Hmmm, that depends I suppose.
But before I elaborate, let me first say however you managed to stumble upon this Cafe place you’ve stumbled on a VERY strange place.
So ok, you feel ‘drawn’ to this work (Ulysses), should you read A Portrait first? And the short answer that pretty much everyone would give would be yes, and don’t miss Homer’s Odyssey either. That’s what school would instruct you to do, that’s the path the teachers have taken, so why shouldn’t you follow in their footsteps?
But here at the Cafe I’d first ask ‘why would you say you feel drawn to this work?’ Would it just be an intellectual exercise, or would it be like one of those destination stickers people slap on their travel trunks to announce to the world where they’ve been? What else do you read, and when you do so do you read with what I might call a genuine Life curiosity? Have you read anything outside school, because that seems to be the only avenue people take to learn anything these days?
That’s all to say, honestly, what about ‘this work’ draws you to it?
Should you read A Portrait first? Well, a young man named James Joyce wrote upwards of a thousand pages of a work he tentatively titled Stephen Hero. It was honest and it set forth a great many of his views upon Life and the world he was growing up in, and because it was such an easy book to read, so straightforwardly written, it had absolutely no chance of making it by the censures and getting published. He ended up throwing the vast manuscript or parts of it on the fire.
After hundreds of amendments, revisions, cuts and bowdlerizations, after compromising on just about everything, he finally succeeded in getting a much shorter version, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published. So A Portrait enters the academic cannon as published, but is it really what Joyce WANTED to say? Here at the Cafe at any rate I say ‘not a chance.’
However, the publishing of A Portrait did teach him one thing, what he could and couldn’t say in order to be published. Does anybody think, setting out on the composition of Ulysses, that Joyce didn’t keep that front and centre in his mind throughout the seven years he took to write that book?
The world calls it a masterpiece and a modern day recreation of Homer’s Odyssey, and mostly holds it up as an indecipherable puzzle, a game designed strictly for academics or intellectual amateurs.
But the world is out of whack and would rather play intellectual academic games than look itself squarely in the face. Joyce knew this, understood it, and worked with it in the writing of his mature works, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
A Portrait and Homer’s Odyssey is a good start, if you’re intent on tackling the games, getting a degree, and perhaps making a name for yourself in the literary field.
But Stephen Hero is a fragment of what he truly wanted to say before it dawned on him what tricks he would need employ, what screens he would need put up, in order to be published and have his world view launched into the willfully blind public’s arena.
So there I em, the long answer. It depends on you, what draws you to it or anything at all.
Told you this was a VERY strange place.