James Joyce: The Creator Of The Epiphany

Categories: Modernism

Modernist literature appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in both Europe and North America. It is characterized by a break of the traditional literature and the struggle to create something new. Some innovations are brought by the use of a new epistemology (the subjective perception of reality), the experiencing mind, multiperspectivism and also, interior monologue (stream of consciousness, never-ending flux of the mind). Among the authors that put the basis of British Modernism were Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and D.

H. Lawrence.

'Do not be the old knowing author!' begged Virginia Woolf the others. Following the same line as Foucault, she meant to get rid of the God-like authority, reductive and limitative, and to find new relations between the writer and the reader. For her, objective reality does not exist. That omniscient narrator can only limit the reader to have an active role. In this way, she was after real human experience and the manipulation of space and time where the reader is no more a passive observer.

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In the novel, 'Mrs. Dalloway', the chronology is totally dissolved and we are taken through the meanders of Clarissa Dalloway's mind with the help of flashbacks. Even though the chronological time is only a few hours, through the flashbacks we are presented her entire life. Her double in the novel is Septimus Warren Smith, a war veteran bearing deep psychological scars. They both go through failures as Clarissa's failure to recognize the nature of time and Septimus' failure to accept it.

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Peter is the one who understands the difference between time and eternity. We are laid in front of us the quintessence of Virginia Woolf through 'What is this terror? What is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with this extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was.'. Such a strong image that puts you in the moment. Only the presence of Clarissa can convey such emotions, such excitement in someone's life. The time is stopped, it is arrested, framed in a kind of epiphanic moment ('moment of being').

Virginia Woolf's interest in experimentation is continued in her next novel, 'The Lighthouse', where we are presented the Ramsay family on holiday in Scotland. A conflict starts between the youngest son and the father because of the trip to the lighthouse. The novel recalls childhood emotions and highlights adult relationships. The plot falls on the second place after the philosophical introspection. There is little dialogue and no action, the text being written as thoughts and observations. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are iconic figures of male and female. He represents the male principle, sterile, arid, barren, analytical while she represents the female one, she has intuition, knows people by instinct and by becoming them. The three parts of the novel are written in different styles. Whereas the first part is concerned with the relation between the character experiencing and the actual experience of surroundings, the second part is unrelated to any people, being more concerned with the events seen in relation with time. According to G. C. Thornley and Gwyneth Roberts (1968:150), this novel introduces two main truth of Mr. Ramsay’s, the first one is the truth of facts that can be proved, and the other one the attempt to find the truth that lies below the facts and Mr. Ramsay.

'The Waves' is a very ambitious novel in terms of experimentation. Based on soliloquies, the six characters push the dialogism and multipersonal representation of consciousness to the extreme. It focuses on the theme of identity against the progress of time. Some of the new characteristics are the mechanical ballet (the mirror effect), the use of objective correlatives, the centrifugal movement and also the form of a poem in prose (poetic projection of moods and feeling). The compatible duos: Bernard and Susan, Jinny and Neville, Louis and Rhoda, they all speak with the same type of language. There is a seventh character, Percival, whose voice we do not hear. We get to know him through the voices of the others.

Although Virginia Woolf had no fear in experimenting, the most experimental modernist remains James Joyce, the author of 'Ulysses'. He was the prototype of the rebellious artist who revolutionized the form and the content of English novel. He is also the creator of the 'epiphany', being distant, detached and fully objective. The materials of his fiction are nets which are represented by nation, religion, language. Joyce declared: 'I am a servant of two masters'. Who? The British Empire and the Holy Roman Apostolic Church which somehow shaped his life. His novels' setting is always Dublin, the center of paralysis.

James Joyce tried to create a new sort of language, to break the nets. Also, his own biographical evolution goes with the one of his characters (autobiography). In 'A portrait of the artist as a young man' we are rendered the awakening of a conscious, Stephen Dedalus. The novel is seen as a bildungsroman or a kunstlerroman and also a slow and painful coming to terms. Stephen goes through a religious and intellectual awakening which will be continued in the next two novels, 'Ulysses' and 'Finnegans wake'. In this novel, epiphany is seen as an evolution of modernism. Dedalus seeing the girl on the shore being explained as the epiphany of becoming an artist.

In 'Ulysses', Stephen Dedalus makes a double departure and a double proximity, leaving and returning the island each time different. In 'The Dial', T. S. Eliot writes a review about 'Ulysses' in which he recognizes how significant Joyce's work will be for the modern literature. He declares the novel to be 'the most important expression which the present age has found', 'from which none of us can escape'. 16 June 1904 remains 'the longest day in literature'. Joyce once said that he had 'put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant', which would earn the novel immortality. His novel 'Finnegans Wake' is difficult to comprehend and even unreadable for its unprecedented experiment in a new prose style and a new novel form. It put James Joyce in the image of the precursor of postmodernism.

In English literature, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf are the two best-known novelists of the “stream of consciousness”. Joyce’s novels are written in accordance with his theory of “epiphanies” while Virginia Woolf’s works are characterized by the “moment of importance”. Both writing techniques are characteristic of stream of consciousness in modern fiction yet there are some similarities and differences between them.

One of the short stories 'A Little Cloud' from the 'Dubliners' tells Little Chandler’s experience of going to meet his friend Gallaher and his mental activities with hope to change his life in Dublin only to find its uselessness in the end- his sudden realization of truth or epiphany. This coincide with Woolf's moment of importance because it is deliberately arranged to reveal characters’ complicated inner thoughts just like in some of her writings. In addition, both of them need the impact of the external world or stimulus on the human mind. Both writing techniques intend to show rather than comment. The writers just present the characters’ thoughts and emotional reactions but do not make comments on them.

On the other hand, epiphany and “moment of importance” are also different. Epiphany is closely related to the plot of the story, while “moment of importance” is related to fragments. Epiphany usually marks the abrupt, sudden climax of the story forcing the story to end suddenly, while “moment of importance” often represents a lasting continuous flow of the character’s inner world. Epiphany has a wider social impact and more profound moral significance while “moment of importance” has a narrow and intimate focus on personal character.

In conclusion, these two writers are the ones who put the basis of British modernist fiction and whose masterpieces built a whole new view on how people wrote, but also perceived a novel. Through stream of consciousness and deep psychological insight, both Virginia Woolf and James Joyce succeeded in writing a new type of prose, detached, different and much more competitive than the traditional type of writing. Now, the reader is forced to think, to debate and to search through one's mind in order to understand the character and his/her life. There is no omniscient narrator, but a complex character with thoughts, ideas and experiences.

Works Cited

1. In class lectures;

2. G. C . Thornley and Gwyneth Roberts. An Outline of English Literature. England: London: Penguin Books, 1968;

3. The Dial, 'Book Reviews: Ulysses, Order, and Myth', November 1923;

4. STUDIES IN LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011, pp. 114-118.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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James Joyce: The Creator Of The Epiphany. (2024, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/james-joyce-the-creator-of-the-epiphany-essay

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