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The fates of Irish Artists: Wilde, Joyce, aestheticism, and nationalism
Early readers of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) aware of the recent history of Irish writing would probably have heard an echo of Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) in Joyce's title. Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) concerns an artist, the painter Basil Hallward, who produces a portrait of the young Dorian Gray that, like Joyce's work, portrays and reveals the artist himself. Hallward's painting of a young man is 'a portrait of the artist', as Hallward declares in the first chapter of Wilde's book. The Greek names given to the central characters in both works invite the association, which yields a difference: Stephen Dedalus's story of intended escape from Ireland's limitations contrasts with Dorian Gray's self-destruction in England. Dorian murders the artist and kills himself, while Stephen tries to bring himself into being as an artist. Wilde is never mentioned in A Portrait, as he is in Ulysses (1922), perhaps because Joyce was more at ease later in his career about acknowledging his precursor's place in his work. He may also have felt that the similarity of the titles was sufficiently evident to conjure Wilde's book and his life as important contexts for reading A Portrait.
As with literary Romanticisms, a variety of literary modernisms can be described, and no description of modernism as a singular, determinate movement will gain universal assent. Among the varieties of poetic modernism, Thomas Hardy's is distinctive because of its class-inflected, skeptical, self-implicating tendencies. The modernity of Hardy's poetry reveals itself in highly ambiguous language, in a resistance to conventional attitudes and hierarchies involving nature and society, in the transforming of lyric traditions, and in an insistence by means of negativity on the possibility of achieving a defiant, permanently revolutionary freedom to choose and to refuse. It is worth admitting at the outset, however, that any depiction of Hardy's modernism is of necessity a selective affair. There is evidence of Hardy's modernity in poems that span the entire period of his career as a publishing poet from 1898 through 1928. Considering that Hardy's collected poetry consists of more than nine hundred texts, not including The Dynasts, a variety of patterns and tendencies can be identified. Primary to my reading of his modernity are poems that reflect on nature and on Romantic attitudes, war poetry, elegies, and poems that use negative language prominently.
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