Guest Post: Portrait of the Alchemist as Young Man – Joyce as Literary Alchemist

Brent Seegmiller and I have been corresponding on literary achemy and related topics since 2014 but he just gave me his permission yesterday to publish his thoughts on the hermetic aspect of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I think it is important work for three reasons: (1) The alchemy in Joyce has been explored for his Ulysses and for Finnegan’s Wake but not for the eary works most students have read, i.e., Dubliners and Portrait, (2) Joyce, especially for those who have never read him, is the consensus pick for “Greatest Novelist Ever;” and (3) therefore, learning that Joyce, a la Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Inklings, used alchemical story scaffolding and symbolism, makes Rowling’s use that much more credible and, one hopes, the subject of further study. We need more Potter Pundits like Brent Seegmiller and Evan Willis, whose exposition on the hermeticism embedded in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike I posted last week. Enjoy!

A Portrait of the Alchemist as a Young Man: Alchemy, Myth, and Metaphor in Joyce’s Work

Brent A. Seegmiller 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has been called James Joyce’s “most personal work”1. This rings true in light of the title, Stephen’s experiences, and Joyce’s vocation as renown Irish aesthete. Both Stephen and Joyce have a complex way with words and even more complex relationship to them.

As one scholar has opined, “A Portrait illustrates a contradictory dynamic by narrating Stephen’s gradual move towards a diasporic vocation that is imagined both as a radical break with the homeland and as its symbolic renewal. Epiphany and leitmotif represent the antagonistic yet closely intertwined extremes of this development. By switching back and forth between them, Joyce creates not only a “polyrhythmic” texture previously unknown to Anglophone fiction, but also moves the time-honored novel of development. The dozens of different motifs that circulate in A Portrait gain in complexity with each and every occurrence. In a word, they develop. Their structuring logic isn’t that of the closed circle, but rather that of William Butler Yeats’s ‘widening gyre’.”2

This relationship is represented well in the epigraph from Ovid, “And he turned his mind to unknown arts”3 as well as in the final words of the novel “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.”4. These passages, which echo the sentiment of each other, imply not only invention within the arts but also within what is known as the “Royal Art” of alchemy.

As Stephen Daedalus grows so too does the narration and its complexity. Much has been made of the religious intonations, the cries of Irish Nationalism, and the philosophical underpinnings of Stephen’s aesthetic epiphanies replete throughout the novel but there is a key element of the novel which has gone underwhelming represented in the academic literature; that is the novel’s relationship to the alchemical process.

Portrait is a unique work in that it combines the layers of the alchemical process and its symbolism, the myth of Daedalus’s labyrinth, and Cartesian Dualism to strengthen, guide and structure the progression of Stephen and the novel. Joyce weaves these together to plot Stephen’s journey from earthen Irish boy to metaphysical artist/alchemist. The labyrinth is often used in literature as a symbol for the entire alchemical process5. Each chapter represents one of the classical elements and within each one Stephen must navigate through an elementally themed Dualistic labyrinth.

We know that Joyce drew great influence from Dante’s work and this is especially we true when we examine how we find the alchemical process has been used as a literary technique to aid in the structure, form, and symbolism for story. As has been noted,

“It has long been acknowledged that the influence of Dante Alighieri was central to the life and work of James Joyce. From the Irish writer’s earliest days whilst still a student in Dublin, a strong identification was drawn between himself and the medieval Italian poet, with Joyce’s fellow students even going so far as to dub him “the Dante of Dublin, a Dante with a difference”. This attempt to recover the complexity of Joyce’s view of Dante holds a substantial significance for the way in which we read Joyce’s texts, encouraging us to question established and overly simplistic readings, and to discover new ways to read and enjoy Joyce. Through an awareness of this complex, anti-monolithic view of Dante, we can begin to find unexpected and hitherto unacknowledged Dantean presences within Joyce’s works”6

This is important to understand because it allows us to have an author who uses the alchemical process to shape the Divine Comedy and gives us something we can relate Joyce’s work to in order to identify the signs and symbols of alchemy. Using the elements as reference points, Dante takes the reader from the Earth and the four classic Aristotelian elements to finally ascend into heaven.7 Each text in the trilogy comes to symbolize one of the three main phases in the alchemical process. As it shall be demonstrated, Joyce like Dante uses the same method of text structure albeit in one novel with several unique modern applications to accentuate the purpose and promise of alchemy in the literary process.

