram. I could easily catch hold of her when she comes up to my step: nobody is looking. I could hold her and kiss her.
But he did neither: and, when he was sitting alone in the deserted tram, he tore his ticket into shreds and stared gloomily at the corrugated footboard. (2.2.20-21)
Stephen’s inaction with Emma feeds into his discontent. Even though he knows she wants him to grab her, he cannot make himself do anything, and he’s troubled by his cowardice. His inability to actually communicate with her sets the tone for the rest of their "relationship," if you can even call it that.
But when he had sung his song and withdrawn into a snug corner of the room he began to taste the joy of his loneliness. The mirth, which in the beginning of the evening had seemed to him false and trivial, was like a soothing air to him, passing gaily by his senses, hiding from other eyes the feverish agitation of his blood while through the circling of the dancers and amid the music and laughter her glance travelled to his corner, flattering, taunting, searching, exciting his heart. (2.2.17)
Interestingly enough, Stephen finds a certain satisfaction in his dissatisfaction, if that makes any sense. It’s another marker of his difference, which allows him to observe rather than take part in the world. Instead of having to engage directly with the girl (Emma), he waits for her to find him.
He returned to Mercedes and, as he brooded upon her image, a strange unrest crept into his blood. Sometimes a fever gathered within him and led him to rove alone in the evening along the quiet avenue. The peace of the gardens and the kindly lights in the windows poured a tender influence into his restless heart. The noise of children at play annoyed him and their silly voices made him feel, even more keenly than he had felt at Clongowes, that he was different from others. (2.1.12)
Even at this young age, Stephen feels his difference acutely. This is the beginning of his nocturnal wanderings, though at this point, they’re still pretty innocent. What is it that makes him different from the other children?
His sensitive nature was still smarting under the lashes of an undivined and squalid way of life. His soul was still disquieted and cast down by the dull phenomenon of Dublin. He had emerged from a two years' spell of revery to find himself in the midst of a new scene, every event and figure of which affected him intimately, disheartened him or allured and, whether alluring or disheartening, filled him always with unrest and bitter thoughts. All the leisure which his school life left him was passed in the company of subversive writers whose jibes and violence of speech set up a ferment in his brain before they passed out of it into his crude writings. (2.3.19)
In this flashback, we see Stephen as a new student at Belvedere. Life in Dublin is confusing and full of new sensations, and the overload of new experience is almost too much for him to handle. We learn that his only outlet is his writing; already we see that his alienation is a motivation for his artistic endeavors.
A vague dissatisfaction grew up within him as he looked on the quays and on the river and on the lowering skies and yet he continued to wander up and down day after day as if he really sought someone that eluded him. (2.2.3)
Deprived of the fresh air and sunshine of the countryside, Stephen grows more discontented. His dissatisfaction feeds upon the squalor of Dublin, suggesting that the urban space in this novel is often one of darkness, malcontent, and corruption.
A restless feeling of guilt would always be present with him: he would confess and repent and be absolved, confess and repent again and be absolved again, fruitlessly. Perhaps that first hasty confession wrung from him by the fear of hell had not been good? Perhaps, concerned only for his imminent doom, he had not had sincere sorrow for his sin? But the surest sign that his confession had been good and that he had had sincere sorrow for his sin was, he knew, the amendment of his life.
– I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself (4.1.14)
Even at the peak of Stephen’s rigorous religious discipline, he still has doubts that he has done enough. This is typical and unsurprising – after all, even if God himself showed up and said "Hey, Stephen, enough already," he would probably still have doubts. This is the old Stephen we know and love, not the passive, unquestioning dude we’ve seen most of the time in this chapter. His nagging dissatisfaction is what lets us know that Stephen’s destiny doesn’t lie in the religious life.
There was a lust of wandering in his feet that burned to set out for the ends of the earth. On! On! his heart seemed to cry. Evening would deepen above the sea, night fall upon the plains, dawn glimmer before the wanderer and show him strange fields and hills and faces. Where? (4.3.21)
Ireland can no longer contain Stephen, and he’s ready to expand his horizons, literally and figuratively.
