Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville
The James Joyce Cards

[Front of Box]

R. Fanto, Presage International

[Title Card][Back of Cards]Both decks I have in this series are those friendly sort of decks that come with substantial explanatory notes. Of course, they have to, because unless you're a serious student of the works in question, all this becomes quickly opaque, even nonsensical. The deck is the creation of R. Fanto (also responsible for the artwork in the Oscar Wilde Playing Cards), copyrighted in 1989, with the collaboration of Richard Ellmann, a biographer of both Wilde and Joyce. Fanto did all the artwork and devised the overall scheme, with Ellmann offering suggestions and recommending directions. The "title card" from the deck says, at left, reads, "R. Fanto Presents A Vau-De-Ville Ulysses / The James Joyce Cards / i.m. Richard Ellmann." I take the last line to mean "in memoriam," which is a loss to the playing card world.

The cards have the same artistic style as the Wilde cards (as you might expect), and yet the overall impact is evocative of Joyce's non-linear, streaming, almost dream-like work. The cards themselves all share the same background, a watercolor rainbow fragment. It's fascinating to see how the artist has brought that background into each drawing and made it so very different from its original form.

From the introductory card in the deck:

The Vau-de-Ville of James Joyce's "Ulysses" encircles and condenses into a pictorial form the adventures of a single day, June 16, 1904. Each image is part of a puzzle in which past, present, future, naturalism, symbolism, reality, hallucination are superimposed ind interwoven.

Mock heroic exaggeration and pomposity explode into laughter through visions, fantasies and internal monologues. Hearts are emotional. Clubs are physical. Diamonds are spiritual. Spades are symbolical. R. Fanto created the drawings and devised the scheme based on many useful hints given by Richard Ellmann, Joyce's biographer.

© R. Fanto 1989

As with the Wilde, there is also a paper insert in the deck which offers a much more detailed explication of the deck. But it's huge, and I apologize now for saying that the insert in the Wilde deck was long. It's merely a trifle by comparison. And by now you can guess that I can't include this insert here any more than I could the Wilde. If you really want to read all this fascinating material, seek out the deck. And like the other decks in this series, find it, buy it, cherish it. Contact information for Presage, such as it is, is in my Manufacturer's Page. But all is not lost. I am including some snippets from this sheet as it refers to the individual cards on display, to give you a sense of what a wonder it is.

All images © R. Fanto 1989, displayed here for commentary, analysis and appreciation only.

Ace of Hearts

Ace of Hearts


Three of Diamonds

Three of Diamonds

George's Church

Seven of Clubs

Seven of Clubs

Kingstown Pier

Nine of Spades

Nine of Spades


Jack of Diamonds

Jack of Diamonds


Queen of Spades

Queen of Spades

Anne Hathaway

The cards progress chronologically through the story from Ace to Ten, focusing on events in the story appropriate to the suits, as described above. So we start, with the Ace of Hearts, with the emotional reverie surrounding the events on Howth Hill (where we eventually finish, symbolically, with the Ten of Spades, "Yes"), and move to the physical separation of Dedalus from Martello Tower in the Ace of Clubs, and so forth. The Jack, Queen and King are the characters analyzed, and the personifications of their motivating forces.

I offer the description of the cards I show above:

Ace of Hearts: Molly and Bloom lie among the Rhododendrons the day he proposes. The moment of affection on Howth Hill is Bloom's fondest memory, the beginning of their life together and the setting for Molly's final rêverie.

Three of Diamonds:Through the day and night the bells of St. George's Church mark the call of time.

Seven of Clubs: Stephen is bored teaching Greek history in a boys' schol. After a few questions and answers, he asks "What is a pier". "A pier, sir, a thing out in the water. A kind of bridge. Kingston Pier, sir". (Laughter). The boys knew it was the place frequented by prostitutes. "Yes, a disappointed bridge" says Stephen, realizing that history is a nightmare from which he wishes to awake and that only a mother's love ensures the continuity of the species and therefore of history.

Nine of Spades: Gibraltar is Molly's birthplace. She romantically confuses the Rock with the Hill of Howth where Bloom courted her.

Jack of Diamonds: Refusing everything, Stephen identifies with Lucifer, the rebel: "I will not serve."

Queen of Spades: Molly's infidelity to Bloom is mirrored in Anne Hathaway's betrayal of Shakespeare. Both took the initiative when seducing their husbands. As Stephen says: "If others have a will, Anne hath a way."

Now let me say that no mere deck of cards can compare to the swirling, kinetic, wondrous interweavings of Joyce's work. But this deck tries, and it's a deep and rewarding work. For the casual reader of Joyce, if there can be such a thing, it provides great illumination of the text, which might itself have seemed opaque or nonsensical at times. Having been produced by serious students of Joyce's work, this deck can quickly show the reader the large themes they may have missed, and point them towards finding their own path through Joyce's Dublin. And for the serious student, it's both an enjoyable diversion and a window on the power of a transmutation of Ulysses into other media. As I said about the Wilde deck, find it, buy it, cherish it.

Other links to web pages dedicated to Joyce himself and his works can be found through Yahoo's listing: Yahoo! - Arts : Humanities : Literature : Genres : Literary Fiction : Authors : Joyce, James (1882-1941).

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