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James Joyce Made Me Grow Up

Suddenly I got it. The world was much bigger than me and my problems.

The first English Lit class I took in college was a small freshman seminar on "The 20th-Century Novel." We read a remarkable string of books, all written by dead white European men. One day, in response to a question from the professor, an exasperated young woman said, "I don't know. How can you expect me to understand or relate to any of this? I'm young, I'm a woman, this is the 1980s. What's the relevance?" In response, the professor said, "Miss Smith, obviously the book you'd most like to read is a book entirely about yourself, but we're not going to read that book in this class." Cutting as the remark was, it struck me as incredibly profound.Suddenly I got it. The world was much bigger than me and my problems and my needs and my solipsistic dramas. It encompassed Joyce's Dublin and Kafka's Prague and Gide's Paris, and I had plenty to learn from all of them if I was willing to open up. It was time to look outward. It was time to grow up.


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