Analysis of James Joyce’s Stephen Hero

This is the title of the novel begun by Joyce on his 22nd birthday, February 2, 1904, shortly after the editors of Dana had rejected his essay “A Portrait of the Artist” because they deemed its contents unsuitable for their magazine. Textual evidence suggests that Joyce reworked much of the essay and incorporated it into the novel. Indeed, it is useful to see Stephen Hero (1944) as a transitional work from the aesthetic manifesto of “A Portrait of the Artist” to the creative achievements of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At the same time, readers need to make clear distinctions between Joyce’s initial effort to write a novel-length prose fiction and the work that appeared in print a decade after the project began. Although it is evident that Stephen Hero includes many of the same characters and incidents that later appeared in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this earlier work takes a much more literal, realistic approach to the subject, with none of the stylistic innovations that make A Portrait the prototypical modernist novel. Stephen Hero stands as an important document in tracing Joyce’s creative development, but its literary value, whatever that might be, remains distinctly separate from what he accomplished in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

What should be kept in mind is that Stephen Hero marks Joyce’s first steps as a fiction writer. By April 1904, Joyce had completed the first 11 chapters of the book, and he continued writing even after he began the stories that would make up Dubliners. By the time he ceased work on Stephen Hero in June or early July 1905, he had written 914 manuscript pages, “about half the book” by his own estimate (Letters, II.132). Joyce turned his back on the traditional, 19th-century novel form manifested in Stephen Hero when, in September 1907, he began A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

An overview of the extant narrative may not fully explain Joyce’s apparent disdain for the work. However, it does give one a sense of why he would wish to remove it from his canon. Stephen Hero is like none of the other prose fiction that Joyce produced over his lifetime, although it does anticipate themes found in Joyce’s later works: Stephen’s emerging artistic consciousness, for example, and the conflicts he faces within the confines of his social and religious environment. Some critics, such as Thomas E. Connolly, caution readers that Stephen Hero should be “the last of the Joyce texts” to be read, for only then will it be useful, and that it “should not be considered as a fragment of a novel, nor even as the first draft of a novel, because it does not fit into the genre of a novel at all” (“Stephen Hero,” in Zack Bowen and James F. Carens, eds., A Companion to Joyce Studies, 232). Others may agree with Theodore Spencer in his introduction to Stephen Hero that the fragment “can stand on its own merits as a remarkable piece of work” (18). The stylistic and narrative innovations that one associates with Joyce’s other writing from Dubliners through Finnegans Wake are absent from Stephen Hero. In spite of the limitations of the work, Stephen Hero is of importance to the understanding of Joyce’s growth as a writer.


The existing fragment of Stephen Hero opens with a truncated chapter beginning in mid-sentence. (Hans Walter Gabler has since renumbered the chapters of the novel, and this has resulted in a slight variation from the form of the work edited first by Theodore Spencer and then later by John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon. This entry uses Gabler’s numbering system, with the original chapter number given in parentheses. For details of Gabler’s argument for renumbering, see his essay “The Seven Lost Years of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” The opening narrative describes the president of University College, Dublin, and refers to the university bursar and to Father Butt, the dean of the college. Much of the remainder of this first fragment deals with the college life of Stephen Daedalus, as Joyce spelled the name throughout this novel (see under Characters, below) and specifically with Stephen’s budding reputation as a unique and formidable intellect based upon his work in Father Butt’s English composition class: “It was in this class that Stephen first made his name” (SH 26).

The next chapter, 16, offers a more concrete indication of Stephen’s ability by detailing the elaborate compositional exercises undertaken by Stephen as a means of honing his creative skills. As a way of contextualizing his struggle for artistic identity, it goes on to describe his often uneasy relations with other students who are bemused by Stephen’s taste and behavior. The narrative also highlights Stephen’s increasing lack of interest in his classes. The chapter provides evidence of Stephen’s sophistication when it touches upon specific Continental writers— Maeterlinck, Ibsen, Turgenev—whose works influenced Stephen’s views on art, and by extension it highlights the intellectual and artistic distance between him and others at the university.

Chapter 17 touches upon Stephen’s home life and upon his efforts to prepare an essay. It also shows, in Stephen’s exchanges with Madden (a variation on the Davin character who will appear in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), his unwillingness to submit even to a minimal degree to the authority of Irish nationalism. At this same time, Stephen begins to study Irish. This may seem to conflict with his attitude toward Irish nationalism, but as the narrative quickly reveals he is seeking in this indirect way to gain favor with a girl, Emma Clery. (In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, she is referred to only by her initials, E—— C——.)

