How Molly Bloom Got Her Apostrophes

Lawrence Rainey

  • Ulysses by James Joyce, edited by Danis Rose
    Picador, 739 pp, £20.00, June 1997, ISBN 0 330 35229 6

On the morning of 16 June, in city after city throughout the world, small groups of people will gather to engage in curious rituals. In New York, some fifty people will each pay $25 to breakfast on mutton kidneys and slightly burnt toast. Optional courses will include ‘nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs’ and ‘fried hen-cod’s roe’. The kidneys will be judged by how keenly they give the palate ‘a fine tang of faintly scented urine’ or leave one feeling ‘a bit peckish’. In Sydney, two hundred people will gather in the Cathedral to hear a requiem mass for Paddy Dignam, someone who never lived, then exit by torchlight to re-stage his burial, which never took place. In Dublin, as has been the custom for some years, perhaps a hundred will go to the cemetery where Dignam wasn’t buried, there to re-stage the same funeral, which never took place. A man in a brown mackintosh will lurk in the background. And in Toronto, two hundred or so will stroll along the shore of Lake Ontario, but refer to it as Sandy-mount, then walk to a series of other sites within the city, each renamed after a locality in Dublin – all in order to reconstruct the perambulations, which were never made, of a man called Leopold Bloom, who never lived, on a day that never existed.

The annual Bloomsday has returned, celebrating the fictional day (16 June 1904) chronicled in overwhelming detail in Ulysses, for many the greatest novel of the century. This year, however, marks the 75th anniversary of publication – and the 75th Bloomsday – which accounts for the unprecedented number of readings, concerts, lectures, dramatisations and re-stagings, all accompanied by commemorative breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions of every sort. A bit much, one is tempted to say, perhaps even a bit crazy.

Some of this activity, no doubt, is merely an occasion for high spirits, some of it the result of excessive piety. Yet the fact is that no other work of modern fiction elicits such deep affection from its readers, notwithstanding its length, multiple styles, recondite allusions and references, often most arcane when dealing with the ephemera of middlebrow and popular culture of the period.

If the continuing passion for Ulysses is remarkable, so is the fact that the book exists at all. Joyce made a few preliminary stabs at the novel at the beginning of 1914, while polishing off A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and working more earnestly on Exiles. He was a heavy drinker who would nowadays be considered an alcoholic; he was penniless and unknown. He had published only a slender book of even more slender verse. Trieste, where he taught English, was an international city, but from his point of view decidedly provincial, far from the metropolitan centres that dominated the literary scene. In the closing weeks of 1913 he had received a letter of inquiry from Ezra Pound: Yeats had mentioned Joyce’s work in a casual conversation; would he have anything to hand? Before he could reply, a second letter from Pound had arrived. Yeats had turned up a copy of his poem, ‘I Hear an Army’. Was there any other work Pound might see? Joyce sent him the entire manuscript of Dubliners, which had been rejected by some forty publishers, and the first portion of A Portrait. One result was immediate. By reply he learned that A Portrait would begin appearing in serial form – no payment, of course – in the Egoist, a journal devoted to libertarian individualism, whose total circulation, unmentioned by Pound, was under 400. The other result would become clear later: the transformation of his life and career, thanks to the good offices of Pound and Harriet Shaw Weaver, the editor of the Egoist.

Pound’s unstinting generosity on Joyce’s behalf – hectoring, cajoling, and finagling support – is well known. In late June 1915, Joyce, his wife Nora and their two children were forced to leave Trieste for Zurich. With Italy’s entry into the war, the Austro-Hungarian authorities were anticipating trouble from the city’s large Italian and foreign populations. Joyce’s income for the rest of the year would come to £99, of which £24 was provided by a kind relative, and £75 by a subvention from the Royal Literary Fund, acting at Pound’s instigation. The following year, 1916, his income would amount to £250, apart from what he earned by occasional English lessons and a few translations. Of that sum, £175 came from Pound’s initiatives (a grant from the Civil List, a subvention from the Society of Authors and an anonymous donation). The rest came from Harriet Weaver, who retroactively paid Joyce £50 for the serialisation of A Portrait and £25 in advance for the serialisation of Ulysses. These were not grand sums: on the eve of the Great War, the average wage for the adult male industrial worker in England was about £75 per year, while the average annual income of the salaried class was £340 (the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, for example, earned approximately £400).

