Book Club Drama: A Portrait of The Artist As a Young Man

“Alcohol should not be allowed at future meetings,” remarked a fellow participant as we walked away from the Commonwealth Club’s book discussion on Joyce’s Portrait. (Sidenote: the average age of attendees at Commonwealth Club events is ~70 years old.) The evening started out well-behaved, with the group voting on which book to discuss in January, then one of the members gave prepared remarks on A Portrait of The Artist. Another member (Mika?) challenged the group to identify where the artist exists in the book, the artist remains hidden only to emerge from his shell (eggs, birds!), at the very end. The elderly man beside me (lawyer-ish, tufts of hair sprouting from his ears, cartoonishly big watch and purple shirt with suspenders) burst forth with an incredulous “You don’t consider writing an art?!” before harrumphing himself back into his chair, wheezing and muttering.
Joyce tackles the triumvirate of unmentionables in his work: religion, sex, and politics. We covered each of these areas, but the group careened wildly off the wheels talking about religion, prompting the moderator to draw us back to the work itself, cutting off one of the participants. The offended party grabbed her purse and coat and headed for the door, saying, “Do you want me to leave? Or just shut up?” The moderator tried to calm her down, but pointed jabs were thrust on both sides. She eventually sat back down and made her point, which wasn’t as stunning as the outburst itself.
An undercurrent of anti-elitism murmured during extended remarks from the woman who studied at Columbia who kept bringing up her glory days of Columbia. Someone made an offhanded remark about Chico State, setting off a woman at my end of the table who said, “I went to Chico State and I resent that!” before huffing under her breath about the pretentious a-holes at the other end of the table. Another member commiserated, “I went to San Jose State, I know what you mean.”
Despite the drama, the discussion was instructive and well-informed. Up next month is Plato’s Symposium, another great candidate for drunken dispute among septuagenarians.