One of these truly modern components comes in the objective of the alchemical process as well as the form of it in Joyce’s novel. Generally alchemy refers to the process of turning base metals into gold or as used in spiritual or religious application, as the art of turning the base, sinful state of man towards the purified acquisition of the soul by God. Joyce takes this process and uses the spiritual & religious language and applies it to Stephen’s struggle to become an artist.

As has been observed, “Stephen makes use of symbol-switching as a means to perfect his identity as an artist, i.e., he benefits from the symbolic language of Catholicism and transforms it into the secular realm of art. Stephen, in turn, constructs his own associations with symbols.

Stephen’s refashioning of the heavily codified religious symbols, although seeming overly child- like on the surface, in fact involves a tedious task.”8 For Joyce, the alchemical process is not set on yielding a harvest of gold but rather the harvest of aesthetics as Stephen is transformed from a simple Irish boy into a philosophic aesthete.

Rich in layered meaning and widespread reaction, the alchemical process has been used repeatedly as a significant tool in western literary tradition. We find that this relationship is especially at home within Joyce’s “Portrait” alongside the well-known influences of myth and philosophy. As he successfully navigates each alchemical labyrinth he is able to experience a mind-body union and take flight as a metaphysical Icarus until falling into another developmental conflict. The novel culminates in Chapter 4 as Stephen becomes fully transformed through aesthetic epiphany and is able to fully realize his namesake as an alchemical aesthete. As one explores the symbols associated with alchemy and their use along with the myth behind Stephen’s namesake, and the use of the Cartesian Divide, it becomes readily apparent how they uphold the entire novel.

Each step in Stephen’s aesthetic progression coincides with the three traditional processes of alchemy: Nigredo, the dissolution and purgation of earthen materials with fire, Albedo, the purification through water, and Rubedo, the epiphany & spiritual purification realized from the process. This is emphasized in the novel with the use of color, sensory description, and symbolic motif; specifically with the use of the four classical elements of earth, fire, water, air; as well as the fifth, esoteric element, aether.

Stephen is himself alchemically processed into an artist/alchemist as he progresses from his muddy, Irish hewn childhood, through the contrasted refining and defining fires of carnality to spirituality, to a combined baptism and flight through his aesthetic epiphany, with the culmination being his exposition on aesthetics and dualism; both of which have strong associations linguistically and philosophically with the fifth element aether.

Joyce enhances this alchemical narrative arch with thoughtful pairing of the Daedalus myth as Stephen must journey through an elementally themed labyrinth in each phase of the alchemical process. We will later examine how this elemental structure is likely influenced by the philosophic teachings of Aristotle on the classic elements and how they interact with the three stage alchemical process. The labyrinths he passes through are all comprised of an outer and inner conflict forced upon Stephen.

However, in order to understand this link better, we must examine the myth itself in more detail. The story of Daedalus, as told by Ovid, involves him building a complex labyrinth for King Minos to hold the mythic beast the minotaur in the center. It is supposedly built so well that no one can escape it once they enter. However, Daedalus is forced to walk it himself and is able to successfully navigate it through the use a string.

