[Milton-L] Milton and Joyce: artificers of separate realities?

Nancy Charlton nbcharlton at comcast.net
Wed Jul 28 14:16:27 EDT 2010


Surely I'm not the only Milton-L subscriber who also subscribes to the 
delightful newsletter, A.Word.A.Day.  This Monday the word was 
"artificer," and I sent them the following email:

    When I saw this word on Monday, my first thought was "Artificer of
    frand."  That's one of many appellations that Milton gives Satan in
    /Paradise Lost/:

                           ... he soon aware,
        Each perturbation smooth'd with outward calm,
        Artificer of fraud; and was the first
        That practis'd falsehood under saintly show,... (Book IV, lines
        119-122).

    Another literary artificer is Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce's /alter
    ego, /in /Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:/

        Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the
        reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the
        uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer,
        stand me now and ever in good stead.

    Still, for no good reason nor identifiable memory, the word first of
    all conjures up in me a vision of a white-coated /patissier/ making
    a splendid white-frosted wedding cake.

Just off-hand, there would seem to be no two major figures in English 
literature more dissimilar than Milton and Joyce, though their aims have 
some  parallels:

To "forge ... the uncreated conscience of my race" is not unlike 
pursuing "things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme."  In his endeavor, 
Milton invokes the heavenly Muse and at certain points God, Joyce 
invokes "life" and "Old father, old artificer."  Milton wants theodicy, 
Joyce wants the self.

This could be a rich vein to mine, and it all hangs on the concept of 
the artificer, but I leave it to someone better versed in Joyce and who 
needs to do a paper!

Nancy Charlton



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