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In Richard Ellmann's influential biography on James Joyce he describes Joyce's transformation from a pious schoolboy to a secular modernist artist as a type of “transmutation.” When it comes to Joyce’s fiction this transformation translates to a famous moment when Stephen Dedalus describes a “magical moment” where he will “meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld.” Once this moment happens Stephen will have become “transfigured.” While there are many such moments of transfiguration, there is one such moment when Stephen chooses the vocation of the artist and describes his soul as an “opening flower.” Flowers are famously symbolic for sexual appetite and romantic love, and yet Joyce turns it into a symbol for Stephen’s spiritual interiority. While the flower shows a process of transmutation from belief to unbelief, for Stephen the opening of his spiritual flower becomes a declaration for aesthetic and artistic autonomy.
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Gichan, Noah Z., "Floral Personification in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (2020). Senior Projects Spring 2020. 322.
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