Wartime inflation meant that prices and incomes rose sharply, even in Zurich; but for the first time in his life, Joyce no longer had to work the long hours teaching English that had previously furnished his modest income. In 1917 he received roughly £350, almost half of it in direct patronage from Weaver. The rest came from what might be called indirect patronage, such as the sale of proofs and manuscripts to John Quinn, the New York lawyer and patron whose interest had been sparked by Pound. Even the advances and royalties that Joyce received from the Egoist and its book-publishing wing were not the result of profits: Weaver subsidised both operations, and when she closed the press in 1924, her net loss on Joyce’s books, even after several of them had done well, totalled nearly £900. Similarly, the payments he received for the serialisation of Ulysses in the Little Review came out of a further subsidy provided by Quinn. (Only the royalties and advances from Joyce’s American publisher, Ben Huebsch, were drawn from a for-profit publishing venture.) Joyce had become part of an institutional structure known as the avant garde, and the foundation of that structure was patronage, unprecedented in its scale and scope. He may well have been its biggest beneficiary. By mid-1923, Weaver had made gifts to a trust for Joyce amounting to £21,000 and he was earning £1050 per year.

Contact with Pound and Weaver brought about another change. Joyce now had an audience, however small, and guided by his theatrical instincts, he set out to enchant it. The pages of the Egoist, and later the Little Review, became the stage on which he would perform the writing of Ulysses, episode by episode, each more striking than the last. In the imaginary music hall created by these publications, he would devise one routine after another. (When he finished the Penelope episode, he described it as ‘the clou’, the star turn of the book.) ‘The public,’ Pound protested in 1919, ‘don’t demand a new style per chapter.’ But Joyce did. In the vast act of sustained improvisation that Ulysses became, he grew increasingly enchanted with the sound of his own music, letting its lyrical surge and flow dictate his performance. Narrative cohesion and unity gave way to other kinds of coherence, or to the delights of nonsense and incoherence.

Writing to Joyce not long after his first reading of the Sirens episode (episode II of the 18 that make up the book), Pound expressed reservations about the emerging shape of Ulysses. ‘Bloom has been disproportionately on [stage] ... Where in hell is Stephen Telemachus?’ After writing the first episode of Ulysses in 1915, Joyce had described it to one correspondent as ‘a continuation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, the book about Stephen Dedalus. Ithaca, at that moment, was located in the Martello Tower, not at 7 Eccles Street. But when he received Pound’s letter four years later, he showed it to his friend Frank Budgen and commented: ‘I have just got a letter asking me why I don’t give Bloom a rest. The writer of it wants more Stephen. But Stephen no longer interests me to the same extent. He has a shape that can’t be changed.’ For the older, more mature Joyce, the aestheticist posturing of Stephen receded before a new interest in the plebeian world epitomised by Bloom. Rendered in the endlessly changing music created by his linguistic experimentation, the ephemeral and the ordinary – what might otherwise be seen as cultural rubbish – are transfigured and even sanctified. The way in which people have chosen to commemorate that achievement – it is called Bloomsday, not Stephensday or Ulyssesday – is evidence of how persuasive that rendering could be. Paradoxically, Joyce’s withdrawal from the everyday world of the marketplace, his retreat into the divided world of patronage and collecting, enabled him to return to it in his imagination. Ulysses is the great epos of cultural detritus, its hero a producer of advertising.

