Saturday, September 15, 2012

Parallels with Sylvie and Bruno

"All of Dodgerson's dodges one conning one's copying and that's what wonderland's wanderlad'll flaunt to the full."

I recently read Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno (in the Mercury House edition illustrated by Santa Cruz's own Renee Flower) and I have heard of Joyce's familiarity with the work.  (James Atherton asserts it is the work of Carroll's Joyce read most attentatively.)

It's a really strange work, Carroll has essentially deconstructed the Victorian novel and the children's story mixing adult theological discussions, and satire with sentimentality, romance, magic and fairies, philosophy and nonsense, and made something that seems oddly modernist or postmodernist.  Needless to say it's still a walk in the park compared to the Wake.

Here's some of the parallels.

  • it starts in mid-sentence
  • there are abrupt transitions between states of consciousness and events
  • serious topics discussed seriously and sentimentally --
    are startlingly intermixed with nonsense and fantasy
  • much takes place in an eerie or dream state (in fairy land)
  • the waking world has a parallel plot in the dream world
  • character is fluid and characters have multiple incarnations in parallel
  • distortions of logic and language by the speech of childhood
Here's some notes essentially copped directly from the Editor's Note:
[N]oted one of Carroll's biographer's, "...[Carroll] was firmly resolved: that the project should be completely different from the Alice books." ... Another biographer adds, "Sylvie and Bruno bears the same relation to Lewis Carroll's earlier works, mutis mutandis,  as Finnegans Wake  to the more intelligible earlier productions of James Joyce... [Another says]... "...Yet many of the wildest and most startling features of Finnegans Wake are merely the logical development...of ideas that first occurred to Lewis Carroll."
And here's a thought, from Sylvie and Bruno:
"And what a grand thing it would be,” I went on dreamily, thinking aloud rather than talking, “if we could only apply that Rule to books! You know, in finding the Least Common Multiple, we strike out a quantity wherever it occurs, except in the term where it is raised to its highest power ..". "...Most libraries would be terribly diminished in bulk. But just think what they would gain in quality!”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Ed. Finally got to this. It's interesting that people who know Ulysses tend to at least know of Finnegans Wake, even if they think of it as unscalable, but I don't think Sylvie and Bruno has anything like the same recognizability to Alice fans. Of course, I suppose one difference is that a lot of people know the Alice books from childhood, which is rarely the case with Ulysses.

    The similarities and differences between Joyce and Carroll seem very fruitful fields of investigation.