Processes of Rebirth from Short Story to Novel

The Relationship between Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Compared with the Relationship between Les Plaisirs et les jours and À la recherche du temps perdu.—Philippe Chardin,

Proust and Joyce wrote short stories only once (Les Plaisirs et les jours and Dubliners ) as they were themselves "young men". In both cases, death appears at the beginning : in « The Sisters »,  which relates the strange death of a priest, who had become more or less insane ; in « La Mort de Baldassare Silvande », which deals with the early death of a man who has devoted his life to mundane pleasures and to dilettantism. In both cases, an important and original aspect of the subject is the discovery of death through a young boy's frightened and fascinated perception ; therefore, at the beginning of their own "educational novels" is also death. And death appears equally at the end, in these short stories that Joyce and Proust chose themselves to occupy these strategic position. The title of Joyce's last short story carries evidently a heavy symbolical meaning ("The Dead") ; and the title of Proust's last short story ("La fin de la jalousie") means at the same time the end of jealousy and the end of Honoré's life itself : "Je ne suis plus jaloux, c'est donc que je suis bien près de la mort"1. Meanwhile, in these short stories, nearly every character has had failure for keynote. In Les Plaisirs et les jours, every one spoils one's life, because of idlenesse and futility ; and Dubliners are, according to Joyce, "paralysed", a myth and a leitmotiv which is used by the author to unify his fifteen short stories.Whose fault is it ? The fault of the short story itself as a genre, that one may consider as a cruel exercice of shortening life, of "contraction of life", as they say at school ? Is it the fault of these years passed from one century to another ? Not only Proust - the title of Antoine Compagnon's famous book being Proust entre-deux-siècles2- but also Joyce as a young writer belong to a certain extent, from a literary point of view, to the nineteenth century ; Dubliners  is also a masterpiece of european Naturalism and Les Plaisirs et les jours  a masterpiece of european Decadence : now, overwhelming passion for pessimism is a well-known feature of Literature and of Art at the end of the nineteenth century, which was often satirized, particularly the way in which the pessimism of Schopenhauer's philosophy had become an object of worship. Is it the fault of youth itself ? Many professors of literature at the university have noticed that students are generally fond of subjects about diseases, mass-murders and death, while older professors, when such a program is proposed, are generally more reluctant...

In comparison, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man and A la recherche du temps perdu  are books of later rebirth, partly because one autobiographical hero is at the center of these novels and partly because it is also a generic tradition that an autobiographical and educational novel of the Artist integrates revival and creative work at the end. Moreover, as fashion changes quickly, even (or particularly) .in the intellectual and literary realm, the words "life" and "vitality" were so often used and praised before the first world war - during the years when Proust and Joyce wrote the main part of their novels - as the words "death" and loss of energy" a few years earlier. Nietzsche had faught against Schopenhauer and had won.

I'll take some more precise examples of that symetrical change in the landscape in Proust’s and Joyce's universes and of that proportional analogy in the contrast between desperate early short stories and a great novel of education with a future artist of genius as a hero of fiction.