The performative dimension of the text, the creation of a new style for every episode, combined with the practical exigencies of serial publication in two countries far removed from Joyce himself, resulted in a very intricate textual history. There is no single first or second draft for the entire work, and every episode of Ulysses has, in effect, its own highly specific evolution, its own configuration of notes, drafts, fair copy, typescript, and so on. This situation, already complex at the time of serial publication, only grew more so during the final phase of book production.

When, in February 1921, the New York Court of Special Sessions declared that Ulysses was obscene, it raised the prospect of costly and perhaps unsuccessful legal proceedings for any potential publisher. Ben Huebsch, who had issued A Portrait in the US, informed Joyce that he could not undertake an edition of Ulysses. In April, Joyce turned to Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare and Co, and together they agreed on a plan for a deluxe edition of 1000 copies. Acting on the advice of her friend Adrienne Monnier, who had already published five deluxe editions, Beach decided on Maurice Darantiere, located in Dijon, as the printer. The result was confusion for all concerned.

When Joyce reached his agreement with Beach in April, he had already completed the massive Circe and Eumaeus episodes (15, 16), even though they were still being transcribed by a typist. Two months later, however, when proofs began to arrive for the earliest episodes, he had made scant progress with either of the final two, Ithaca and Penelope. But with the proofs in hand, he now undertook a complex process of ‘double composition’, continuing to compose the later chapters while engaging in a massive revision of the earlier ones, a process that contributed greatly to the work’s rich texture, achieved by the interweaving of countless details and motifs. In the margins of the galleys Joyce entered thousands of alterations and additions; to peruse such a proofsheet is a sobering experience. His spidery scrawl covers every inch of space, escorted by a flotilla of carets, sigla and arrows pointing in all directions to indicate the location of additions and insertions. One can only pity the poor devil in Dijon who, without knowing a word of English, had to make sense of it. Often, of course, he didn’t.

‘I am extremely irritated by all those printer’s errors,’ Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver at the beginning of November 1921. ‘Working as I do amid piles of notes at a table in an hotel I cannot possibly do this mechanical part with my wretched eye and a half. Are these to be perpetuated in future editions? I hope not.’ These words suggest something of the elusive dream that would haunt Joyce’s admirers from as early as 1922. Only recently, however, have steps been taken to realise that dream. The first, and to date the only critical edition of Ulysses, edited by Hans Gabler and published in 1984, was boldly announced as ‘the definitive edition’, but it swiftly led to one of the ugliest academic disputes in memory. John Kidd charged that the edition was ‘a scandal’. He contested its accuracy on numerous minor points, some concerned with the spelling of proper names that belonged to characters who were historical Dubliners, rather than creatures of Joyce’s making. Less convincingly, he urged that Gabler’s occasional errors were the result of more systematic failings in editorial theory. Gabler was less than adroit in defending his cause. In the eyes of some his edition is irreparably tarnished. In the view of others, it continues to represent a coherent editorial project that was marred by minor flaws of execution which have been corrected in subsequent reprintings.

The new edition offered by Danis Rose is not a critical edition. It comes with no apparatus which would enable a reader to follow the editor’s preference, and reasons for preferring one reading over another. Rose explains this by pointing to ‘the serious practical, legal and financial difficulties in preparing for publication and publishing such an enterprise’. He also notes that it would only appeal to a few scholars, ‘too few commercially to justify the expense involved’. That is certainly true. But it is also true that any number of other plans might have been followed, including publication of the apparatus by a scholarly journal or a university press. Gabler, after all, addressed many of the same difficulties, no less formidable then than now. Rose is presenting excuses, not reasons, for publishing an edition that is more concerned to achieve the sanction of the marketplace than with securing, in however limited a fashion, a basis for intelligibility and critical dialogue.

