The Scandal of ‘Ulysses’

John Kidd JUNE 30, 1988 ISSUE

Until his death in 1958, Harry Thrift was known around Dublin as the man in the bicycle race in Ulysses, where he was runner-up in the quarter-mile flat handicap in the Trinity Races of June 16, 1904. Joyce doesn’t mention that the young man also placed second in the first heat of the 120-yard handicap, but out of the money in the final. Ulysses is a big book, but not big enough for all the newsworthy events of Bloomsday, 1904. Harry’s transit in the track of the sun was brief. By 1917, when Joyce was composing the “Wandering Rocks” episode in Zurich, Thrift had been a Fellow of Trinity College for ten years, having won tenure in the 1907 Madden Prize examination. Harry devoted himself more to the advancement of rugby and cricket than to the sciences. Eventually he was bursar, then auditor of the college, serving fifty years on the faculty. One of the great collegiate sports boosters in Ireland this century, the teen-age cyclist of 1904 grew into the old boy of quad and green. He died on February 2, 1958, the thirty-sixth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses.

Those who remember Thrift are themselves rounding the bend, most recently (in 1987) Roger McHugh, Joycean and director of the School of Irish Studies. Harry Thrift’s good works, sturdy frame, and jolly demeanor may fade to a misremembered blur, because he is deposed in Ulysses: The Corrected Text (1986), the only form of the novel being printed in the world today. The versions with H. Thrift cycling in the last segment of the “Wandering Rocks”—the only one now in the classroom—have all been replaced with versions putting an H. Shrift near the head of the pack:

Thither of the wall the quartermile flat handicappers, M.C. Green, H. Shrift, T.M. Patey, C. Scaife, J.B. Jeffs, G.N. Morphy, F. Stevenson, C. Adderly and W.C. Huggard, started in pursuit. [1986 Ulysses, p. 209]

Production of all the old Thrift versions was halted in order to replace them with the Shrift version, which is claimed to be part of “Ulysses as Joyce wrote it” (1986, p. 649 and elsewhere). Did it occur to anyone to check whether Thrift was a real person before changing him to Shrift? Apparently not.

The disappearance of Harry Thrift is only one of literally thousands of unfortunate features of Ulysses: The Corrected Text (1986), prepared by Hans Walter Gabler, a professor at the University of Munich, with two graduate students, Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior. In 1986 the Random House hardcover and Vintage paperback editions of Ulysses, last “corrected and reset” in 1961, were replaced by a very different text claiming to correct 5,000 errors. Outside the US, the Bodley Head Ulysses and the Penguin paperback editions of 1960 and 1968 were also replaced with The Corrected Text. Thus a uniform text became the only trade version in print worldwide, although this version differs radically from what Joyce had himself brought forth in 1922 and approved again in 1926, 1932, 1935, and 1936.

The transparent scheme to replace Ulysses outright with another version was apparently partly motivated by the hopes of the Joyce estate—which is represented in business matters by the Society of Authors in London—for a new copyright to run seventy-five years from 1984. This could be accomplished only by creating an entirely new work, which in an unintended sense has been done. The new edition’s supporters tried to persuade the public and professoriate that all previous editions were unusable. The assault on the old text centered on a handful of typos that were rehashed again and again, as if the slip “beard” for “bread” (found only in 1961) proved all editions since 1922 unworthy of attention. Because the first edition was printed in Dijon, some whined about battered Joycean coinages, inciting us to curse the French printer. But in fact the 1922 text was not defective in the way that was suggested. In Michael Groden’s “review” in The James Joyce Quarterly, one paragraph lists ten Joycean coinages restored “for the first time” by Gabler in 1984. Yet for six of these, the majority, the 1922 and 1984 spellings are identical. Is no one awake at the wheel?

During Joyce’s life hundreds of typographical errors in the first edition were corrected, but a similar number of new variants slipped in unnoticed in later editions, meaning that the first and last lifetime texts were equally distant from what Joyce intended. Suddenly, in the 1980s we were told that there were “thousands” of errors all along, at least seven on every page. That claim is a sales pitch for the new edition, and has no basis in the texts themselves. Ulysses: The Corrected Text is not a purified text (new blunders like “Shrift” aside), but a different version from what Joyce conceived, authorized, and saw into print.

On the first page alone the following changes of wording were made in 1986: by to on, up:out, country:land, low:slow. On what basis was this done? The final typescript of the opening of Ulysses, which Joyce is known to have revised, is lost. The editors returned to the words of an earlier manuscript, overruling the form that Joyce elaborated on and ultimately passed several times in proof for the 1922 edition. With the loss of the revised, final typescript, we will never know if the four words rejected in 1986 were or were not Joyce’s own final revisions of the typescript. In an edition so different on the first page from what Joyce himself saw into print, we get not a “corrected text” but another version altogether. At best such a new text (were it accurate) could stand beside the version published during Joyce’s lifetime only as an alternative—not as a replacement. But commercial and not scholarly considerations are behind the disappearance of the version known to the author and his audience of sixty years.

