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Bloomsday Special: Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville

Think I might do a quick Bloomsday thread/blog about the Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville playing cards by R. Fanto.

Cards again! I know. I don't mean for this to become a card-centric blog by any stretch, but the cards turned up today in the course of packing up my stuff to move into a new apartment and it just seemed like the right thing to do.

There's a PhD thesis waiting to be written about the arrangement of the novel's plot in this deck. Fanto was behind the journal Presage (who's imprint the cards were printed under). He also put out the deck of cards as a book version called Joker's Joy. All my reference material is packed up at the moment so I definitely can't do a card-by-card explication at the moment, but let's just have a look.

The art is spectacular. The black-and-white sketchy style is perfect for the riot of images, which might seem chaotic if it wasn't unified by the repeating rainbow swath that brightens all the cards. This is a deck of traditional playing cards but, in lieu of a Joycean Tarot, you could use this deck in card readings. Fanto seems to be nudging readers in that direction since the instructions give specific meanings to the suits:

♥️ Emotional

♣️ Physical

♦️ Spiritual

♠️ Symbolical

There's a depth of symbolism here that is richly tied up with the book, but a book that's so profoundly tied to the subconscious that it could readily lends itself to reading. Oddly enough, this deck came from the same lot as my Rider-Waite deck, which I talked a little about last month, so for me the connection is stronger.

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville title card

The title card says the deck is in memory of Joyce's biographer, Richard Ellmann, and I think in many cases this deck is referring to Ellmann's interpretations more than the novel itself.

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Hearts Ace-Five
Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Hearts 6-King

Here are the Hearts. It's very much focused on the Blooms and their relationship dynamic. Verging on dirty playing cards here, appropriately. The Sweets of Sin card is sexy af. There's so many bawdy moments. Look at the big banana in Boylan's gift basket. Rudy's presence here feels like a sobering counterweight, an emotional heft in the other direction.

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Jokers and Instructions

This seems like a good place to note that the whole deck does feel stacked in Bloom's favor: Stephen doesn't even get a card. (Joyce and Nora are the jokers, but that seems extratextual).

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Clubs Ace-Five
Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Clubs 6-King

Here are the Clubs, which Fanto describes as the physical suit. I wonder if the Irish Policeman card would have been better framed as the English soldiers who punch Stephen in Nighttown. Note, again, the wiener sticking out of the tub in the Four of Clubs.

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Diamonds Ace-5
Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Diamonds 6-King

The spiritual Diamonds. To me there is a lot here that seems on the nose. I read the book, and all of Joyce's work, as deeply spiritual. Here I only deeply feel that in the Five of Diamonds, starring the rat from the funeral chapter, Hades. The rest feels like Malachi Mulligan banging you over the head with the mirror and the razor doing his mock mass—which Stephen hates.

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Spades Ace-Five
Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville Spades 6-King

Here we are with Spades and the symbolic suit of the deck. The Ten of Spades is the culminating card, with Molly's famous "Yes," which, the more I read this book, the more it sounds like "Oh no" to me. The Shakespearean court cards are an interesting choice, because that seems so much a part of the middle of the book, not the end. Ditto the cheese sandwich. But the look on Shakespeare's face is priceless, and very aligned with Stephen's theory.

And that it. It's late, technically not even June 16 anymore where I am, but then again Bloom and Stephen didn't wind down their night until the early hours of the next day, and so can you.

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