Style and Artifice in Nausicaa
Style and Artifice in “Nausicaa”
To start reading the “Nausicaa” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, argues Karen Lawrence, “is to feel that one has stumbled into a bad Victorian novel” (119). The cloying adjectives, clichéd phrases, antiquated diction, and precious treatment of scene and character of an unfamiliar third person narrator abound as Joyce begins the episode with a deliberate stylistic parody of popular sentimental Victorian literature. The ironic, overwrought style of the episode eventually gives way, however, to a free indirect discourse where the character Gerty MacDowell’s thoughts, memories, and personal absorption of language and culture supplant the mysterious narrator’s authority and voice, creating an uncertain boundary in style between artifice and reality.
The gradual shift in the episode’s style is so blatantly incongruous that it initially seems conducted purely out of mockery, but focusing on the particular stylistic mechanics of the shift introduces us to a more significant intent. Joyce parodies the artificial language of popular sentimental literature by arguing that it is as contrived as the self-fashioning adherence to the false promises of beauty advertisements that are replete throughout popular culture and Gerty’s own consciousness. In doing so, Joyce argues that all forms of style that attempt to ameliorate reality, be it through language or other signifying systems such as fashion, create false representations of reality. Juxtaposing Joyce’s use of style alongside text images from Maria Cummings’ The Lamplighter, which Gerty alludes to and Kimberly Devlin argues Joyce parodies at the beginning of the episode, as well as beauty advertisements from popular women’s magazines that Joyce would have been familiar with and which Gerty makes reference to, I argue that Joyce’s stylistic shift in the first half the episode is used to deconstruct productions of style that function purely as artifice.
The opening narration of “Nausicaa” is entirely dissimilar to any narrative voice in Ulysses that precedes it. Here we have neither the indirect free thoughts of Stephen or Bloom nor the puns, variable diction (mixing the vulgar with the poetic), and complex syntax of the third person narrator that has previously tendered the novel. Instead, we are immediately introduced to a limited romantic narrator waxing sentimentally on a group of women and children as they idle on Sandymount Strand. The diction in the opening paragraphs is uniformly and cloyingly precious. Buoyant adjectives abound, as the women, children, and their environment are all described in glowing terms; no menace appears to threaten the halcyon scene, and everything is presented as perfectly quaint to the point of absurdity:
Far away in the west the sun was setting and the last glow of all too fleeting day lingered lovingly on sea and strand, on the proud promontory of dear old Howth guarding as ever the waters of the bay, on the weedgrown rocks along Sandymount shore and, last but not least, on the quiet church whence there streamed forth at times upon the stillness the voice of prayer to her who is in her pure radiance a beacon ever to the stormtossed heart of man, Mary, star of the sea. (Joyce 13.1-8)
Here, the sun is not merely setting below the horizon as the women and children sit on the beach, but the “last glow” of daylight is lingering “lovingly” upon everything in sight; Howth, sitting in the distance, is described as “dear” and its promontory “proud”; all is in “stillness” even the “quiet” church, though through the silence there is the occasional prayer overheard for the virgin Mary, who is described as having a “pure radiance” and is both a “beacon” and the “star of the sea.”
The women and children are introduced with equally fervent sentimentality. Tommy and Jack Caffrey are “very noisy and spoiled twins sometimes but for all that darling little fellows with bright merry faces and endearing ways about them” (13.16-18). Cissy Caffrey, sister to the twins, is variously described as “patient” (13.30), “persuasive” (13.33), “truehearted” (13.35), “frolicsome” (13.37), and “lovable in the extreme” (13.37-38). When a “slight altercation” (13.40) between “Master Tommy” and “Master Jacky” threatens to disrupt the placid scene, Cissy is, of course, there as a “mistress in the art of smoothing over life’s tiny troubles” (13.57), using her “quick motherwit” (13.75) to solve the incipient crisis and produce order back to the scene. In the beginning of the episode, the elaborately sentimental diction of the narrator amplifies and pacifies the landscape, the characters, and even their potential conflicts; any discord, threat, or vulgarity are concealed by a careful attention to prosody and cheerful verbiage.
Joyce’s diction in the opening of the episode, here, is directly parodying, what Kimberly Devlin calls, the “saccharine prose” of popular Victorian novels like Cummings’ The Lamplighter (385). Devlin’s analysis, though useful as a means of comparison between the two narrative arcs of both “Nausicaa” and The Lamplighter, does not address Joyce’s particular parody of Cummings’ diction and prose, however, which is why it is useful to look at her text and note how Joyce is deliberately parodying her style. And though Joyce does not take exact phrases or fragments from The Lamplighter (other than adopting the name “Gerty” for his own heroine of the episode), he does mock the “saccharine prose” that Cummings frequently employs through a comedic exaggeration of her style. There are numerous instances in The Lamplighter where Cummings resorts to a precious use of language, granting every noun an adjective, and painting a scene with extravagant prosody and sentimentality. Observe, for instance, the use of descriptive phrases on page 226 of The Lamplighter as Gerty pines for her absent friend Emily: “She longed to tell her how many times during the winter she had sighed for the gentle touch of the soft hand which was wont to rest so lovingly on her head, the sound of that sweet voice whose very tones were comforting” (226). Observe, as well, on pages 475-76, Cummings’ deliberate attention to prosody and rhapsodic diction as she describes a beloved home from childhood that Gerty revisits:
all had the same friendly, familiar look as during the first happy summers, when Emily, sitting in her garden-chair beneath the wide-spreading tulip-tree, listened with delight to the cheerful voice, the merry laugh, and the light stop of the joyous little gardener, who as she moved about in her favorite element among the flowers, seemed to her affectionate, loving blind friend the sweetest Flora of them all. (475).