Daedalus is later held with his son Icarus in Minos’s tower as prisoner and in order to escape he works with Icarus to construct the “unknown art” of flight and does so by gluing wings constructed of eagle feathers to Icarus and himself. As they fly Daedalus instructs Icarus to stay level with the sky and sea in order to not melt the glue holding the wings. Icarus intoxicated by flight, flies too close to the sun and plummets into the sea while Daedalus successfully lands in Italy.9

Stephen Daedalus’s aesthetic development follows a similar path; imprisoned by both inner and outer conflict around him such as the Catholic Church, Ireland, and family, he seeks refuge through flight repeatedly at various epiphanies through the novel. The “unknown arts” of classic myth infer this ability to escape the labyrinth and imprisonment. For Stephen this phrase refers to his work to become both an artist and alchemist as he seeks to the master his aesthetic sensibilities within.

In order to achieve this he must first navigate through the labyrinths that surround the minotaurs of his life, such as his family, women, and decision to join the Jesuit order.

A key part of the alchemical process that Joyce refers to is that of the key agents, Mercury and Sulphur. Mercury acts as a divine form of water that purifies thoroughly the fire that burns the Prima Materia and when combined with sulphur creates the Philsopher’s Stone, the obtained gold. The white rose as used in alchemy represents Mercury, also a symbol of the spirit. We can see that “Joyce brings together the positive and negative connotations and various associations of white imagery and combines this allotropic color with numerous recurring images and motifs -including references to birds, eyes, water, roses, light, the eucharist, the temptress, and the Blessed Virgin Mary -to unify the novel and demonstrate the extent to which Stephen can use his imagination to transform his thoughts and feelings into symbolic art.”10

Sulphur, also representing the body, is symbolically represented through a red rose. This is even more interesting when considering that the names Daedalus and Icarus are also used in alchemical works to indicate Mercury and Sulphur, with Daedalus being linked to Sulphur as it is processed11

Stephen begins to notice roses in the first chapter of the novel: “White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colours to think of. Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colours and he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place. But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.”12 As Stephen contemplates the colors we see several particular symbolic indications.

The first is of course a clear indication to the houses of York and Lancaster of English politics, represented by white and red roses. Another is that of roses within the alchemical process with Mercury and Sulphur indicated. The green rose referenced could possibly symbolize a desire for the “golden rose” of combination that occurs once mercury and sulphur purify the base material and transmute it into gold. Also, as has been hypothesized, “as such, Stephen’s attempt to create a green rose which does not fit into the dichotomy of white versus red/ York versus Lancaster imposed by the tradition, could well be understood as a quest for self- definition, the sort of identity of which he will be more in need when he elects his career as an artist.”13

The question of having a green rose “somewhere in the world” foreshadows Stephen’s future decision to leave Ireland altogether.

As has been stated, “The white and red roses are also alchemical symbols for the ‘Union of Fire and Water.’ The references to fire and water in the novel serve as another rhythmic structural device which stitches the novel together internally and builds steadily toward Stephen’s rejection of a vocation in the priesthood and discovery of his vocation as an artist”14, thus, a key part of the novel deals with Stephen as he interacts with the feminine aesthetic image of the women in his life and their relation to his own masculinity and its influence on his identity as an artist.

This fits with how Mercury is represented in alchemy. As has been noted, “The central transformation takes place, appropriately, at Mercury, regarded by alchemists as the predominant transformative substance, and the central pivot of the alchemical voyage. The female mercury, or wife of sulphur, has been killed so that the transformation can happen and the way has been prepared for the marriage of opposites.”15

Joyce uses the contrast of roses to demonstrate Stephen’s aesthetic purification as he is pulled between the Spirit, or the white rose, and the heat of the red rose or sulphur. This is further represented by the feminine, mercurial influences he must face. Whether it be Emma, Mercedes, or the Virgin Mary, all our represented at different times by a white rose. The union between fire and water, spiritual and carnal, finally occurs in Stephen’s “bird-girl” epiphany in chapter 4.

In Chapter 1 we have the beginning of the first phase in the alchemical process, the Nigredo, as the “Prima Materia”16 is broken down to its base materials. This part of the process which spans chapter 1 & 2 shows Stephen as he first begins to experience his world through his senses as well as the elemental thematics that shape it.

