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The Art of the Epiphany

The Letter, Issue 35, Autumn 2005, Pages 101 - 111


THE ART OF THE EPIPHANY

Sandra Carroll


In what follows I want to discuss one particular scene in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I want to examine the Joycean concept of epiphany which I believe to be closely linked with Impressionistic art and I shall conclude with some remarks about the representation of women that informs Joyce's writing.

In the passage at the end of chapter IV in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus watches a girl in the river:

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and softhued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slateblue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some darkplumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.


She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

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