Two Artists, Two Portraits: Cohen/Joyce – A Study in Affinity


  • Nigel Hunter Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana



Leonard Cohen, James Joyce, Artistic affinity, Künstlerroman, Autobiographical fiction


Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) was a poet and novelist before becoming world-famous as part of the 1960s and ‘70s counterculture. His two novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), are significant contributions to Canadian literature and to postmodern fiction in general. Cohen himself, and more than one contemporary commentator, claimed for them certain affinities with the work of James Joyce, and the present account reflects on this claim. What in the progress of Cohen’s protagonist Lawrence Breavman, of The Favourite Game, echoes the education in consciousness of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus? Religion, politics, and sexuality are emphatic presences in both narratives; art too, clearly. But, is Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) simply a template for later autobiographical Künstlerromane, or is it Joyce’s example as an original master of the form that may be more pertinent here? Where are the main points of convergence and divergence between these two artists and their fictions? An attempt to elucidate some answers may contribute to the construction of an early consensus regarding Cohen’s literary status – and to the question of Joyce’s ongoing importance to later generations and later phases of artistic and cultural production.

Author Biography

  • Nigel Hunter, Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana

    Nigel Hunter is Professor Assistente in the Department of Letters and Arts of the State University of Feira de Santana (UEFS), Bahia, working in the Area of English Language and Anglophone Literatures. He teaches English and North-American literature, and literature identified as Postcolonial. He has published and lectured on figures as varied as Flann O´Brien, John Berryman, Yann Martel, Michael Ondaatje, Ernest Dowson, and Van Morrison, as well as more general literary-cultural topics. He has taught courses on Bob Dylan, Samuel Beckett, the European Modernists, and the Short Story. Vistas Diversas – Canadá e Brasil em Foco (UEFS Editora, 2013) is a collection of articles organized during his tenure as Coordinator of the Center for Canadian Studies at UEFS. Leonard Cohen has been a research interest for some years. He has an Honours Degree in Literature and Philosophy from the old Middlesex Polytechnic, in London, and a Master’s degree in Modern Literature from the University of East Anglia. Before moving to Brazil in 1997 he published a number of books for young people on a range of cultural, historical, and literary subjects.


Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: OUP, 1973.

Cohen, Leonard. The Favourite Game. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.

Cohen, Leonard. Beautiful Losers. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.

Cohen, Leonard. The Spice-Box of Earth. London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London: Penguin, 1960.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: OUP, 1983.

Nadel, Ira B. Various Positions. A Life of Leonard Cohen. Toronto: Random House, 1996.

Scobie, Stephen. Intricate Preparations. Writing Leonard Cohen. Toronto: ECW Press, 2000.

Simmons, Sylvie. I’m Your Man. The Life of Leonard Cohen. London: Jonathan Cape, 2012.

The Leonard Cohen Files:






Comparative Studies

How to Cite

Hunter, N. (2021). Two Artists, Two Portraits: Cohen/Joyce – A Study in Affinity. ABEI Journal, 23(1), 151-159.