Failures or successes of Joyce's heroes may often be symetrically enlightened by Deleuze's analyis, in Proust et les signes3, of signs, traps and truth in A la recherche du temps perdu.  In both cases, signs of love are for instance considered as a danger and as a lie. In « The Boarding House », the short story which appears more of all in Dubliners as a ruthless description of a sexual and social trap, Polly's mother, Polly's brother, the priest whom he confesses to, his catholic boss force Mr Doran's hand and, within a few days and even within a few minutes, the poor young man's life is definitely wasted. At the opposite, from the age of about twelve, during the last scene of the second chapter in the tram, until the escape to Europe in the last chapter, ten years later, Stephen refuses to yield to Emma's attempts to seduce him. A hero of art, "Stephen hero", may not marry an Irish woman, who is supposed to bring with her Church, Nationalism and literary bad taste. In À la recherche du temps perdu, Swann finally marries Odette, a strange turn of events after a long gap, loses the greatest part of his former good qualities ; his death is due to a highly symbolical malignous growth (meaning his stupid and no more "operable" jealous passion). But the narrator of A larecherche du temps perdu does not die, it is his « fiancée », Albertine, who falls from a horse ; there will be no more "prisoner" to prevent the future writer from living ascetically alone among his memories of the past. It is the same with the signs of sexual perversity. In An Encounter,  during a clandestine walk, two young boys meet a queer man and discover exhibitionism and pedophilic tendancies ; they have just lost their good humour and wasted the jolly time they had expected at the beginning of the day and that's all, the story finishes there. In Les Plaisirs et les jours, more tragically (in La Confession d'une jeune fille), a young girl commits suicide because her mother was the witness of her early initiation to love. At the opposite, in both novels, early discovery by a child of perversity (in Clongowes or in Montjouvain)  appears only as an unpleasant but important experience leading to Knowledge : "By thinking of things, you could understand them"4 early concludes Stephen in Clongowes ; and the word "savoir" is often repeated later on by the Narrator about this initial scene of profanation in Montjouvain. In Joyce, religion, not snobbery, is the second big realm of "false signs". Snobbery spoils talents and good qualities in a short story like "Violante ou la mondanité" but, finally, in A la recherche du temps perdu, the Narrator repels a temptation which Proust vigourously condemns in Le Temps retrouvé. In the same way, in Dubliners, Mr Kernan has become again, at the end of « Grace »,  a docile prisoner of the priests ; at the opposite, religious crisis is only for Stephen a stage leading to artistic signs, signs to truth. Sly Dedalus - a kind of Ulysses already ! - detects the snare which may be hidden in the apparently magnificent promises of the director of Belvedere inviting him to join the Jesuits'Order.

There were already epiphanies in Proust's and Joyce's short stories. The notion of epiphany matches perfectly with meanness, an essential feature of Dubliners according to the author. In Stephen Hero, vulgarity in the physical or social surroundings is even considered by Joyce as the best way to experiment a sudden revelation, a sudden revival:

By an epiphany, he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity
of speech or of gesture5.

But the effect of these small epiphanies is much more limited than the effect of the major final epiphany leading the Narrator or Stephen to Knowledge and to Art.

These epiphanies may for instance be artificial and temporary if they have their origin in drunkenness (in « Counterparts », in « After the race » and in « The Dead » or in « Un dîner en ville »). Besides, in Le Temps retrouvé, the Narrator draws clearly and explicitly a line between the feeling of omnipotence he has already experienced thanks to Porto (in his case, it was Porto...), and his present feeling of emotion and assurance due to his firm decision to begin at last to write his book6.

On the other hand, these epiphanies are often close to death in Joyce's and Proust's short stories (it is the same in the long short story by Tolstoï, « Ivan Illitch's Death », that Proust greatly admired). It is still possible to understand, but it is to late to change one's life. For instance, at the end of « A painful case »when Duffy, reading in the newspaper the announcement of Mrs Sinico's sordid death, understands that she had loved him, that he had scornfully despised this love and more generally that his own life had no meaning. We can find the same situation at the end of « La fin de la jalousie « : Honoré is dying, he gets rid of all passions such as jealousy, he has lived as a fool but he dies as a saint.

Moreover, in these early short stories, no character is a real Artist ; some of them have only dreamt in their youth of literary glory, such as little Chandler or Gabriel Conroy in « The Dead » ; or, in Les Plaisirs et les jours, some of them are only aesteths, the greatest temptation in Proust's universe, only playing very well the violin like Baldassare Silvande or associating already, like later on Swann, a marvellous piece of music with a mean love affair (Madame de Breyves in « La mélancolique villégiature de Madame de Breyves » ).

