Denis Donoghue examines the new edition of ‘Ulysses’

Denis Donoghue

Joyce’s Ulysses was published on his 40th birthday, 2 February 1922, in a limited edition of 1000 numbered copies. The text was full of misprints, as Joyce irritatedly knew. As late as November, he had been tinkering with the last chapters, getting further detail from Dublin – ‘Is it possible for an ordinary person to climb over the area railings of No 7 Eccles Street, either from the path or the steps, lower himself down from the lowest part of the railings till his feet are within 2 feet or 3 of the ground and drop unhurt?’ he wrote to his Aunt Josephine – and the galleys were demanding attention he couldn’t give them. On 6 November he complained to Harriet Shaw Weaver that ‘working as I do amid piles of notes at a table in a hotel I cannot possibly do this mechanical part with my wretched eye and a half.’ He evidently decided that he couldn’t do much about the printer’s errors in time for the birthday, but he hoped they would be corrected ‘in future editions’.

Joyce wrote Ulysses by hand, and his arrangements for having the manuscripts typed were so loose that errors were inevitable. Some of the typists thought the writing would be improved by more orthodox punctuation. Further errors were made in the printing-press. None of the compositors at Dijon knew English, except for the foreman, Maurice Hirchwald, who knew only enough to decide that he could correct Joyce’s vagaries. Joyce tried to undo some of this damage, but the job was too much for him. He corrected thousands of misprints on the galleys, but missed about two thousand.

Later editions of Ulysses haven’t been much better. Between 1922 and 1933, the book couldn’t be published legally in the United States, so there was no merit in doing heavy work on the text. When Judge John Woolsey lifted the ban on the book – 6 December 1933 – Bennett Cerf set about issuing a new edition. But the text he gave his printers was a copy of Samuel Roth’s facsimile pirated edition, printed in New York: its errors remained to corrupt Cerf’s Random House edition of January 1934.

I needn’t recite the history of the publication of Ulysses in England. The gist of the whole matter is that the editions which most people read, the Penguin ‘reprinted with corrections’ in 1971 and the Random House Vintage Books edition, ‘corrected and reset’ in 1961, are about equally erroneous: seven errors to a page, according to Professor Gabler’s count. Some misprints are common to both editions, but each edition has its own errors, too.

On 6 December 1966 Jack Dalton gave a lecture at Cornell University on the text of Ulysses, quoting several instances of its corruption, and promising to produce, on contract to Random House, a new and satisfactory edition. In the event, he didn’t live to keep his promise, and the work passed to a team of bibliographers, led by Professor Gabler.

The main problem in devising a reliable text of Ulysses is that there is no complete manuscript. For some chapters there are drafts, jottings, notebooks, the British Library Note-sheets, fair copies – the most important things are in the Rosenbach Manuscript at Philadelphia, and other collections at Cornell, Buffalo and other universities. Rosenbach is the crucial holding, its holograph notation, as Gabler says, ‘marks a decisive point of consolidation in the compositional development’. But it doesn’t solve every textual problem. For one thing, Rosenbach is ‘full of erasures indicating revisions during the fair-copying’. For another, Joyce continued to work on chapters even after he had given the manuscript to a typist: he did not let the typescript go without further ado to the printer.

Gabler’s aim has been ‘to uncover and to undo the first edition’s textual corruption’. His main principle has been to distinguish ‘the documents of composition’ – which he regards as authoritative, unless they can be shown to be faulty – from ‘the documents of transmission’ – which he regards as potentially faulty, unless they can be proved to be authoritative. So Joyce’s autographs are separated from the typescripts, the serial versions in the Little Review and the Egoist, the proofs of the first edition, and the first edition itself. But the distinction is hard to maintain, since transmission becomes composition as soon as Joyce tinkers with it. In any case, Gabler has tried to assemble, as his copytext, ‘a continuous manuscript text for Ulysses, extending over a sequence of actual documents’. His principle is a narrative one, as if he were reconstructing a story. Or an archaeological one, deducing a complete structure from related fragments. In the new edition, the left-hand pages record the entire history of each word and accidental, so far as it can be established and indicated by a complicated system of notation: the right-hand pages give the clean text of the book without interruption or comment. Textual explanations and justifications are set out at the end.