Chapter 18 (18 and 19 in the old system) describes Stephen’s meeting with Charles Wells, an old classmate from Clongowes Wood College. (Wells will subsequently appear in chapter 1 of A Portrait as the bully who pushes Stephen into the square ditch, though he has no further involvement in that novel’s narrative.) Wells is studying for the priesthood at the seminary in Clonliffe, though their exchange makes it seem a pragmatic rather than an idealistic choice. The narrative then goes on to describe Stephen’s essay “Drama and Life” and his efforts to interest friends in his aesthetic views. This is an important juncture, for it draws attention to Stephen’s desire to gain acceptance as much as to declare his imaginative independence. Despite the iconoclastic tone of his ideas, Stephen does not articulate them simply to shock or distance others. Rather, he sees these views as essential to an aesthetic system upon which he intends to base his own work and which he strongly wishes his peers would embrace. The chapter ends with Stephen and the president of UCD discussing the president’s objections to Stephen’s essay, which Stephen had planned to present as a lecture to the Literary and Historical Society.

Without clearly resolving the issue of the president’s objections, chapter 19 (20 old system) offers an account of the presentation of Stephen’s paper and of the responses, both hostile and laudatory, that it elicits from his fellow students. There is also a description of Stephen’s refusal to sign the “testimonial of admiration for . . . the Tsar of Russia” (SH 114). The chapter concludes with discussions between Cranly and Stephen about the Catholic Church.

Chapter 20 (21 old system) traces Stephen’s growing friendship with Cranly, and outlines his growing alienation from the institutional aspect of Roman Catholicism. Like Stephen, Cranly takes a cynical view of much that goes on within the university community, and he shows little patience for the docile hypocrisy of his classmates. Unlike Stephen, however, Cranly contents himself with expressions of disdain and aloofness, and does not endeavor to make direct challenges to university authority. In juxtaposition to the way these views are developed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, through detailed conversations with Cranly, readers of Stephen Hero first see directly the conflict that arises between Stephen and his mother, who is deeply concerned about her son’s loss of faith, and then hear the elaboration of his position through exchanges with Cranly.

Chapter 21 (22 old system) shows Stephen temporarily without the moral support of Cranly, who has gone to Wicklow, and the absence underscores how different Stephen remains from most of the others at the university. The narrative reinforces this view through its account of Stephen’s desultory courtship of Emma Clery. As with the discourse on Stephen’s artistic views, exchanges with Emma reflect Stephen’s desire for acceptance even as they highlight his unwillingness, even inability, to change to accommodate the views of others.

Chapter 22 (23 old system) brings home the harshness of the Daedalus family’s life and Stephen’s sense of alienation particularly from his father, with a poignant description of the death and burial of Stephen’s sister Isabel, whose illness was announced in the preceding episode. The chapter goes on to describe Stephen’s second year at the university as a time of growing restlessness. Chapter 23 (24 old system) deals with the publication of a new college magazine, which Joyce based on the magazine St Stephen’s. It also describes the final break between Stephen and Emma Clery over his rejection of conventional courtship and his frank avowal of sexual desire.

Chapter 24 (25 old system) shows Stephen’s continuing intellectual attraction to the Catholic Church, despite his obvious unwillingness to submit to its authority. An analogous conflict with what Stephen sees as illegitimate authority occurs in his deteriorating relations with his father. There is also an epiphany, similar to the one that ends the Dubliners short story “Araby,” which leads him to compose “The Villanelle of the Temptress.” (In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen composes a poem of the same name after an erotic dream.) Finally, Stephen describes to Cranly his emerging aesthetic theory. (This passage is similar to the conversation Stephen Dedalus has with Vincent Lynch in chapter 5 of A Portrait.) Chapter 25 (26 old system) describes the final weeks before the end of the college’s spring term.

The continuous narration of the manuscript ends here. However, the 1963 edition of Stephen Hero contains additional manuscript pages that begin to describe the events of the summer Stephen spent with Mr. Fulham, his godfather and benefactor, in Mullingar. Nothing like this made it into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.


Artifoni, Father

He is a character who appears in Stephen Hero. Artifoni teaches Italian to Stephen Daedalus at University College, Dublin. He is modeled on Joyce’s Italian instructor there, Rev. Charles GhezziI, SJ. However, Joyce took the surname for this character from his employer at the Berlitz school in Pola, Signor Almidano Artifoni.

Butt, D., SJ

He appears as the dean of students at University College, Dublin, where he also teaches English. Although the dean of students is not identified by name in chapter 5 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, that character is probably also Father Butt, for the scene there replicates Stephen’s encounter with Father Butt in the opening pages of the Stephen Hero fragment. Joyce probably modeled his depiction of Father Butt on his recollections of the Rev. Joseph Darlington, SJ, dean of studies and professor of English at University College when Joyce attended (1898–1902).

Clery, Emma

She is the conventional young woman who is the object of Stephen Daedalus’s romantic fantasies. In chapter 23 (24 old system), Stephen shocks her with the bluntness of his proposition that they engage in a night of sexual gratification and then part forever. Cranly In Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Cranly appears as a close friend of Stephen Dedalus. In Stephen Hero Cranly provides the audience for Stephen’s discussion of his ideas on aesthetics. Cranly is modeled on Joyce’s friend and confidant, John Francis Byrne.