Disheartened, he raised his eyes towards the slow-drifting clouds, dappled and seaborne. They were voyaging across the deserts of the sky, a host of nomads on the march, voyaging high over Ireland, westward bound. The Europe they had come from lay out there beyond the Irish Sea, Europe of strange tongues and valleyed and woodbegirt and citadelled and of entrenched and marshalled races. (4.3.13)
Stephen’s wanderlust begins to kick in. The seduction of Europe calls to him even before he’s made up his mind to leave. The intimidating description of the continent appeals to Stephen’s combative feelings at this point.
His thinking was a dusk of doubt and self-mistrust, lit up at moments by the lightnings of intuition, but lightnings of so clear a splendour that in those moments the world perished about his feet as if it had been fire-consumed; and thereafter his tongue grew heavy and he met the eyes of others with unanswering eyes, for he felt that the spirit of beauty had folded him round like a mantle and that in revery at least he had been acquainted with nobility. But when this brief pride of silence upheld him no longer he was glad to find himself still in the midst of common lives, passing on his way amid the squalor and noise and sloth of the city fearlessly and with a light heart. (5.1.12)
Joyce describes the process of thinking and revelation in such beautiful detail here that it’s practically worth noting just for that. We see Stephen’s philosophical adventures as a series of intellectual transformations that impact him profoundly. Stephen is finally able to reconcile his interior world with the outside one a little better, and the everyday dissatisfaction of earlier chapters is gone.
There was cold sunlight outside the window. He wondered if he would die. You could die just the same on a sunny day. He might die before his mother came. Then he would have a dead mass in the chapel like the way the fellows had told him it was when Little had died. All the fellows would be at the mass, dressed in black, all with sad faces. Wells too would be there but no fellow would look at him. The rector would be there in a cope of black and gold and there would be tall yellow candles on the altar and round the catafalque. And they would carry the coffin out of the chapel slowly and he would be buried in the little graveyard of the community off the main avenue of limes. And Wells would be sorry then for what he had done. And the bell would toll slowly. (1.2.80)
The first transformation that Stephen begins to understand his death. This vision of his own death is lacking in spiritual awareness; he doesn’t seem to comprehend the concept of death fully yet, which is understandable.
He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. […] They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment. (2.1.12)
Sexual awakening is definitely an important transformative experience. Here, Stephen only understands sexual desire in an abstract, idealized way.
How foolish his aim had been! He had tried to build a break-water of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules of conduct and active interest and new filial relations, the powerful recurrence of the tides within him. Useless. From without as from within the waters had flowed over his barriers: their tides began once more to jostle fiercely above the crumbled mole. (2.5.6)
This interesting quote indicates that Stephen cannot assert control over the internal "tides" that shape his life – what are these forces? Are they simply his own desires, or are they something outside of him? This is also another use of water as a symbol for Stephen’s interiority.
A cold lucid indifference reigned in his soul. At his first violent sin he had felt a wave of vitality pass out of him and had feared to find his body or his soul maimed by the excess. Instead the vital wave had carried him on its bosom out of himself and back again when it receded: and no part of body or soul had been maimed but a dark peace had been established between them. (3.1.5)
Stephen is astounded to find that succumbing to sin hasn’t damaged his soul or body – as far as he can tell. But you get the sense that the "dark peace" between his body and soul is only a temporary truce.
He hoped there would be stew for dinner, turnips and carrots and bruised potatoes and fat mutton pieces to be ladled out in thick peppered flour-fattened sauce. Stuff it into you, his belly counselled him. (3.1.1)
In the midst of Stephen’s brief "I’m an Unrepentant Sinner!" phase, his soul is mired in sensuality. He’s reduced to a bestial state, and his thoughts are dominated by his body’s primal desires for sex and food.
But he could no longer disbelieve in the reality of love, since God Himself had loved his individual soul with divine love from all eternity. Gradually, as his soul was enriched with spiritual knowledge, he saw the whole world forming one vast symmetrical expression of God's power and love. (4.1.9)
Stephen’s immersion in Catholicism coaxes his cynical soul out of its doubt. He believes fully in the notion that the whole world is a simple and "symmetrical" forum for God’s love. This is all very nice, but it also seems suspect – where is the skeptical Stephen we’re used to?
