Friday, April 9, 2010

Trees in James Joyce's Ulysses

I had the pleasure of teaching the "Cyclops" episode from Ulysses this week, and I was delighted to find an entire passage dedicated to trees:
The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O. Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence. The bride who was given away by her father, the M'Conifer of the Glands, looked exquisitely charming in a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey, sashed with a yoke of broad emerald and finished with a triple flounce of darkerhued fringe, the scheme being relieved by bretelles and hip insertions of acorn bronze. The maids of honour, Miss Larch Conifer and Miss Spruce Conifer, sisters of the bride, wore very becoming costumes in the same tone, a dainty motif of plume rose being worked into the pleats in a pinstripe and repeated capriciously in the jadegreen toques in the form of heron feathers of paletinted coral. Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of Woodman, spare that tree at the conclusion of the service. On leaving the church of Saint Fiacre in Horto after the papal blessing the happy pair were subjected to a playful crossfire of hazelnuts, beechmast, bayleaves, catkins of willow, ivytod, hollyberries, mistletoe sprigs and quicken shoots. Mr and Mrs Wyse Conifer Neaulan will spend a quiet honeymoon in the Black Forest. (Ulysses 268)
Let's hope the Joyce Estate doesn't make me take down that excerpt. Don Gifford notes that this particular section "parodies newspaper accounts of important social events" and "alludes to the catalogue of trees in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, a catalogue that has, in its turn, literary forebears in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and in Ovid's Metamorphosis" (Ulysses Annotated 352). Each tree name corresponds to its trait in the language of flowers (Pine is philosophical, Ash grandeur, etc.). This particular section tells the story of Redcrosse and Una who must avoid the suffocating fingers of "Dragon-Error (false doctrine)" as they traverse the "ambiguous realm" of this seemingly delightful forest (Gifford 352). Indeed, the protagonist of Ulysses, Mr. Leopold Bloom, faces his own danger in this episode as he confronts the racist and hyper-nationalist, "the Citizen," who hates the Irish-born Bloom for being a Jew, a trait that according to the Citizen, excludes Bloom from being a true Irishman. Bloom asks, "What is a nation?" before he declares that "love" should be the true goal of personal identity (273).  Fortunately for us who love the indomitable Bloom, he escapes the Cyclops' violence unscathed.

Ulysses on
Ulysses Annotated on

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