I’ll give a few examples, in a minute, of the differences the new edition makes. But it’s worth saying at once that they’re not merely a matter of correcting ‘Steeeeeeeeeephen’ to ‘Steeeeeeeeeeeephen’ in the Telemachus chapter and ‘Pprrpffrrppfff’ to ‘Pprrpffrrppffff’ in the Sirens chapter, as Craig Raine pretended to think a few weeks ago in the Sunday Times. If you are totally indifferent to misprints, you won’t even consider buying or otherwise consulting the new Ulysses. ‘On the whole,’ Raine claimed, about misprints, ‘I couldn’t give a fuppenny tuck.’ Not even if the botched printing were of his own verses? More to the point: suppose it were discovered that the printing of Paradise Lost is botched, with lines and half-lines dropped, wouldn’t English poets, critics, and common readers agree that a new edition should be produced, especially if the hard labour involved were to be done, as it probably would be, by German or American scholars?

I’ll quote Penguin, and give page references first to Penguin, then to Vintage.

On 181/181 Bloom is helping the blind man to cross Dawson Street, and wondering what it feels like to be blind:

How on earth did he know that van was there? Must have felt it. See things in their foreheads perhaps. Kind of sense of volume. Weight. Would he feel it if something was removed?

The new edition has, instead of ‘Weight’: ‘Weight or size of it, something blacker than the dark. Wonder would ...’ (I can’t summarise Gabler’s reasons for these changes: consult the left-hand page.) Same page, 13 lines down, same Bloomian theme:

Sense of smell must be stronger too. Smells on all sides bunched together. Each person too.

Insert, between the second and third phrases, this new one: ‘Each street different smell.’ Now ‘too’ has its force justified.

On 568/648 Bloom and Stephen are reading the Evening Telegraph, Stephen the letter on page two from Mr Deasy about foot-and-mouth disease, Bloom an account of the third race at Ascot:

While the other was reading it on page two Boom (to give him for the nonce his new misnomer) whiled away a few odd leisure moments in fits and starts with the account of the third event at Ascot on page three, his sidevalue 1,000 sovs., with 3,000 sovs. in specie added for entire colts and fillies.

‘Sidevalue’? No such thing. Delete and replace by ‘side. Value’. Bloom’s side of the newspaper, that is. About the misnomer: the Telegraph’s report of Paddy Dignam’s funeral included among those in attendance at Glasnevin one ‘L. Boom’. The misprint comes into its poignant own 126 pages later when Molly thinks of the Telegraph report – Blazes Boylan brought the paper when he visited her for love in the afternoon – and recalls the real thing, a military funeral. Gabler’s text reads:

yes they were all in great style at the grand funeral in the paper Boylan brought in if they saw a real officers funeral thatd be something reversed arms muffled drums the poor horse walking behind in black L Boom and Tom Kernan that drunken little barrelly man that bit his tongue off falling down the mens W C ...

But the point is lost on 694/773, where ‘Boom’ is printed as ‘Bloom’.

In the Nausicaa chapter, 368/370, Bloom is watching Gerty McDowell on Sandymount Strand:

Suppose I spoke to her? What about? Bad plan however if you don’t know how to end the conversation. Ask them a question they ask you another. Good idea if you’re in a cart.

Replace the relevant bit by: ‘Good idea if you’re stuck. Gain time. But then you’re in a cart.’ Meaning that you’re between the shafts of the conversation, and you can’t get out.

On 261/262 Lenehan moves into conversation with Simon Dedalus in the bar of the Ormond Hotel: ‘Mr Dedalus, famous fighter, laid by his dry filled pipe.’ A libel on the man: what Joyce wrote was ‘famous father’, a reference to Lenehan’s salute, six lines back, ‘Greetings from the famous son of a famous father,’ to which Dedalus responds: ‘Who may he be?’

Stephen, 46/41, walking along Sandy-mount Strand:

Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath.