His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain. (4.3.18)
The spiritual transformation that Stephen undergoes is tied here to a visceral sense of physical transformation as well – we have a brief and dazzling sensation that Stephen is turning into the wild, winged man of his imagination.
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.
I did, Stephen answered.
And were you happier then? Cranly asked softly, happier than you are now, for instance?
Often happy Stephen said, and often unhappy. I was someone else then.
How someone else? What do you mean by that statement?
I mean, said Stephen, that I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become. (5.3.86)
The declaration that Stephen’s transformation was necessary indicates that perhaps the person he is now is who he was somehow destined to be all along.
He saw clearly too his own futile isolation. He had not gone one step nearer the lives he had sought to approach nor bridged the restless shame and rancour that had divided him from mother and brother and sister. He felt that he was hardly of the one blood with them but stood to them rather in the mystical kinship of fosterage, fosterchild and fosterbrother. (2.5.7)
Stephen feels so remote from his family that it seems as though they’re not related – could this feeling of isolation have anything to do with the fact that he internalizes all of his thoughts and feelings and never shares them with anyone at this stage?!
In a vague way he understood that his father was in trouble and that this was the reason why he himself had not been sent back to Clongowes. For some time he had felt the slight change in his house; and those changes in what he had deemed unchangeable were so many slight shocks to his boyish conception of the world. (2.1.11)
For the first time, home is a shaky concept. The family recently moved to Blackrock, and Stephen can tell that more changes are on their way.
The sudden flight from the comfort and revery of Blackrock, the passage through the gloomy foggy city, the thought of the bare cheerless house in which they were now to live made his heart heavy, and again an intuition, a foreknowledge of the future came to him. He understood also why the servants had often whispered together in the hall and why his father had often stood on the hearthrug with his back to the fire, talking loudly to uncle Charles who urged him to sit down and eat his dinner. (2.2.2)
Home continues to de-stabilize at an alarming rate. Stephen’s growing comprehension of the world around him allows him to understand that the change in the family’s surroundings has to do with his father’s failures. This moment is also notable because of the family’s move to Dublin.
He waited for some moments, listening, before he too took up the air with them. He was listening with pain of spirit to the overtone of weariness behind their frail fresh innocent voices. Even before they set out on life's journey they seemed weary already of the way. (4.2.31)
The weariness Stephen’s little brothers and sisters feel, even as children, stems from the lack of stability and comfort in their lives. Unlike Stephen, the oldest and most privileged among them, we have the feeling that the other children never really knew anything but poverty and resignation at home.
Then, bending to the left, he followed the lane which led up to his house. The faint dour stink of rotted cabbages came towards him from the kitchen gardens on the rising ground above the river. He smiled to think that it was this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father's house and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul. (4.2.24)
Actually, the victory of "his father’s house" (note that he doesn’t say his house) is quite short-lived. The tension between affection and disgust in Stephen’s description of the house make it clear that his soul won’t be satisfied for long in these circumstances.
– The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets. (5.1.117)
Stephen explains the risks he sees as inherent in Ireland to Davin, the nationalist. Instead of seeing the Irish revolutionary movement as a potential for artistic inspiration like many of his countrymen do (a good example is W.B. Yeats), he views the condition of Irish life as a pitfall.
– Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow. (5.1.118)
Stephen takes his sentiment from the last quote and steps it up a notch in brutality. He claims that Ireland metaphorically devours its own children (a fate he plans to avoid). In short, Ireland’s thwarted sense of nationhood destroys Irishmen.
He shook the sound out of his ears by an angry toss of his head and hurried on, stumbling through the mouldering offal, his heart already bitten by an ache of loathing and bitterness. His father's whistle, his mother's mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their echoes even out of his heart with an execration; but, as he walked down the avenue and felt the grey morning light falling about him through the dripping trees and smelt the strange wild smell of the wet leaves and bark, his soul was loosed of her miseries. (5.10)
Stephen’s relationship with his family and surroundings is at an all-time low. The ugliness and squalor of his home life are totally incompatible with his grandiose sense of artistic destiny, and we see already that his ultimate departure is inevitable.
