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Joyce's sparing use of commas sometimes makes sentences difficult to parse for me, e.g.

The gossip of his fellowstudents which strove to render the flat life of the college significant at any cost loved to think of him as a young fenian.33 His nurse had taught him Irish and shaped his rude imagination by the broken lights of Irish myth.

I personally "hear" commas (pauses) being in two positions:

The gossip of his fellowstudents**,** which strove to render the flat life of the college significant at any cost**,** loved to think of him as a young fenian.33

However for the next sentence that follows the above in the book, I can't seem to figure out any configuration that makes sense:

He stood towards this myth upon which no individual mind had ever drawn out a line of beauty and to its unwieldy tales that divided themsleves as they moved down the cycles34 in the same attitude as towards the Roman catholic religion, the attitude of a dullwitted loyal serf.

34. the cycles: the great Irish epic tales belong to a number of groupings or cycles – the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, the Cycle of the Kings, the Mythological Cycle.

Can someone add commas or other notations, or even split the sentence into multiple sentences, to help me understand its meaning?

My attempt starts like this:

He [embodied] this myth**,** upon which no individual mind had ever drawn out**:** [1] a line of beauty and [2] to its unwieldy tales [...]

But that doesn't seem to be right, the second of two items starting with a preposition.

  • It's James Joyce -- it's not supposed to make sense. But consider that "stood towards" and "same attitude" are both referring to an intellectual "direction" he's facing. (No commas are required, unless you want to insert one before "and" and after "cycles".) – Hot Licks Jan 4 '16 at 2:18
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Stand towards/to X in an attitude Y means "Adopt a posture Y toward X".

He stood towards A and to B in the same attitude as [the attitude in which he stood] towards C, viz. the attitude of ... a serf.

 He stood    towards  (A) this myth 
                          upon which no individual mind had ever drawn out a line of beauty
             and to   (B) its unwieldy tales 
                          that divided themselves as they moved down the cycles
 in the same attitude as [he stood]
             towards  (C) the Roman catholic religion, 
         the attitude of a dullwitted loyal serf.

He adopted the same serflike posture toward this myth and its unwieldy tales as he adopted toward the Roman Catholic religion.

  • I was nowhere close, and your answer was astounding in its clarity (and clean formatting). Wish I could upvote more than once. Thank you very much. – Andrew Cheong Jan 4 '16 at 2:28
  • 2
    @AndrewCheong I've always found Joyce leaps off the page if you read him with an Irish accent! – StoneyB Jan 4 '16 at 2:33

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