He does, however, offer a sketch of what such an edition might be. His engagingly written Introduction explains his theoretical presuppositions and furnishes examples of how they translate into editorial practice. He draws a sharp distinction between ‘errors’ and ‘faults’. Errors are mistakes that have been made by someone other than the author, and these are simply to be expunged. Faults are mistakes that an author might make in the course of composing, revising and copying or re-copying his own text, and these are to be rectified. At the simplest level, they include misspellings of proper names. Thus, for example, if Joyce has made a mistake in spelling a name, even if he later repeated it as many as ten times in the course of the work’s development, Rose will correct it, despite its being an attested reading in manuscript, typescript, placard, page proof and printed edition. More conventional editors, regardless of their different allegiances, would simply follow Joyce’s mistake, partly in fidelity to such an extensive documentary record, partly in adherence to a theory of ‘passive authorisation’. Rose justifies correcting such ‘faults’ by pointing to an occasion when Joyce took pains to thank a friendly reader whose unsolicited advice identified two spelling mistakes in proper names. Many, indeed most, editors would take that occasion into account and follow Joyce’s belated decision to correct his text, precisely because his intention can be documented. But no editor would proceed, as Rose does, to construe that single event as a warrant to make other corrections wherever he or she thought it opportune. Rose has erected a theory that justifies editorial caprice, if not editorial despotism.

The problem grows exponentially when he expands his notion of ‘fault’ to larger units, such as phrases and clauses. How can we know that a phrase (in which, let us presume, all the individual words are spelled correctly) is a fault? A fault, Rose tells us, ‘can be suspected when a sentence is saying something it should not – where the logic of the narrative is inexplicably broken’. Who is to determine what a sentence ‘should’ say and on what grounds? The answer to the first question, quite plainly, is Danis Rose; as to the second, no rationale is specified beyond his own essentially private intuition regarding ‘the logic of the narrative’ – a curious criterion to use when editing a work in which apparently inexplicable gaps in the narrative are integral parts of its texture, indeed of its thematics.

Rose offers helpful examples. Consider the following sentences from Bloom’s lunch-time musings on aristocratic women. ‘Lady this. Powdered bosom pearls. The élite. Crème de la crème. They want special dishes to pretend they’re.’ The earliest draft of this passage, found in the famous Rosenbach manuscript which John Quinn purchased from Joyce, begins exactly as the published version. ‘Lady this. Powdered bosom pearls.’ But the lack of a comma in the second sentence bothers Rose. He calls it ‘manifestly wrong’, since it might momentarily mislead a reader into wondering if there were such a thing as a ‘bosom pearl’. Rose duly adds a comma, assuring us that Joyce must have ‘dropped’ it when ‘copying out the protodraft’. But there is no earlier document to appeal to here; the claim is pure speculation, despite Rose’s dogged assertion that it is the only ‘logical explanation’. Yet throughout his many editorial interventions, Joyce quite frequently removed commas in order to suggest the pace of thought, leaving readers to tease out the ambiguities.

Rose likes punctuation because it appeals to his deep desire for order and facilitates what he calls ‘the smooth flow of the text’, a desire that is thwarted by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the final episode, Penelope, where Joyce eliminated all punctuation in order to suggest the uninterrupted ebb and flow of thought. The absence of apostrophes, in particular, bothers Rose. Apostrophes are not such wicked things: in fact, he reasons, they ‘are not really punctuation marks at all’. So why shouldn’t we just stick them in? Rose does just that, though in deference to more squeamish individuals who may blanch at seeing Joyce’s work treated so cavalierly, he is good enough to include the older version without apostrophes in an Appendix.