He begins to separate himself from his peers, family, and church as he is drawn to, in diametrical opposition, Emma a girl he idealized and is drawn to romantically along with the labyrinth of Dublin which he walks to find the prostitute. By the end of this process, Stephen strips away all of the societal constructs that he concludes hold him back from achieving true individuality, through the element of earth from which he is raised, moving through the labyrinth of fire, both carnal and spiritual, to become ready for his aesthetic epiphany of Chapter 4.

Joyce uses the sensory experience of Stephen through sight, smell, and sound to become acquainted with each of the elements in the alchemical process in Chapter 1, whether it be water with the “pick, pack, pock, puck: little drops of water in a fountain slowly falling in the brimming bowl”, the element of air as notices “the cold night air in the chapel and the marbles were the colour the sea was at night”, the element of earth as he lands in the ditch that has the “cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body”, and the fire in the “fierce maddening tingling burning pain” from the pandybat of the ruthless prefect.17 As Stephen becomes familiar with them the dominating element of earth, the central conflict within Chapter 1 revolves around the troubles of his homeland, namely between Irish Nationalism and Roman Catholicism as symbolized by the color green for Ireland and red for Catholicism.

The epitomy of this conflict is seen in the green vs. red dichotomy of the Christmas discussion between Dante (red), a clear reference to the classical author, to alchemy, and Catholicism, and to Simon his father, which represents his family, countrymen, and peers; we find that “the Christmas dinner scene is set by detailed reference to the banked fire, the ivy in the chandelier, the imminent arrival of the big covered dishes, and so on. Like the setting of a scene in a play, the protagonists are “placed” around the room”18.

This conversation demonstrates clearly the conflict that will mature with Stephen. Dante, his well respected aunt pledges absolute piety and loyalty to the Catholic Church while Simon, Stephen’s father angrily defends the actions of the politician Parnell. This conversation is the beginning of Stephen’s path to aesthete for his “harrowing experience at the Christmas dinner is at root a battle between two highly developed rhetorics, the nationalist and the Irish Roman Catholic, in each of which he has some investment. Ultimately, Stephen will take neither side. Stephen’s must be of the intellect. In attempting to understand the authority of both, Stephen becomes conflicted.”19

He further confronts this dichotomy as he deals with the humiliation of being bullied by his peers (the green)20 and the prefect who punishes him unjustly (the red)21. This culminates in a labyrinthine walk to Father Dolan’s office after deciding to stand up against the authority over him along with “the labyrinthine ways of Catholic theological exposition”22. We find his Icarian flight clearly as he is lifted on the shoulders of his mates and as it is described, “they made a cradle of their locked hands and hoisted him up among them and carried him along till he struggled to get free. And when he had escaped from them they broke away in all directions… The cheers died away in the soft grey air. He was alone. He was happy and free.”23

This moment demonstrates the inward separation for Stephen from the society around him. Through this small act of assertiveness, Stephen as “Prima Materia” is separated from the base elements around him, inwardly. Chapter 2 finds Stephen dealing with the conflict of his family situation and changing to a different school due to their financial situation. He feels himself being torn further and further apart from his family as he interacts with his father’s friends and must ride the train to Cork with him, listening to his failures, victories and dead friend stories but “feels no pity”24.

The vastness and strangeness of the life suggested to him by the bales of merchandise stocked along the walls or wakened again in him the unrest which had sent him wandering in the evening from garden to garden in search of Mercedes, and he continued to wander up and down day after day as if he really sought someone that eluded him.”25 From this labyrinth Stephen is able to now separate himself physically from the green, “Prima Materia” of his upbringing. The second labyrinth experience arises from being torn between two intense forces, epitomized by the red and white roses: that of E.C., a girl he is romantically drawn to and the prostitute with which he has a purely carnal experience.

