Trivial in itself

As J. J. O'Molloy lights a cigarette in Aeolus, a bizarre utterance also flares up and leaves as suddenly as it came: "I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives." The sentence is supremely enigmatic, and readers may be tempted to write it off as merely absurd, or as some kind of obscure send-up. Parody is certainly involved—some of Charles Dickens' prose is echoed verbatim—but on close inspection the sentence speaks volumes about what Joyce once called "the significance of trivial things," and about his daring experiments with narration.

JH 2018

Close-up photograph of the head of a match igniting. Source:

Another photograph of the same phenomenon, slightly further advanced. Source:

The Smoker-TheMatch-The Cigarette, 1911 gelatin silver print by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, held in the Gilman Collection of pholographs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Source:

Charles Dickens at his writing desk, cropped from an 1858 photograph by George Herbert Watkins held in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Esther Summerson, the co-narrator of Bleak House, at her writing desk in an illustration by Hablot Browne. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Norton Lorenz, 1917-2008. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Lorenz attractor, a set of chaotic solutions of the Lorenz system of differential equations, as plotted by Wikimol in 2005 with parameter values of  a=10, b = 28, and c = 8/3. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, engraved by Johann Friedrich Jugel after an 1808 painting by Heinrich Anton Dähling. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The beginnings of a coal fire. Source:

Glowing coals. Source:

A coal fire in a well-appointed Victorian fireplace. Source:

Another image of the Lorenz attractor, mapped by Paul Bourke. Source: