"The regulation of the purse is, in its essence, regulation of the imagination and the heart."(1)
James Joyce eventually evolved a complicated, even paradoxical attitude towards money: he alternately played the roles of miser and spendthrift, and synthesized the two impulses in Ulysses, which betrays in its structure and characters both his extravagance and his obsession with control. As a youth, however, Joyce attempted to defy bourgeois conventions by living on loans (which he often disdained to repay), by spending the meager sums he did earn, and generally by acting as though money were a tainted symbol of the "nightmare" of history.(2) Stephen Dedalus embodies many of the young Joyce's economic habits and philosophies. Like his creator, Dedalus attempts to manage the financial and linguistic economies in which he finds himself implicated. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen seeks to discover not only his vocation as an artist, but also the value of words themselves. He passes through a series of stages, which I shall describe as stewardships, in the houses of various Authorities: his father, God and the Church, and language itself. The final stewardship, he believes, endows him with the authority to speak the voice of his community, or what he calls his "race." In other words, Stephen progresses toward possession - of himself, of his destiny, and of his language.
By the end of Portrait he indeed appears to have taken possession of what an earlier version of Stephen calls his "spiritual assets": his linguistic and artistic patrimony.(3) As Ulysses opens, however, he is again dispossessed, and must discover those assets all over again, albeit by a different route. In Ulysses the dissipated Dedalus enacts the profligate side of his author; Stephen's artistic and economic failure can be remedied only through encounters with his oppressors (which would include himself), and finally through his meeting with Leopold and (vicariously) Molly Bloom. I want to argue, then, that Portrait not only exposes the sources of Joyce's and Stephen's economic habits; it also lays the theoretical cornerstones for the economic tropes and philosophies upon which Ulysses so fascinatingly builds. At the same time the earlier novel reveals the differences between Joyce and Stephen: while Stephen remains bound to inadequate notions of the linguistic economy and his role in managing it, Joyce's portrayal of Stephen's struggle proves that he has surpassed his character as both artist and economist.(4)
Portrait is largely a novel about language, and Stephen's world is primarily a verbal or semiotic one. Although he is aware of his social surroundings, they are muted and filtered through his emphatically self-absorbed consciousness. In this sense, unlike the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman, Portrait is not a realist fiction in the way that, say, The Mill on the Floss is realistic. Joyce's novel excises connective - and virtually arrests - plot movement, which is replaced by epiphanic, almost static vignettes.(5) In fact, Portrait appears during the historical moment when, according to Jean-Joseph Goux, literature began to depart from the "gold standard" of realism, a moment that occurred contemporaneously with a new kind of banking system that replaced industrial capital with monopoly or fiduciary capital. Economics was no longer based upon gold coins, but upon "dematerialized money" - banknotes, fiduciary bills - money as promise or script. The result was a "dematerialization of value."(6) Likewise, as Modernism replaced realism, art tended towards abstraction from mere things, instead valorizing "reciprocal relationships among signs" ("Banking," p. 23). If realism offers an allegedly transparent language in which words refer specifically to things or concepts rather than to themselves, the language of Modernism reminds readers that fictions are not simply windows on the world, but prismatic refractions of sign systems. Words are exchanged not for things but for other words. In this new, decentered world, "what circulates is no longer either an ideal measure of value or an object backed by bullion in a treasury, but a pure signifier, a simple token, caught in an indefinite play of give and take." Lacking an anchor, the linguistic consciousness, like Ulysses himself, wanders homeless ("Banking," pp. 23, 22).
Stephen awakens to the symbolic economies of money and language concurrently throughout the novel. For example, he is both delighted and dismayed that the same word may have more than one meaning: "That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt."(7) Sometimes a word's meaning may echo its sound: at least one meaning of both "suck" and "kiss" is easily discoverable by saying the word aloud. (The social connotations of words still elude him: why is it both unacceptable and acceptable to kiss one's mother? And why "did people do that with their two faces?" [P, pp. 11, 15].) Just after the "belt" passage, he is made aware of the financial economy as he leaves for school and his father gives him "two fiveshilling pieces for pocket money" (P, p. 9). This gesture dramatizes the economic condition of the Dedalus family at the beginning of the novel - they are affluent enough to be able to give a small child half a pound for pocket money - while its proximity to Stephen's consideration of words suggests the homologous relationship between the two symbolic economies. In both economies he at first seeks to arrest proliferation and exchange in order to determine and stabilize his identity and thereby find a stable home. Thus, attempting to locate and moor himself in the material world, he names himself and his surroundings by compiling orderly lists of increasingly wider spaces, as if to name is to fix meaning, identity, and material exchanges (P, p. 15). Likewise, because the fiveshilling coins are called crowns, his father's gift inadvertently identifies Stephen: stephanos means "crown." Later in the novel Stephen recognizes the pun on his name as a form of destiny that leads him to his artistic vocation, and he puns on it in Ulysses when he looks at his hat and thinks "Stephanos, my crown" (U, 9.947).
But he can better discover the true meaning of his name by enacting its heroic history. Defying Fr. Dolan's authority and protesting to the rector about his unjust pandying, Stephen repeats that his punishment was "unfair and cruel." In fact, he is referring both to his own punishment and to the injustice done to his hero, Parnell. The very words "unfair and …