What birds were they? He thought that they must be swallows who had come back from the south. Then he was to go away for they were birds ever going and coming, building ever an unlasting home under the eaves of men's houses and ever leaving the homes they had built to wander. (5.2.8)
Like the swallows, Stephen feels the tension of homes abandoned and "unlasting." Now, he is on the brink of leaving his home to wander.
…the figure of the woman in the story stood forth reflected in other figures of the peasant women whom he had seen standing in the doorways at Clane as the college cars drove by, as a type of her race and of his own, a bat-like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness and, through the eyes and voice and gesture of a woman without guile, calling the stranger to her bed. (5.1.25)
Stephen struggles to identify the spirit of "her race and his own" – the Irish people. This concern with the soul or conscience of his race will reappear throughout this chapter.
The causes of his embitterment were many, remote and near. He was angry with himself for being young and the prey of restless foolish impulses, angry also with the change of fortune which was reshaping the world about him into a vision of squalor and insincerity. Yet his anger lent nothing to the vision. He chronicled with patience what he saw, detaching himself from it and tasting its mortifying flavour in secret. (2.2.4)
Here, the powerlessness of youth angers Stephen, even though, of course, there’s nothing he can do about it. There is nothing exciting about childhood here; in this new setting (Dublin), Stephen has lost the carefree spirit we saw at times in Blackrock.
Trudging along the road or standing in some grimy wayside public house his elders spoke constantly of the subjects nearer their hearts, of Irish politics, of Munster and of the legends of their own family, to all of which Stephen lent an avid ear. Words which he did not understand he said over and over to himself till he had learnt them by heart: and through them he had glimpses of the real world about them. The hour when he too would take part in the life of that world seemed drawing near and in secret he began to make ready for the great part which he felt awaited him the nature of which he only dimly apprehended. (2.1.6)
In the company of his father and Uncle Charles, Stephen feels his own youth and lack of understanding acutely. He struggles to follow their conversations, learn their vocabulary, and absorb the "real world" they discuss, waiting for the moment of his own adulthood, but as far as we can tell, he has no understanding of what that grown-up life entails. Also, we notice that Stephen already has a sense of some "great part" that he’ll play in the world – do we think this tendency towards grandiosity is just part of his nature?
No life or youth stirred in him as it had stirred in [his father and his friends]. He had known neither the pleasure of companionship with others nor the vigour of rude male health nor filial piety. Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon. (2.4.21)
After the realization that the world, like his imagination, is full of corrupt and sinful things, Stephen feels a cold alienation and brutal lust. This is the point at which he feels his childhood innocence leave him; from this point in the chapter, it’s inevitable that he must succumb to his lustful thoughts.
Another nature seemed to have been lent him: the infection of the excitement and youth about him entered into and transformed his moody mistrustfulness. For one rare moment he seemed to be clothed in the real apparel of boyhood… (2.3.45)
For once, Stephen actually feels young again (this sounds awfully curmudgeonly, especially when said about a teenage boy, but hey, that’s Stephen for you). We wonder what he would be like if he could sustain this feeling of youthful camaraderie.
A dim antagonism gathered force within him and darkened his mind as a cloud against her disloyalty and when it passed, cloud-like, leaving his mind serene and dutiful towards her again, he was made aware dimly and without regret of a first noiseless sundering of their lives. (4.3.4)
Stephen’s childhood actually starts to crumble and fall away here. Even though he feels like he already left it behind in his sinning period, there were still vestiges of his childlike self in his relationships to his family and to religion. Now, though, he even begins to break away from his mother’s expectations.
His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her grave-clothes. Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable. (4.3.20)
We get the Christ-like image of the new Stephen rising from the grave of boy Stephen, finally certain of his fate. Will Stephen become his own savior?
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air. (4.3.26)
Well, this doesn’t answer the question we just posed in the previous thought, but it does complicate it. Stephen asserts his youth and wildness, which we can contrast with the staid strictness of his mysterious "boyhood." The difference between these two terms is important but ambiguous. Perhaps during his boyhood, Stephen wasn’t actually young, despite his age…
Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he? (4.3.25)
Stephen’s "boyhood" is gone; those years of self-denial and guilt seem like a waste of time now. It’s interesting that he should associate these things with his boyhood – we wonder what his new incarnation is. Does this mean that he’s a man?