Gabler changes the stop to a comma, and adds: ‘a pocket of seaweed smouldered in sea-fire under a midden of man’s ashes.’

In the National Library, 196/195, Stephen has been high-talking about Shakespeare and Pericles, fathers and mothers and daughters: ‘Will any man love the daughter if he has not loved the mother?’ Two lines later, after an interrupted interruption by Mr Best, Gabler inserts the following:

Will he not see reborn in her, with the memory of his own youth added, another image?

  Do you know what you are talking about? Love, yes. Word known to all men. Amor vero aliquid alicui bonum vult unde et ea quae concupiscimus ...

Scholars have been delighted with this addition, since it solves the conundrum of a passage in the Circe chapter, 516/581, where Stephen says: ‘Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.’ Richard Ellmann virtually solved it in Ulysses on the Liffey (1972) with his chapter called ‘The Riddle of Scylla and Charybdis’, which argues that ‘the answer to the sphinx’s riddle was man, the answer to Scylla-Charybdis’s is the act of love.’

But that addition to 196/195 raises a problem about Gabler’s editorial principles. The three lines he adds to the text turned up in an early fair-copy. The fact that they don’t appear in a later typescript is easily explained, he says, ‘as a typist’s eyeskip in copying from the final working draft, where two phrases ending on ellipses and underlined for italics followed one another in close succession’. The typist’s eye dropped from one set of dots to another. Still, Joyce didn’t restore the dropped passage, though he had plenty of opportunity on typescript and galleys. True, he may not have noticed that the passage was gone: or he may have spotted it and decided it was no great loss. But Gabler’s procedure sets aside the editorial principle that you should print the latest text the author corrected.

He sets it aside in many decisions, two of which I particularly regret. On 105/104 Bloom at the graveside in Glasnevin is thinking about the bad air in such places:

Down in the vaults of saint Werburgh’s lovely old organ hundred and fifty they have to bore a hole in the coffins sometimes to let out the bad gas and burn it. Out it rushes: blue. One whiff of that and you’re a goner.

All the early versions – Rosenbach, typescripts, early proofs, and even the serial version in the Little Review (Vol. V, No 5, September 1918) have ‘doner’. The change to ‘goner’ was made on the last set of proofs, which Joyce corrected. But Gabler has stuck to ‘doner’. It’s a good enough word, as slang goes, but – at least to Dublin ears – far inferior to ‘goner’, which sounds the true note. Partridge’s dictionary gives both, but ‘goner’ has a much richer currency.

There are hundreds of emendations in the new edition. Some of them are inciting readers to argue about the price of a bar of Fry’s Plain Chocolate in Dublin in 1904 – a penny is obviously right, by the way, and a shilling ridiculous – but the samples I’ve given are enough to show the kind of thing we’re dealing with. I gather that Gabler’s text will be issued in a popular edition, two years from now.

Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce won all the prizes when it appeared in 1959. The second edition is about forty pages longer than the first, and it uses some new material that has become available, but it isn’t radically different. Indeed, the revision is pretty light. Ellmann has retained the old structure, and has inserted the new stuff at appropriate points. Stanislaus Joyce’s diary has provided some detail about the rewriting of Stephen Hero, Gogarty’s letters to G.K.A. Bell have confirmed what was already fairly well-known about Gogarty’s side of a contentious relation with Joyce, Louis Berrone’s James Joyce in Padua (1977) has eked out the little information on Joyce’s time in that city, and C.P. Curran’s papers have annotated the Dublin years. More is now known about Lucia Joyce’s infatuation with Beckett. There are new letters from Ezra Pound and Adrienne Monnier. But none of these items alters the picture to any great extent.