Consider one other example. In the Wandering Rocks episode, Blazes Boylan enters a fruit shop before his tryst with Molly Bloom. Flirting with the young shop girl and impatient to see Molly, he paces inside the shop. Joyce’s early description of him reads: ‘Blazes Boylan walked here and there in new tan shoes about the fruitsmelling shop, lifting fruits, sniffing smells.’ But in an early typescript, he writes out an additional phrase – ‘eying crinkled and plump red tomatoes’ – and he indicates that it should be inserted between ‘lifting fruits’ and ‘sniffing smells’. The new sentence would now read: ‘Blazes Boylan walked here and there in new tan shoes about the fruitsmelling shop, lifting fruits, eying juicy crinkled and plump red tomatoes, sniffing smells.’ The compositor in Dijon follows Joyce’s instructions, but he makes two errors: he has dropped the ‘e’ in ‘eying’ and he has misinterpreted a drop of ink as a comma, yielding: ‘Blazes Boylan walked here and there in new tan shoes about the fruitsmelling shop, lifting fruits, ying juicy, crinkled and plump red tomatoes, sniffing smells.’

Joyce seldom read proofs against manuscript, and when he came to the non-word ‘ying’ he was evidently puzzled. He instructs the printer to delete the letter ‘i’ and replace it with ‘ou’ to produce ‘young’, then to delete the cumbersome comma after ‘juicy’. The 1922 edition reads: ‘Blazes Boylan walked here and there in new tan shoes about the fruitsmelling shop, lifting fruits, young juicy crinkled and plump red tomatoes, sniffing smells.’ That is also how the sentence appears in the received Bodley Head and Random House editions and in the Gabler edition. Rose, however, rejects Joyce’s revision in the proof, presumably because it was prompted by the compositor’s mistake, and he ‘corrects’ Joyce’s spelling, changing ‘eying’ to ‘eyeing’: ‘Blazes Boylan walked here and there in new tan shoes about the fruitsmelling shop, lifting fruits, eyeing juicy crinkled and plump red tomatoes, sniffing smells.’

Which is better? One might prefer either version, though there is much to recommend the unbroken accumulation of adjectives in the later one, which suggests Boylan’s impatient desire yet hints at its ponderous character. We do not have access to Joyce’s mind at the time of writing or proofreading. When he came across ‘ying’, did he recall that his original word was ‘eying’ and deliberately change it to ‘young’? Or was he simply making the best of a perplexing situation? And even if he was just doing that, on what grounds should we alter the revision that he requested? Rose almost uniformly prefers earlier readings to later ones, and the result is a very different Ulysses.

In the publicity materials that accompany this edition, Rose poses as a spokesman for a popular revolt against academic tyranny. ‘This is a people’s Ulysses,’ he is quoted as saying, one that ‘has been smuggled out of the ivory tower of the academics and put squarely in the marketplace’. It is a stirring declaration, designed to appeal to a visceral egalitarianism. But readers who recall the more rousing populist evocations of Joyce’s own lifetime, in Italy and Germany, may feel uneasy about its facile appeal to ‘a people’s Ulysses’. No one, in any case, has elected Rose as the ‘people’s editor’. The claim to papular support is a charade that obscures the exercise of unlimited power over Joyce’s work and its documented history. Danis Rose decrees, by fiat, the reign of an editorial theory which violates every principle and procedure of critical editing, replacing it with nothing more than ‘making sense’ as construed, tautologically, by Danis Rose. It is verging on demagoguery to conflate this kind of editorial despotism with an emancipatory politics. And by suggesting that his edition will fight it out against the academics ‘in the marketplace’, he implies that the sale of some unspecified number of copies will constitute a form of critical validation for his project: that market outcomes can or should be an adequate substitute for free agreement and critical dialogue. Knowledge should not be subject to the tyranny of the marketplace. By the same logic, one might argue that the Disney version of Ulysses, which will surely come some day soon, will be more liberating than the original.

Rose has a rich knowledge of the complex, fractured genesis of the text of Ulysses. His work will serve the useful function of reminding scholars of the importance of materials contained in some of the earlier protodrafts, and his arguments about how much weight should be assigned to the testimony of the Rosenbach manuscript reopen an important debate. But his edition, if it can be called that, is a chastening example of how an excess of piety can imperceptibly turn into self-aggrandising fantasy.