In both passages, sweet descriptive adjectives excessively proliferate to create a visual and linguistic impression of impossible placidity.
Certainly, the sentimental style of diction is used in these passages to present idealized impressions Gerty has of people and places in The Lamplighter, but they also demonstrate for us how Joyce would be interested in mocking Cummings’ repeated use of saccharine descriptive adjectives to delineate a scene or mood. Cummings’ repetitious use of idealized descriptors like “gentle,” “soft,” “lovingly,” “sweet,” “cheerful,” “merry,” “joyous” and “comforting” is mimicked and distorted at the start of “Nausicaa” where every descriptive phrase and delineation of character and scene becomes one of idealization and cloying enthusiasm. The mockery is then increased by Joyce’s insertion of glib clichéd phrases, like “happy as the day was long” (13.20), “as good as gold” (13.34), and “boys will be boys” 13.41) that add to the excessively idealized sweetness of the scene. Joyce may not be conducting a direct parody of a specific scene from The Lamplighter, but at the start of the episode, he is parodying how Cummings uses a limited range of style to create an affected impression of characters and their environments that perhaps has no basis in reality, but may, in fact, be used to cover potential discords in reality.
Indeed, once Joyce introduces his own Gerty to “Nausicaa,” his parody of Cummings’ style becomes more pronounced, and he begins to suggest that it operates as falsely as the language of beauty advertisements that promise impossible cures of physical “deficiencies.” Gerty’s introduction to the episode creates an abrupt shift in the narrative style, as the sentimental third person narrator begins to be frequently interrupted by a new third person narrative voice that mimics the language of beauty advertisements and women’s fashion magazines: “The waxen pallor of her face was almost spiritual in its ivorylike purity,” (13.87-88), “Her hands were of finely veined alabaster with tapering fingers and as white as lemonjuice” (13.89-90), “She wore a coquettish little love of a hat” (13.156). Gerty’s own free indirect speech also begins to interrupt the episode, in a similar style to Stephen and Bloom. She recalls the words of popular beauty advertisements promising miracle cures for bodily imperfections: “Then there was blushing scientifically cured and how to be tall increase your height and you have a beautiful face but your nose?” (13.113-114).
This narrative shift away from our excessively sentimental narrator, whose descriptive capabilities are limited merely to the quaint and favorable, to a narrator equipped with a wealth of language devoted solely to the description of appearance and fashion (and the narrative mind of Gerty that has been inculcated by both) serves as a double parody for Joyce. Joyce is able to simultaneously mock the images and language of beauty advertisements and columns as well as the language of sentimental literature by suggesting that they both perform the same artificial representation of reality. The language of our new narrator devoted to extravagant descriptions of beauty is as affected and limited as the language of the sentimental narrator. Both are committed to presenting a specialized and idealized vision of reality that may never be attainable and may only be used to conceal disunity and imperfection. As the narrative voice shifts away from both idealizing narrators towards the interior monologue of Gerty, we get a broader use of diction that allows for the appearance of enmity and disruption to the perfectly presented exteriors. Indeed, underneath Gerty’s “softlyfeatured face” (13.105) there may also be a “gnawing sorrow” (13.188); the “darling little” twins may, in fact, be “exasperating little brats” constantly quarreling with one another (13.466); and counter to the narrator’s promise of a “cosy chat beside the sparkling waves” (13.11-12) the friendship between Cissy, Edy, and Gerty may be concealing “towering rage” and “petty jealousy” (13.600-601). Once the style of the narrative shifts away from specialized language, delimited in its scope of description by a set discourse, new language emerges to present alternative and potentially disruptive ways of understanding the reality of the episode.
As aforementioned, during her interior monologues, Gerty makes reference to popular beauty advertisements seen in weekly journals like Lady’s Pictorial and Princess Novelette. One of the advertisements she alludes to is for a “nose shaper”(appearing in various imprints during the late 1910s and early 1920s) that implores its audience to be perceived perfectly by the general public, as the “failure or success” of one’s life depends upon it. In the advertisement, a man’s nose is portrayed “before” and “after” as a testament to his ideal transformation; his up-turned nose is miraculously altered into the model aquiline nose of his dreams. The “after” image, like sentimental writing and the language of fashion magazines, creates the impression of an attainable ideal reality, one that improves upon the fractures and scars that suffuse the quotidian experience of life. Joyce references the language and images from this advertisement not merely to mock its ludicrous promise of perfection, but to direct us towards how his use of parody in the episode reverses the process that the advertisement promises. By taking the halcyon promises of sentimental literature and beauty columns and revealing the linguistic cracks in their such carefully managed facades, Joyce takes the idealized, aquiline nose and bends it back upward.
Cummins, Maria S. The Lamplighter. Boston: Boston, 1854. Sabin Americana. Gale Cengage Learning. Web. 20 October 2014
Devlin, Kimberly. “The Romance Heroine Exposed: ‘Nausicaa’ and The Lamplighter.” James Joyce Quarterly 22.4 (1985): 383-396. JSTOR. Web. 20 Octoboer 2014.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior. New York: Vintage, 1986. Print.
Lawrence, Karen. The Odyssey of Style in Ulysses. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981. Print.
Thorton, Weldon. Allusions in Ulysses. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1961. Print.