The chapter has two labyrinth experiences, the first being toward the beginning as Stephen wanders Dublin: “In the beginning he contented himself with circling timidly round the neighboring square or, at most, going half way down one of the side streets but when he had made a skeleton map of the city in his mind he followed boldly one of its central lines until he reached the customhouse.

Elementally speaking, this labyrinth is that of carnal fire, which is clearly seen in the description of Dublin at night: “Such moments passed and the wasting fires of lust sprang up again. 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 had wandered into a maze of narrow and dirty streets.”26

Within this verse we clearly see Stephen dealing with the element of fire and the Sulphur of “yellow gas flames, burning as if before an altar”27, as well as with the wrestling inside himself as he feels as though he himself is a minotaur in the beastly prowling of his carnality.

We see that truly for Stephen, “The Minotaur is the symbol of our uncontrollable mental forces. Naked, Theseus kills the Minotaur.”28

So it is with Stephen as he slays the minotaur of his own making within, through naked consummation with the prostitute. This in turn is the culminating Icarian flight, as he revels, “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.”29 When we examine this in contrast to Stephen’s desire for E. C., we find that “As for Stephen, his relationship with Emma Clery makes him recognize the futility of his attempt to establish human communication. His encounter with the prostitute emphasizes the supreme role of senses in molding the artist in him.”30

In chapter 3 we find the theme of fire continue albeit of a spiritual nature as the conflict of Stephen’s bodily vs. spiritual desires come to a head. Herein he finds conflict between his Catholicism with his carnality as he continues to visit prostitutes and a Jesuit retreat simultaneously. Throughout the Jesuit retreat the language of the priest’s sermons is dominated by imagery of fire:

“For, remember, the fire of hell gives forth no light. As, at the command of God, the fire of the Babylonian furnace lost its heat but not its light, so, at the command of God, the fire of hell, while retaining the intensity of its heat, burns eternally in darkness. It is a never ending storm of darkness, dark flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air. What name, then, shall we give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone but for all eternity?”31

This fire, in contrast to the fire of lust, is that of the purifying power of spirit, the full force of the red and white roses, as they process out the impurity of thought and body in Stephen. As Stephen feels the fire of guilt for his sins, he realizes the need to confess. It is at this point that Stephen undertakes a mercurial labyrinth to the closest Church he can find to confess. This chapter culminates in Stephen’s labyrinthine walk to the chapel through the streets of Dublin. He finds relief and flight as he professes his sins to the priest in confession.

As the text shows, “The ache of conscience ceased and he walked onward swiftly through the dark streets. There were so many flagstones on the footpath of that street and so many streets in that city and so many cities in the world. Yet eternity had no end. He was in mortal sin. He walked on and on through ill-lit streets, fearing to stand still for a moment lest it might seem that he held back from what awaited him, fearing to arrive at that towards which he still turned with longing.”32

Here we see Mercury come into its fullest form as Stephen seeks forgiveness for his sins. As he attempts to confess we see white rose imagery abounding in the text:

“He knelt to say his penance, praying in a corner of the dark nave; and his prayers ascended to heaven from his purified heart like perfume streaming upwards from a heart of white rose. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy.”33

The labyrinth to the prostitute and the walk to the chapel are contrasted with one another. Both are spiritual experiences in that they demonstrate a combining of the dualistic elements of body and mind. This is reinforced in the language choice of Joyce as “the narrator uses sacred language to describe Stephen’s experience. Stephen’s captivity to the prostitute in his surrendering himself to her being juxtaposed against the image of the Virgin Mary, where Joyce writes that “The glories of Mary held his soul captive…symbolizing the preciousness of God’s gifts to her soul.” Such phrases as “surrendering himself…body and mind”, “conscious of nothing in the world” give us a sense of man’s encounter with the spiritual.”34

These epiphanic events fit within the context of alchemy as the “celestial and material sulphurs” burn out the impurities of the prima materia.35 Stephen thus has his senses purged through physical, carnal fire while he then is able to be spiritually purged by flame in repentance. The juxtaposition of the two demonstrate the need for him to finally create his own aesthetic sense in opposition to the vocation of the Priesthood of chapter 4. This completes the Nigredo phase of the alchemical process and allows Albedo to begin in the subsequent chapter. Chapter 4 is the culmination of the novel and the alchemical climax for Stephen’s development as artist and alchemist. It focuses on the conflict that Stephen now faces between becoming a priest, or as he begins to feel, an aesthete.