Lastlly, memory is essentially linked to death at the end of « A painful case », « Eveline », « The Dead ». Memory helps Stephen to escape from the traps and to get rid of his past to leave Ireland and to justify at the end of the novel his mythical name,"Dedalus". Memory was a song for sorrowness at the end of Baldassare Silvande's or Honoré's lives ; at the opposite, memory is in close relationship with "a work in progress" at the end of Le Temps retrouvé. And the word "life" is often associated with art in most famous passages at the end of both novels :

To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life7 !

So be it. Welcome., O life8 !

la vraie vie, la vie enfin découverte et éclaircie, la seule vie par conséquent
pleinement vécue, c'est la littérature9.

  In Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake, revival is no more dependant on the birth of a work of art, a kind of romanticism which probably did not suit anymore new tendancies of Joyce's universe. Besides, in Ulysses, Stephen has become, not exactly a secondary character, but at least the second or the third best of the novel ; moreover, he has lost this former faith in immortality through Art which permeates the last chapter of A Portrait. In Ulysses, revival seems essentially linked to the eternal process of death  and rebirth in the great chain of beings upon which Leopold Bloom broods, from a statistical point of view, during Dignam's burial :

 One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds
five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket. Other three hundred born, washing the
blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaa10.

In Finnegans Wake, the cyclic vision of cosmos and humanity is more ludicrous and far less realistic. A man may be at the same time alive and dead. Wine has killed Tim, the hero of the Irish song, who has fallen from the scale as he was drunk, but the drunkard revives as soon as he feels another wine running on his corpse...

At the opposite of Joyce writing at the same time the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the beginning of Ulysses, Proust never thought to write any other book after A la recherche du temps perdu which he considered, alike his hero in his autobiographical fiction, as his only Book. Nevertheless, even in À la recherche du temps perdu, allusions to mythical metempsychosis seem to be taken a little more seriously than allusions to eternal life according to western religions. And, at the end of Le Temps retrouvé, the Artist is perhaps not the only one to get, thanks to posterity, a right to revive. In some famous passages and images of these last pages, the writer seems to be none other than a member of the great chain of beings ; his work is frequently compared to a child "dont la mère mourante doit encore s'imposer la fatigue de s'occuper sans cesse11". And, if the reader has to weep because the writer is ill and soon will die, he has also to rejoice because other members of future humanity will gaily spend their life and gaily read his book :


1  Marcel Proust, Les Plaisirs et les jours, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1971, p. 165.

2  Antoine Compagnon, Proust entre deux siècles, Seuil, 1989

3  Gilles Deleuze, Proust et les signes,   PUF, 1969.

4  James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,Penguin Books, 1971, p. 43.

5  James Joyce, Stephen Hero, John Slocum and Herbert Cahoon, NewYork, 1955, p. 615.

6  voir Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de  la Pléiade, 1989, IV, Le Temps retrouvé, p. 613.

7  A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man,  p. 172

8  Ibid, p. 253.

9  Le Temps retrouvé, p. 474.

10  James Joyce, Ulysses, Penguin Books, 1986, p. 134-35.

11  Le Temps retrouvé, p. 619.

12  Ibid, p. 615.


Cet article se propose de mettre en évidence, à partir de la notion de renaissance,  une sorte d'analogie par proportionnalité dans la manière dont s'est opéré, chez Joyce et chez Proust, le passage de l'unique recueil de nouvelles de jeunesse au roman, des "Dubliners" à "A Portait of the Artist as a Young Man" et des "Plaisirs et les jours" à la "Recherche", en étendant brièvement aux trois autres  textes le type d'analyse mis en oeuvre par Gilles  Deleuze dans "Proust et les signes" et en insistant sur le rôle différent des épiphanies dans les nouvelles et dans les romans.

Pour citer cette page

Philippe Chardin, «Processes of Rebirth from Short Story to Novel», Item [En ligne],
Mis en ligne le: 27 octobre 2009
Disponible sur:

Notice bibliographique

Communication. Symposium international James Joyce "Joyce renaissant", université de Tours - juin 2008 (p. )

AccueilContactL'ItemRSSPodcast — Site propulsé par Lodel