The oddest aspect of the new edition is that Ellmann hasn’t allowed his general sense of Joyce to be modified by Joyce’s own letters. There is virtually no comment on the extraordinary constriction of Joyce’s daily interests. The obscene letters to Nora are virtually kept out of the picture. I’m not saying that there is any merit in being shocked by those letters, but they are part of the record. I’m surprised that Ellmann hasn’t quoted them, or – if he did not want to do that – allowed them to exert pressure upon our understanding of the man who derived occult gratification from writing them. Reviewing the letters, Lionel Trilling referred to Joyce’s ‘delight in the excrementitiousness of the places of love and joy’, and he assumed that the letters which release that delight would ‘cease to be dismaying or amazing soon after they are brought into the light of common day and permitted to assume their institutional status – one might say their prestige – as biographical data’. But Ellmann hasn’t allowed them to assume that status. The gist of them is indeed well-known to scholars, but not to the common reader for whom Ellmann’s biography is intended. The result is that readers, common or not, find themselves offered a far blander image of Joyce than a full report of the evidence would sustain. Much the same applies to the treatment of Joyce’s notes for Exiles. Looked at closely, they make a horrifying document, but Ellmann doesn’t look at them closely, he uses them only for local illustration. In his Inaugural Lecture at Oxford on 4 May 1971, Ellmann remarked that ‘today we want to see our great men at their worst as well as their best; we ask of biographers the same candour that our novelists have taught us to accept from them.’ If we do, we are going to be disappointed in Ellmann’s biography: it is not, in that special sense, candid.

The only new material of much interest concerns a woman, Gertrude Kaempffer. Joyce met her in Locarno in 1917, and he tried to start an affair, but she didn’t respond. He thought it would stimulate her if he wrote a letter, telling her of the sexual excitement he had felt one day as a boy when the family nanny went aside to urinate. The letter was a failure. Ellmann says that the only consequence of Joyce’s meeting with Gertrude was that the pallid girl who excites Bloom in the Nausicaa chapter of Ulysses is named Gerty.

Ellmann’s corrections and second thoughts are worth noting. (I call the first edition A, the second B, and give the page references to the relevant passages in both.) It now appears that the lecture Joyce prepared on James Clarence Mangan – in Trieste, early May 1907 – wasn’t delivered: but why not (A269/B259)? The girl Joyce swooned about in Trieste when he was teaching her English ‘was Amalia Popper’ in A353, but ‘may well have been Amalia Popper’ in B342. What Joyce felt for her in A was ‘overwhelming desire’, in B ‘erotic commotion’. In A356 ‘the poems which Joyce composed between 1912 and 1916 reflect his relationship with Signorina Popper’: in B345 they reflect his relationship ‘with the real or concocted signorina’. In A359 Signorina Popper asked and received permission to translate Dubliners, ‘but in the end she did not do Joyce this favour either’: in B348 ‘this was the only favour she conferred on Joyce.’ (Did she translate the stories, or was her request to translate them the favour?) A462 describes Joyce’s first sight of Marthe Fleischmann: on 9 December 1918 he was going back to his flat at 29 Universitätstrasse when he saw her ahead of him. Not so, according to B448: he first saw her, ‘early in December, 1918’ when he looked out of a side window of his flat ‘and saw a woman in the next building pulling the toilet chain’, and a footnote remarks that Earwicker’s crime in the Phoenix Park of Finnegans Wake ‘is often indicated to be that of peeping on micturating girls’. In A522 Bernard Shaw, declining to contribute money for the publication of Ulysses, told Sylvia Beach: ‘I take care of the pence because the pounds won’t take care of themselves.’ In B507 he tells her: ‘I take care of the pence and let the Pounds take care of themselves.’ A527 has Joyce writing to Alessandro Francini: ‘I’ve become a monument of Vespasian eminence,’ and a footnote says that ‘vespasian’ is French colloquial for ‘urinal’. B513 has him saying: ‘I’ve become a monument – no, a vespasian.’ The reference in both cases is the same: Joyce’s letter of 7 June 1921. (Can Joyce’s handwriting be read as variously as that?) A714 reads: ‘When Beckett presented him with a copy of Murphy, Joyce replied only by a bad limerick beginning, “There was a young man named Murphy.” ’ In B701 the limerick is quoted, beginning more dashingly, ‘There’s a maevusmarked maggot called Murphy.’