Stephen contrasts the two paths before him:

“What had come of the pride of his spirit which had always made him conceive himself as a being apart in every order? The Reverend Stephen Dedalus, S.J. His name in that new life leaped into characters before his eyes and to it there followed a mental sensation of an undefined face or colour of a face. He would never swing the thurible before the tabernacle as priest. His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders. The wisdom of the priest’s appeal did not touch him to the quick.

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. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently, in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be at some instant to come, falling, falling, but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall.”36

The language of falling harkens to both the link to Icarus as well as to Lucifer. As has been observed, “the ‘instant’ of Stephen’s hesitation recalls that of Lucifer’s refusal to obey; Lucifer rebelled against God in an instant of time, and that instant is the beginning of worldly time according to Christian theology”37. The decision for Stephen is one that challenges him to his core and it demonstrates the alchemical struggle within him. The struggle is ultimately essential for him to become an artist.

As has been pointed out, “Stephen’s development must follow this pattern or all of his rebellions against the Church will be ineffectual. His rebellion, in effect, must be one of the intellect. The emotional violence of the Christmas dinner and his supplications within the confines of Catholic hierarchy in chapter 1, his half-hearted aesthetic revolt and physical transgressions in chapter 2—these are meaningless, impotent expressions that serve no true purpose. For rebellion to take hold, it must be performed openly with full intellectual awareness. Aesthetics must become a replacement for religion, but this cannot happen if the artist is not brought through the system that he seeks to replace.”38

As he deals with the outer and inner conflict that arises from this decision, he takes a labyrinthine walk to the Dollymount Strand, a beach near Dublin. Here Stephen has his aesthetic epiphany, and realizes his call as an artist:

“Not only does Joyce synthesize the sacred and the profane in Stephen’s description of the bird-girl, but he also brings together many of the recurring images and motifs and fuses them in a significant way. The bird-girl is neither virgin nor whore; she is a fusion of all the female figures in the novel. Eileen Vance, E. C., Mercedes, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the prostitute- all of these females come to mind in Stephen’s description of the bird-girl wading in the stream, except for one major difference: whatever negative associations these figures have had before is now displaced by a new meaning: one involving only “the wonder of mortal beauty” (171).”

“The dominant images, the bird and the color white, also no longer have a negative connotation, for Stephen does not associate them only with the Catholic Church and the fear and punishment connected with the Church and these images in his mind. Instead, he uses these images creatively to describe the girl’s mortal beauty, thus letting these images derive their meaning through their immediate context, and not through their previous associations alone.

Through this significant change in Stephen’s perception and use of recurrent images, Joyce depicts Stephen’s emergence as an independent and artistically creative individual, one who can transform his vision into an imaginative celebration of life. With his mock baptism in this scene, Stephen affirms his commitment to developing his potential as an artist.”39

This moment is the culminating Albedo portion of the alchemical process as the feminine Mercurial quality of water combines with the fire, earth, and air in an alchemical baptism that changes Stephen from an undecided Catholic young man to a true alchemical artist. To emphasize this we find that he in a sense forsakes his Christian name of “Stephen” and turns to his vocational, renewed name of Daedalus. In a sense we find him turning away from his Christian heritage and turning toward a pagan image in the “bird-girl” that stands as his Icarian creation that finally sets him free 40.

