Blog #172: Allusions and Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses and a Marvell

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Children of Writers

Like Marvell upon melons, I keep stumbling upon allusions, and my mind keeps creating “far other worlds.” This time the allusion resides in “the man who scratched on the wall of his cell.” Researching and thinking about the importance of Richardson’s Clarissa, I read Leslie Stephen’s Hours in a Library piece on Richardson. There I found the following sentence: “We pity those who endured the toil as we pity the prisoners whose patient ingenuity has carved a passage through a stone wall with a rusty nail. Green thought in a green shade. Virginia may have had Richard II and The Count of Monte Christo in mind, yet the Hours in a Library connection also echos and ensnares. Given Mr. Ramsay’s Leslie Stephen origins, I am going to have to read To the Lighthouse against Hours in a Library. I’m sure there are further delights waiting to be found.

I’ve mused about the pleasure and value of allusions before, but this latest example has me musing further. For one thing, there is such a pleasure in finding resemblances. To find the source of an allusion is like being a child and finding an Easter egg, or like being a treasure hunter and finding a trove of Roman coins. The thrill and delight of discovery is intense. The allusion does not even have to connect to anything beyond its source. Yes, there can be further pleasure if thinking about the allusion deepens understanding of the book and of Virginia’s purposes, but that pleasure, deeper and more useful though it may be, isn’t quite as intense as the simple pleasure of discovery. Bird banding suggests another pleasure. However much I may rationalize my banding activities as scientifically and environmentally useful, a keener pleasure comes from spotting and observing the owls.

Another allusion pleasure is watching Virginia’s mind at work. She, too, I am sure, delighted in allusions for their own sake. More than that, allusions allowed her to express her ideas about the mind and its capacity to connect things to each other. She revels in multiplicity. While her allusions often serve to advance and to deepen ideas, many exist simply for the sake of making a connection. Sometimes I can hear her chuckling to herself as she places yet another purloined letter in plain sight. Some of her allusions exist as private nods of the head or tips of the hat to writers she admired. She believed in writing as a communal project. Others are joking and humorous. Still others function almost as mathematical or physical theorems, in the “If A then B sense.” All, though, show an incredibly dexterous and nimble mind delighting in play.

I think, too, that Virginia used allusions in the the way the old peasant does in the La Fontaine story “The Peasant and His Sons.” Buried treasure is a great incentive to keep digging, and the allusions are encouragement to read and to reread again, and again, and again–not just Virginia’s books, but all books she might have read. Treasures are found if we follow the old peasant’s advice:

Creusez, fouillez, béchez; ne laissez nulle place
Ou la main ne passe et repasse.

Knowledge that allusions abound keeps us alert. No matter how many times we read, we are always alive to the possibility of making new connections. In reading after reading, the book remains fresh to new discoveries, possibilities and interpretations.

Another possible effect of all the allusions, an effect which might be both positive and negative, is uncertainty. I’ve now reached a state in my To the Lighthouse reading where I see allusions lurking behind almost every phrase. Sometimes, as with the Great Expectation ones in Mrs. Dalloway, I am sure of what I see. Other times, I wonder and I doubt. I read and surmise in fear of overrunning my signals. Take Mr. Bentley, “vigorously rolling his strip of turf.” I’m very confident in recognizing Bentley Drummle as one of his ancestors. However, I’m much more hesitant about seeing in him traces of the deaf gardener, “aproned, masked with Mathew Arnold’s face.” Given the importance of Ulysses to Mrs. Dalloway it is likely that the gardener and Mr. Bentley are relatives, yet it seems a dangerous Evil Knievel leap to go from:

Shouts from the open window startling evening in the quadrangle. A deaf gardener, aproned, masked with Matthew Arnold’s face, pushes his mower on the sombre lawn watching narrowly the dancing motes of grasshalms.

to:

Away and away the aeroplane shot, till it was nothing but a bright spark; an aspiration; a concentration; a symbol (so it seemed to Mr. Bentley, vigorously rolling his strip of turf at Greenwich) of man’s soul; of his determination, thought Mr. Bentley, sweeping round the cedar tree, to get outside his body, beyond his house, by means of thought, Einstein, speculation, mathematics, the Mendelian theory–away the aeroplane shot.

On the whole, even if mistaken, I think the leaps are worth attempting. This particular one may, for instance, yield useful thoughts about open windows, startling noises, the care of lawns, ghosts, and martyrs–to say nothing of dancing motes and Einsteinian physics. As a bonus it also has me thinking about rereading Joyce and trying to see a connection between “a calf’s head gilded with marmalade” and “Mathew Arnold’s face,” a connection I have never attempted before. Beyond that, I also want to dowse up more connections between Ullyses and Mrs. Dalloway, connections which might included beer and roses. “Pity, for the loss of roses.”

The Garden

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays;
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men:
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow;
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green;
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name.
Little, alas, they know or heed,
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheresoe’er your barks I wound
No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow,
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ‘twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ‘twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!

Andrew Marvell, 1621 – 1678

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