On the question of accuracy, especially in transcribing letters and other documents: I don’t think Ellmann’s book is always reliable. On A353foll. he quoted bits from Giacomo Joyce, Joyce’s account, ‘in his best calligraphy’, of his dealings with Amalia Popper. But when Giacomo Joyce was published by Faber in 1968, ‘with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Ellmann’, the official text was found to differ at several points from Ellmann’s quotations. The woman’s ‘dropping hat’ was found to be ‘drooping’. Her body turned out to be ‘lithe’, not ‘little’. ‘A sparrow under the wheels of Juggernaut, shaking shakes of the earth’ became more plausible when ‘shakes’ became ‘shaker’. ‘The voice of an unseen reader rises, informing the lesson from Hosea’ was now found more decorously ‘intoning the lesson from Hosea’. But in B342foll., while the hat still droops, the quoted passages – when they correspond to those in the first edition – are textually identical with A354f., as if Giacomo Joyce had never been published. The woman’s body is little again, and shaker is shakes. The unseen reader’s voice goes back to informing Hosea. The facsimile pages reproduced in Giacomo Joyce show that all the errors of transcription on A359 are retained on B348. It’s very odd.

I still love the book. Even though it stays away from the rough stuff, it’s continuously engrossing, attentive to what Ellmann regards as the main issues, and most handsomely written. But I wouldn’t trust it all the way for accuracy.

Now that textual and biographical matters have been dealt with, it would be well to go back and read the novel. Several questions about it seem to have been left dangling, despite the attention it has received. I’ll mention two. Critics regularly quote the most memorable sentence from Eliot’s famous review, where he says that Joyce’s method ‘is simply a way of controlling, or ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’. But they don’t quote the next sentence, where Eliot says that ‘it is a method already adumbrated by Mr Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious.’ Does he mean Yeats’s juxtaposition of ancient and modern motifs – Helen of Troy and Maud Gonne – as in ‘A Woman Homer Sung’ and ‘No Second Troy’? Or has Eliot something else in mind as marking the relation between Yeats’s poems and Ulysses?

The second matter arises from William Empson’s work on Ulysses. I’ve never seen his interpretation discussed.[*] He takes the book to be a story about a young man, Stephen Dedalus, who was saved from violence, crime or craziness by having a quiet affair with an older woman, Molly Bloom. The affair didn’t cause any trouble, because it was arranged by the husband, Leopold Bloom – who liked Stephen, anyway – in the hope of getting rid of Molly’s current lover, Blazes Boylan, the worst man in Dublin. The Blooms have lost their infant son Rudy, and Leopold can’t bring himself to try to beget another one; but he thinks he might clear up the jam in his marriage by putting Stephen to bed with Molly. It would do the three of them good. And Leopold might be able to father a son, after all, when the new triangle has established itself. He might even be able to fix Stephen up with his daughter Milly, and get her settled down with a decent young husband. In the event, Stephen can’t bring himself to a decision, and for the time being he walks away from the invitation. But he may come back, and the Blooms much hope he will.

According to this interpretation, Ulysses is a generous treatment of the Eternal Triangle: not at all like Exiles, the disgusting shot Joyce took at the theme before he got his emotions into better order. Empson thought that there was probably a basis in fact for the story: that young Joyce had an affair with an older woman before he met and eloped with Nora Barnacle. There is no known evidence of such an affair, but Empson’s interpretation doesn’t fall on that account. It might be said that motifs of begetting and the Eternal Triangle were too fixed in Empson’s mind to let his judgment thrive: but that, too, doesn’t dispose of the question. The difference his interpretation makes is that it modifies the general emphasis upon son-in-search-of-father and father-in-search-of-son: a reading which has had the effect of leaving Molly (Penelope) as a colourful presence, exotic indeed but marginal to the book. The Odyssey complicates that issue, but we are reading Joyce, not Homer. The relation between Bloom and Stephen, too, becomes quite different when each is seen in relation to Molly and therefore in a peculiarly ambiguous relation to the other. I’m not saying that Empson’s interpretation should dislodge Ellmann’s, Kenner’s or anyone else’s, only that I haven’t seen it seriously considered.

[*] A two-part essay by William Empson, advancing this interpretation, was published in this journal: Vol. 4, Nos 15 and 16.