As he gives an eagle like cry, Stephen realizes his call:

“Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy. So timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal his own mood, that all ages were as one to him. 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? 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.”41

The elements of water and air are near simultaneously overcome by Stephen in this moment as he comes across the “bird-girl” along the water which meets with the sky. Capturing the imagery of the Daedalus myth, we find him in ecstatic flight as he runs along the beach.

Chapter 5 deals with the conflict Stephen faces now as a fully realized aesthete attempting to understand the world from within Ireland. We see this realized in his conversations with his peers and his family as Stephen realizes that now, as an alchemist and as an artist, superior in some measure those around him that he must fly from Ireland and ultimately exile himself to the rest of Europe. In this chapter Daedalus seeks to gain control and definition of the fifth element of aether and aesthetics as he hones his language and philosophy. This completes the final phase of the alchemical process, the Rubedo, as Stephen sets his thoughts to fleeing Ireland for Italy, just as his mythic namesake has.

In dealing with all of these conflicts, Stephen attempts to construct metaphysical wings to “fly past the nets”42 of his nationality, religion, and familial circumstances, only to fail time and again. His defining Icarus moment arises from his own aesthetic epiphany brought on by the “bird-girl”, a powerful metaphor that easily ties Stephen to the myth that his name is derived from. Only in the final chapter do we see Stephen able to successfully become a aesthetic alchemist who is able to escape Ireland and its narrow confines, both aesthetic and philosophically, to find freedom in Europe as a truly independent, developed artist.

In addition to this we see additional evidence of the alchemical metanarrative present in the story through the relationship evident in Stephen and the mythic Daedalus as both become workers in the “unknown arts” and the “smithy of his soul”, both of which easily describe the “Great Work” and “Royal Art” of Alchemy43. Just as Stephen is an artificer of words and metaphysical aesthetics rather than physical wings and stone structure, so too is he an alchemist of a aesthetic bent, seeking to be purified by his series of life altering epiphanies that ultimately lead from his transmutation as a base Irish Catholic to a refined Aesthetic philosopher. We find additional emphasis as his “philosophic” nature fits well with the final outcome of alchemy, the Philosopher’s Stone.

In the end, Stephen arises is both the work and the worker of the “Royal Art” of Alchemy. By purging his soul of the draining influences of Catholicism, Irish Nationalism, and the ignorance of his peers and family, he is able to take flight as an aesthetic Daedalus who is able to master both the material and immaterial through use of Aristotelian Alchemy and linguistic mastery.

As he flies over the Cartesian divide inwardly and the oceanic divide between Europe and Ireland outwardly, he is able to aptly demonstrate his mastery of both Ultimately Joyce uses literary alchemy, myth, and Aristotelian philosophy to effective ends in creating a work that is unique in its layered alchemical meaning. Through examining the text through an alchemical lens, we’re able to appreciate Joyce’s work in a truly unique and underappreciated way.

However, this attempt to understand and explore the subject is severely lacking in relation to the potential work yet to be done. Further exploration could yield fascinating results when examining in this light and comparing to other alchemical works. Ultimately literary alchemy on its own has much to be explored as well as its use in Joyce’s other works as well.

1Joyce, James A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Classic, 1998, Pg. 1. Print.

2 Boes, Tobias “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and the “Individuating Rhythm” of Modernity, John Hopkins University, ELH, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Winter, 2008), pp. 767-785. Print.

3 Joyce, Introduction.

4 Joyce, pg. 217

5 Smith, Pamela H.. The body of the artisan: art and experience in the scientific revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Print.

6 Robinson, James. “Uneasy Orthodoxy: The Jesuits, the Risorgimento and the Contexts of Joyce’s First Readings Of Dante.” Anglia – Zeitschrift für englische Philologie: n. pag. Print.

7 Roob, Alexander. Alchemy & mysticism: the hermetic museum. Köln: Taschen, 1997. Print.

8 Akoi, Mohammed, Stephen and the Technique of Symbol-switching in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, Language in India, 19302940, Oct2013, Vol. 13, Issue 10. Print.