The editors of this radically new Ulysses, working in Munich, first prepared Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition (1984) for Garland Publishing in three volumes totaling 1,920 pages. The 1984 edition has facing pages intended to show “synoptically,” i.e., by using a complex code of symbols on the left-hand pages, the growth of Ulysses from manuscripts through final proof revisions. On the facing right-hand pages are the same passages in an edited form or “clear text” without notes or symbols. This right-hand reading text without apparatus became in 1986 The Corrected Text.

Both the 1984 Synoptic Edition (84U) and the 1986 Corrected Text (86U) are based on facsimiles of Joyce’s manuscripts in American collections, all of which were transcribed in Munich. The Rosenbach Manuscript, named after the Philadelphia foundation where it is housed, is a collection of almost seven hundred pages spanning the eighteen episodes of Ulysses in Joyce’s own hand. For some chapters, however, the Rosenbach Manuscript is a copy that Joyce made for sale to a patron: it is not the final version, now lost, that Joyce gave his typist. The Munich group worked from a 1975 facsimile of the Rosenbach Manuscript, which was edited by Clive Driver with an introduction by Harry Levin.

Additional drafts, typescripts, and proofs of Ulysses are reproduced in sixteen volumes of The Joyce Archive (1978–1979) published by Garland. The Ulysses documents were microfilmed in ten American cities. The “archive” consists of high-contrast facsimiles, which allow faint markings to show up, although at the cost of distinctions between Joyce’s ink and the printer’s pencil. The frequent remark that facsimiles of the Rosenbach Manuscript and The Joyce Archive made possible a “Corrected Text” relies on the assumption that the editors compared all their work in Munich against the originals in America. They did not, with disastrous consequences.

Joyce is reputed to have said that were Dublin destroyed it could be re-created brick by brick from his novel. An exaggeration on three counts: some streets and shops aren’t mentioned; the author occasionally made mistakes; and in many instances Joyce maliciously contoured the cityscape to get even with enemies. Dubliners couldn’t be published in Dublin because Joyce named names, putting publishers at risk. The same happened to A Portrait of the Artist. The historical facts of the first two books are fewer than in any single episode of Ulysses, itself an encyclopedia, street directory, dialect dictionary, census, pub guide, ordnance survey, and vade mecum bound up in blue and white wrappers.

Any scholarly edition worth its price would try to account for differences between historical Dublin and Joycean Dublin. No edited text can escape choices among authorial variants, and most editions do emend slips of the pen or momentary confusion. Where Joyce changes the spelling of a name three times, we must know. Where he slips up, we want to know. If he falsifies the date of the Phoenix Park murders to 1881 to avoid memorializing a massacre near his birth in 1882, the edition should take note.

Ulysses: The Corrected Text is unsupported by such research. Notes on historical errors and justification for dozens of editorial changes of names, places, and dates are never given. If there is an editorial policy, it is neither stated nor evident from the whimsical “correction” here and blunder there. The implications go far beyond the ignorant manufacture of Shrift from Thrift. The failure to distinguish Joyce’s slips from his revisions leads to bizarre assumptions about the lost drafts, the role of the typists, and Joyce’s last-minute changes.

So who’s who in Ulysses? Consider the words “Flowers of idleness” (61U 71), a phrase that occurs early in Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue in “The Lotus Eaters,” the fifth episode, as Bloom notices the heat of the morning, while standing in front of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company. His thoughts turn to “Ceylon brands” of tea and to the lethargic heat of the Far East:

Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness. [p. 71]

The standard commentaries on Ulysses gloss “Flowers of idleness” as an allusion to Byron’s Hours of Idleness. This appears to be the first literary allusion of the “Lotus Eaters” episode, and Hours (1807) was Byron’s first published book: Joyce is priming his hidden machinery. Continuing his walk, Bloom will soon head for the Turkish baths, a blatant Homeric motif of Lotuses, Flowers (rhymes with Hours), and Idleness.

Doubtless there are more Byronic allusions bobbing near the surface; it only remains for a scholar to scoop them up. Since Byron is at the head of the chapter, Joyce’s symmetry fetish would make the end of “Lotus” a good fishing pond. On the last page of the “Lotus” proofs Joyce added:

Cricket weather. Sit around under sunshades. Over after over. Out. They can’t play it here. Duck for six wickets. Still Captain Buller broke a window in the Kildare street club with a slog to square leg. [61U 86]