Academic journal article British and American Studies

Sub Rosa Dictum: A Rose for Emily, Something Special, Wild Swans. the Tacit Intertexuality of Love Discourse

Academic journal article British and American Studies

Sub Rosa Dictum: A Rose for Emily, Something Special, Wild Swans. the Tacit Intertexuality of Love Discourse

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

There are three roses in this bunch: Emily, Yvonne, and Rose. Subject to critical evaluation, they provide a methodological tool: what is sub rosa is beyond mere morphology. Moreover, taken chronologically, these stories show the rose grow, bud, and flourish into what transcends time itself.

Put through a love ordeal, the three protagonists are initiated into the adult world, an experience that proves both disastrous and eye-opening (e.g., the Sumerian goddess Inanna's rosette can be identified with an eye, the third eye, as it were). Analyzing the metaphorical systems that evolve around the rose, the controlling image of the three narratives, I am looking for patterns that could help interpret similar stories and even single out the "flower" discourse as a special type of coming-of-age narratives.

A prominent stratum in the stories' subtext is the basic Indo-European myth, which features the fight between the Thunder god and the Devil, a binary that appears to be formed as a result of the "cosmic" rosette's swirl (cf. the conceptual metaphor LOVE IS WAR).

In this paper, I make use of linguoand mythopoetic methods of analysis with elements of conceptual analysis.

2. Wild Swans by Alice Munro (Munro 1995:1049-1055).

A common experience: viewed from outside the cathedral, the rose window is material, "a handle stuck to a pot"; viewed from inside, "what is tom up by drunken men," in Flo's words, turns spiritual. What is seen through a glass, darkly, or through a "filthy window," as the minister points out, is almost a sacrament, an intimate affair between priest and penitent in the confessional of a train compartment, newspaper palaver (or lace dress, for that matter) as the grid. Transforming into a regular Roman Catholic symbol of silence, Rose, instead of being defiled, is, on the face of it, purified (the swan as the symbol of purity) and given spiritual guidance. Cela McKinney's husband, a hotel manager, also chooses to keep to his room - or his "mother"-wife - Cela (of Greek and Latin origin, 'blind; the moon'), cf. "Old English *cella (attested in inflected forms), from Latin celia 'chamber, small room, compartment' (Online Etymology Dictionary)); McKinney is connected with the Celtic god of fire. Flo(rence) the shop assistant, with her varicose veins, is the one who is truly reduced, nipped in the bud, as it were: "She never saw sunlight...." These are the white slaves whereas the White Slavers, or the souls' guides through the underworld, are the vendor on the train, who sold Rose sour chocolate milk; the conductor, who wakes her up at the end of the trip; the undertaker, who drives a hearse; the driver-salesman, who brought bread to Flo's store; the French teacher; and the minister.

Not unlike Eliza from the fairy-tale and her brothers - dumb and bird-like - Rose lives through her initiation story. The Canadian Leda meets the devil, "father of lies" (in alchemy the swan symbolizes M/mercury) to see "the rosy sky" under her eyelids. Mavis the shop girl, who forms the other part of the story's frame, has her eyelid (also known as filiform) warts removed-papilloma (from Latin, literally "nipple"), through Frances Farmer (under whose name she booked herself in at a resort), is connected with papillon, the French for butterfly (from Latin papilio(n)). Although over one of Mavis's eyes "dips" a hat (note the informal dated meaning "baptize (someone) by immersion in water" (OED)), she only imitates Florence Farmer, instead of flourishing. (Actually, it all started with a man's stomach cut with a knife "as if it was a watermelon"; snow melting and Flo receding; the bank of Cela McKinney's house and the train filling up at Brantford; or maybe even with sour chocolate milk, ginger ale, and vomit on the previous trip-through the swan pond; the minister's waves of grey hair and his dark blue suit; ferns rustling and streams flowing; the pulsating pipes of oil refineries-up to the Niagara of orgasm, the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto - from the Iroquois word for "place where trees stand in the water" - and "the cold wave of greed" (with the verbs diddle and dawdle describing the way of moving (see below)). …

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