9 Smith, pg. 170.

10 Farrell, pg. 302.

11 Smith, pg. 150.

12 Joyce, pg. 8

13 Akoi, pg. 10.

14 Centola, Steven R. “The White Peace of the Altar”: White Imagery in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, South Atlantic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Nov., 1985), pp. 93-106

15 Smith, pg. 175

16 Conty, Patrick. The genesis and geometry of the labyrinth; architecture, hidden language, myths, and rituals. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, 2002. Print.

17 Joyce, pg. 10, 12, 33, 63

18 Tool, Michael Analysing Conversation in Fiction: The Christmas Dinner Scene in Joyce’s: “Portrait of theArtist as a Young Man” Poetics Today, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1987), pp. 393-416, Duke University Press. Print.

19 Farrell, Kevin The Reverend Stephen Dedalus, S.J.: Sacramental Structure in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce Quarterly, Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011, pp. 27-40. Print.

20 Joyce, pg. 6

21 Joyce, pg. 41

22 Farrell, pg. 29

23 Joyce, pg. 48-49 24 Joyce, pg. 73

25 Joyce, pg. 55

26 Joyce, pg. 83

27 Joyce, pg. 83

28 James, John The Mystery of the Great Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral, Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 11, #2. Spring 1977. Print.

29 Joyce, pg. 85

30 Niraimathi, S. “An Artist In The Making – James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man And Akilan’s Paavai Vilakku — An Analogical Note.” Language In India 11.12 (2011): 375-384. Communication & Mass Media. Web. 17 July 2014.

31 Joyce, pg. 101

32 Joyce, pg. 119

33 Joyce pg. 124

34 Akoi, Mohammed. “Stephen and The Technique Of Symbol-Switching In Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man And Ulysses.” Language In India 13.10 (2013): 294-307. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 19 July 2014.

35 Roob, pg. 65

36 Joyce, pg. 138.

37 Akoi, pg. 297

38 Farrell, pg. 31.

39 Akoi, pg. 301.

40 Akoi, pg. 303.

41 Joyce, pg. 145

42 Joyce, pg. 174 43 Roob, pg. 5.

Works Cited

Akoi, Mohammed, Stephen and the Technique of Symbol-switching in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, Language in India, 19302940, Oct2013, Vol. 13, Issue 10. Print.

Boes, Tobias “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and the “Individuating Rhythm” of Modernity, John Hopkins University, ELH, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Winter, 2008), pp. 767-785. Print. Centola, Steven R. “The White Peace of the Altar”: White Imagery in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, South Atlantic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Nov., 1985), pp. 93-106 Conty, Patrick. The genesis and geometry of the labyrinth; architecture, hidden language, myths, and rituals. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, 2002. Print.

Farrell, Kevin The Reverend Stephen Dedalus, S.J.: Sacramental Structure in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce Quarterly, Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011, pp. 27-40. Print.

James, John The Mystery of the Great Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral, Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 11, #2. Spring 1977. Print.

Joyce, James A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Classic, 1998, Pg. 1. Print. Niraimathi, S. “An Artist In The Making – James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man And Akilan’s Paavai Vilakku — An Analogical Note.” Language In India 11.12 (2011): 375-384. Communication & Mass Media. Web. 17 July 2014.

Smith, Pamela H. The body of the artisan: art and experience in the scientific revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Print

Robinson, James. “Uneasy Orthodoxy: The Jesuits, the Risorgimento and the Contexts of Joyce’s First Readings Of Dante.” Anglia – Zeitschrift für englische Philologie: n. pag. Print.

Roob, Alexander. Alchemy & mysticism: the hermetic museum. Köln: Taschen, 1997. Print. Tool, Michael Analysing Conversation in Fiction: The Christmas Dinner Scene in Joyce’s: “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” Poetics Today, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1987), pp. 393-416, Duke University Press. Print.

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