Hardy annuals in the nursery of life

U 8.362-8 Hardy annuals he presents her with […] Poor thing! Then having to give the breast year after year all hours of the night.

Gifford ignores the collocation “hardy annuals” altogether, and Slote in the annotations to his edition of Ulysses is mistaken in identifying it as “a journalistic phrase, ‘a stock subject’ (Partridge)”. The intended meaning in Ulysses, extending the metaphor of the nursery (for seedlings and infants) is that of thriving young babies and children, especially those born into a rapidly growing family.

The obvious pun on “a herbaceous plant with a perennial rootstock that can withstand frost; (fig.) something which recurs continually or at regular intervals” (OED) is not Joyce’s. He added it from a notebook to the typescript of the episode in 1921. The humorous metaphorical use of the expression can be traced back to at least 1860:

And while the pretty Mrs Chiswick conducts the nursery department, and every year some "striking novelty" is added to her "hardy annuals", "quite distinct", and a "decided acquisition" in the happy mother’s eyes, her husband is making admirable alterations in the spacious gardens of the Hall.

Florist, Fruitist, and Garden Miscellany (1860), vol. 14 p. 46

The sense survived into the 20th century:

[…] once children began to arrive they continued in the manner of hardy annuals.

William Pett Ridge, Name of Garland (1907), p. 238

Her union with a thin, weasel-faced carpenter had been blessed by a numerous family, obviously hardy annuals.

Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford Baron Redesdale, Memories (1916), vol. 1 p. 39

She did not stay very long, for she had her husband and the hardy annuals to look after, and she was sent back to Normandy, this time travelling decently and in comfort.

Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford Baron Redesdale, Memories (1916), vol. 1 p. 39

Harald Beck

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