– Ah, it's a scandalous shame for you, Stephen, said his mother, and you'll live to rue the day you set your foot in that place. I know how it has changed you. (5.1.7)
Mrs. Dedalus is under the false impression that university life has changed Stephen; while she’s undoubtedly right in some respects, we know that Stephen’s sense of purpose and newfound identity is what have really alienated him further from his home and family.
His father's whistle, his mother's mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth.
Again we see Stephen’s rediscovered appreciation of his youth. While as a child he had always wanted to be an adult, now he is proud of being young and rebellious.
The music passed in an instant, as the first bars of sudden music always did, over the fantastic fabrics of his mind, dissolving them painlessly and noiselessly as a sudden wave dissolves the sand-built turrets of children. Smiling at the trivial air he raised his eyes to the priest's face and, seeing in it a mirthless reflection of the sunken day, detached his hand slowly which had acquiesced faintly in the companionship. (4.2.17)
Here, Stephen starts to separate his personal spirituality from religion. The fact that the priest feels no joy in the sudden burst of music worries Stephen – and we realize that his aesthetic sense for beauty is alive again.
What were they now but cerements shaken from the body of death – the fear he had walked in night and day, the incertitude that had ringed him round, the shame that had abased him within and without – cerements, the linens of the grave? (4.3.19)
Stephen sheds the "cerements" of his former life. He gives names to the things we have seen him struggle with throughout the book – his fear, incertitude (uncertainty), and shame – many of which were cultivated by his religious faith.
His heart trembled; his breath came faster and a wild spirit passed over his limbs as though he was soaring sunward. His heart trembled in an ecstasy of fear and his soul was in flight. His soul was soaring in an air beyond the world and the body he knew was purified in a breath and delivered of incertitude and made radiant and commingled with the element of the spirit. An ecstasy of flight made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs. (4.3.17)
Finally, we see Stephen actually "take off," as it were. The "wildness" that seizes him contrasts boldly with the stiff control and lack of emotion that characterized his piety; this is the joyous spiritual experience that Stephen has been seeking all along.
Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other. (4.3.34)
So, remember the image of Stephen’s soul withering like a desert flower before Father Arnall’s sermon? Here it’s reversed – his soul encounters a beautiful new world that unfolds like a gorgeous flower.
He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast. (4.3.33)
Again, this description rebels against traditionally Catholic views of earth and heaven. Here, the heavens (and perhaps God?) are indifferent, whereas the earth, embodied in a maternal and mythological way, nurtures him.
To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on! (4.3.30)
This is a total subversion of Catholic moments of epiphany – here, a mortal angel appears to Stephen, an envoy from life, not heaven.
– Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy. (4.3.28)
What a perfect sentence! The seeming contradiction of "Heavenly God" with "profane joy" demonstrates Stephen’s new sense of the spiritual.
The personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak. The esthetic image in the dramatic form is life purified in and reprojected from the human imagination. The mystery of esthetic, like that of material creation, is accomplished. The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails. (5.1.150)
We are aware that the artist is not actually God; however, Stephen’s theory puts the artist on equally divine footing with the concept of God. Through the idealized act of artistic creation, the craftsman somehow transcends the work and remains distant, divine, and unconcerned. So unconcerned, in fact, that he can actually sit back and cut his nails.
This supreme quality is felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination. The mind in that mysterious instant Shelley likened beautifully to a fading coal. The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani, using a phrase almost as beautiful as Shelley's, called the enchantment of the heart. (5.1.149)
Stephen posits that the perception of the object of beauty by the artist is a suspended spiritual state – "the enchantment of the heart." This is what lies at the core of Stephen’s aesthetic theory and of his new individual spirituality.
…a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life. (5.2.16)
Stephen applies overtly religious language to the role of the artist. The sublimation of experience into art replaces the transubstantiation (the idea that the Communion wafer isn’t just a metaphor for the body of Christ, but it really is in essence the body of Christ).