Daedalus, Isabel

She is a younger sister of Stephen Daedalus, whose illness colors the Daedalus family life for the first half of the manuscript. Because of poor health, Isabel is asked to leave her convent and return home to live, much against her father’s wishes. Not long after her return, she dies. The end of chapter 21 and the beginning of chapter 22 (22 and 23 old system) of the novel vividly narrate her death and its effect on Stephen and the Daedalus family. Joyce based the incident of Isabel’s death on the untimely demise of his brother George, who died in 1902.

Daedalus, Mrs

She is Stephen Daedalus’s mother. In chapter 18 (19 old system), Stephen reads her his essay on IBSEN and later gives her a few of Ibsen’s plays to read. In chapter 20 (21 old system), she is upset when she learns that Stephen is no longer a practicing Catholic. Mrs. Daedalus is the prototype of May Dedalus, the mother in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In both works, she stands as a figure who, despite the increasing poverty that oppresses the family, upholds traditional values and shields her son from his father’s criticism.

Daedalus, Simon

He stands as the titular, if ineffectual, head of the Daedalus household in Stephen Hero, and precursor of Simon Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, in which the classical spelling of the surname is modified. Mr. Daedalus’s domineering personality and his improvident and alcoholic ways are modeled on those of Joyce’s father, John Stanislaus Joyce. In Stephen Hero, Simon Daedalus is portrayed as a type rather than as a character. He is an angry and embittered man who resents his own family and whose social and financial downfall he blames on others. The narrator’s exposition of Mr. Daedalus’s character, as found, for example, in chapter 19 (20 old system) is much more direct and less skillfully crafted than in either A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Ulysses.

Daedalus, Stephen

He appears as the central character in Joyce’s unfinished novel, Stephen Hero. In essence the same figure, albeit with a more subtly evolved identity, appears in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses with the spelling of the name Daedalus modified to Dedalus. It remains important to keep in mind that, just as the Stephen Dedalus of Ulysses differs somewhat from his namesake in the previous novel, the Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man represents an evolution from the Stephen Daedalus of Stephen Hero. Although, as with A Portrait, Joyce intended Stephen Hero to trace the maturation of his central character from childhood to young adulthood, because only a fragment of the work has survived we see the protagonist only during his university period. Nonetheless, if we contrast him with the Stephen of chapter 5 of A Portrait, he emerges as stiffer, less complex, and surely less articulate.

John, Uncle

He is one of Stephen Daedalus’s two maternal uncles. He puts in a brief appearance in Stephen Hero (SH 166) during the family’s mourning over the death of Isabel Daedalus. At the Daedalus home, he criticizes in sanctimonious fashion the immoral books available in Dublin bookstores, only to be ridiculed by Stephen’s brother, Maurice Daedalus. Joyce used his maternal uncle, John Goulding, as a model for this character.

Keane, Mr

He appears in Stephen Hero as a leader (editorial) writer for the Freeman’s Journal and a professor of English composition at University College, Dublin, where he is one of Stephen Daedalus’s teachers. Although he does not appear in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, an analogous character, Professor Hugh MacHugh, does appear in the Aeolus episode (chapter 7) of Ulysses. MacHugh, however, seems to be more a visitor to than an employee of the Freeman’s Journal, and while he clearly knows Stephen, no specific university connection is made.


He appears in Stephen Hero as a student from Limerick with outspoken nationalist sympathies. Madden is a friend of Stephen Daedalus at University College, Dublin, where he is “recognized as the spokesman of the patriotic party” (SH 39). Madden serves as a foil for Stephen’s (and most likely Joyce’s) views on Irish nationalism. Joyce probably drew the details of his character from features of his friend George CLANCY. In chapter 5 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the figure of Madden is replaced by Davin, a student with similar nationalist sentiments.

Maurice [Dedalus/Daedalus]

He is the younger brother of Stephen Daedalus; glancing references are made to him as well in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, where he is called Stephen’s whetstone.

Stephen Hero offers a more detailed sense of the relationship between the brothers. Specifically, it shows how while growing up Stephen uses Maurice as a sounding board upon which to test his emerging aesthetic and artistic views. Joyce’s brother Stanislaus Joyce, who had often critiqued his brother’s efforts during Joyce’s early writing career, clearly served as the model for Maurice, and according to Richard Ellmann, Stanislaus was disappointed to see that many references to the character Maurice were dropped when Joyce revised Stephen Hero into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Moran, Father

He is a priest who appears in both Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Although he expresses nationalist sentiments and his friendship with Emma Clery arouses a measure of jealousy in Stephen Daedalus, his character is never developed beyond that of a type.


He is a character who appears in both Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Temple is an acquaintance of Stephen Daedalus, who, with Stephen, attends University College, Dublin. The character of Temple was based on a Dublin medical student, John Elwood, whom Joyce came to know through Oliver St. John Gogarty.

Wells, Charles

When Stephen is at University College, Dublin, he encounters Wells, who by that time has become a seminarian pursuing his studies for the priesthood at the Clonliffe seminary. When at Clongowes, Joyce had two classmates with the last name of Wells.


Categories: Experimental Novels, Irish Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis

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