June 15, 1986
Finally, the Last Word on 'Ulysses': The Ideal Text, and Portable Too
By RICHARD ELLMANN
James Joyce's theme in
''Ulysses'' was simple. He invoked the most elaborate means to present it. Like
other great writers, he sensed that the methods available to him in previous
literature were insufficient, and he determined to outreach them. The narrator
figure who often in earlier novels chaperones the reader round the action disappears.
In ''Ulysses'' his place is taken by a series of narrators, usually undependable,
who emerge and disappear without being identified. A whole galaxy of new devices
and stances and verbal antics, extravagant, derisive, savage, rollicking, tender
and lyrical, is held in Joyce's ironic dominion. Behind all the manifold disguises
can be felt the pervasive presence of an author who never in the book acknowledges
Since ''Ulysses'' is as
difficult as it is entertaining, readers have often felt it puts them on their
mettle. The decipherment of obscurities has gone on apace. But certain tangles
have escaped notice because readers assume that they have missed something,
not that Joyce has nodded. For some time now we have known that neither was
to blame. The text was faulty. Given its unprecedented idiosyncrasy, mistakes
Joyce was too scrupulous
a writer to tolerate even minor flaws. Soon after Sylvia Beach published the
first edition of ''Ulysses'' under the imprint of Shakespeare & Company,
on Feb. 2, 1922, he compiled a list of errata. It was by no means complete.
Further corrections were made from time to time in subsequent printings. Then
in 1932 his friend Stuart Gilbert, freshly aware of more errors because he had
just helped with a translation of the book into French, amended the text for
the Odyssey Press edition published in Hamburg, Germany. Finally, in 1936 Joyce
reread the book before it was published in London by the Bodley Head. After
that year there is a history of publishers with varying degrees of conscientiousness
trying to correct misprints, and quite often adding more. A famous instance
is the final dot at the end of the penultimate chapter. This was assumed to
be a flyspeck and dropped, when in fact it was the obscure yet indispensable
answer to the precise and final question, ''Where?'' Joyce gave specific instructions
to the printer to enlarge the dot rather than to drop it.
The situation has been
confused enough to require expert assistance. Hans Walter Gabler, a professor
at the University of Munich, trained in the rigorous textual-editing school
of the University of Virginia, conceived the idea of a new edition. This would
not merely touch up the text of 1922, but would return to manuscript evidence,
typescripts and proofs. His rationale for this procedure was fairly complex.
Typist and typesetter had tended to conventionalize Joyce's mannered punctuation
and spelling, and Joyce, on the lookout for large issues, did not always notice
details of this kind.
It appears also that he
rarely had an earlier version beside him when he was correcting a later one.
Relying on memory, he sometimes sanctioned the inadvertent dropping of phrases;
at other times, not recalling the earlier version exactly but sensing something
was missing, he devised a circumlocutory substitute. Add to these propensities
his defective eyesight and frequent haste. With so many complaints, one wonders
that such an author ever wrote such a book. Fortunately he plugged on.
The new edition relies
heavily upon the evidence of existing manuscripts; where these have been lost,
it attempts to deduce from other versions what the lost documents would have
contained. Happily Mr. Gabler is conservative in his construction of this ideal
text. Few of the 5,000 and more changes he has introduced will excite great
controversy. Most of them involve what textual scholars call ''accidentals,''
matters of punctuation or spelling. No one will belittle the importance of punctuation
in prose that is so carefully wrought and close to poetry as Joyce's.
The substantive changes,
though less frequent, are often obvious improvements. Among those that reviewers
have enumerated the following examples are notable. In the old editions, Bloom,
as he looks in the window of a tea merchant, feels the heat: ''So warm. His
right hand once more more slowly went over again: choice blend, made of the
finest Ceylon brands.'' This makes no sense. The new edition recovers some lost
words: ''So warm. His right hand once more more slowly went over his brow and
hair. Then he put on his hat again, relieved: and read again: choice blend.''
Similarly, old editions
read, inscrutably: ''Smells on all sides, bunched together. Each person too.''
What Joyce wrote was: ''Smells on all sides bunched together. Each street different
smell. Each person too.''
It appears that the famous
telegram from Simon Dedalus to Stephen did not read when delivered to him in
Paris, ''Mother dying come home father,'' but ''Nother dying come home father.''
Hence it was, as Stephen recalls, a ''curiosity to show.'' The typesetters could
not believe their eyes in this instance, nor in another when the black horn
fan held by the ''whoremistress'' Bella Cohen asks, ''Have you forgotten me?''
and is answered, ''Nes. Yo.'' They changed it to ''Yes. No.''
For purposes of interpretation,
the most significant of the many small changes in Mr. Gabler's text has to do
with the question that Stephen puts to his mother at the climax of the brothel
scene, itself the climax of the novel. Stephen is appalled by his mother's ghost,
but like Ulysses he seeks information from her. His mother says, ''You sang
that song to me. Love's bitter mystery.'' Stephen responds ''eagerly,'' as the
stage direction says, ''Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word
known to all men.'' She fails to provide it. This passage has been much interpreted.
Most readers have supposed that the word known to all men must be love, though
one critic maintains that it is death, and another that it is synteresis; the
latter sounds like the one word unknown to all men.
Mr. Gabler has been able
to settle this matter by recovering a passage left out of the scene that takes
place in the National Library. Whether Joyce omitted it deliberately or not
is still a matter of conjecture and debate. Mr. Gabler postulates the skip of
an eye from one ellipsis to another, leading to the omission of several lines
- the longest omission in the book. The principal lines read in manuscript:
''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 . . .''
The Latin conjoins two
phrases in Thomas Aquinas's ''Summa Contra Gentiles.'' Aquinas is distinguishing
between love, which, as he says in the first six words, ''genuinely wishes another's
good,'' and, in the next five, a selfish desire to secure our own pleasure ''on
account of which we desire these things,'' meaning lovelessly and for our own
good, not another's. In Joyce's play, ''Exiles,'' Richard explains love to the
skeptical Robert as meaning ''to wish someone well.''
Now that the word known
to all men is established as love, Stephen's question to his mother's ghost
can be seen to connect with the hope his living mother expressed at the end
of ''A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,'' that outside Ireland he will
learn what the heart is and what it feels. It connects also with Leopold Bloom,
who in an equally tense moment in Barney Kiernan's pub declares, ''But it's
no use. . . . Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and
women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of
that that is really life.'' ''What?'' he is asked. ''Love,'' Bloom is forced
to say, and adds in embarrassment, ''I mean the opposite of hatred.'' HE drops
the subject and leaves. That simple statement of his is immediately mocked by
those left behind. The citizen comments: ''A new apostle to the gentiles. .
. . Universal love.'' John Wyse Nolan offers a weak defense: ''Well. . . . Isn't
that what we're told. Love your neighbour.'' The citizen, not wanting to be
caught in impiety, changes his tack from mocking love to mocking Bloom: ''That
chap? . . . Beggar my neighbour is his motto. Love, moya! He's a nice pattern
of a Romeo and Juliet.'' At this point one of two narrators in this episode,
who has scattered syrup intermittently during it, takes up the love theme: ''Love
loves to love love. . . . You love a certain person. And this person loves that
other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody.''
Does this twaddle invalidate
Bloom's remark? Some have said so, but we may find the mockery more qualified
if we remember that it parodies not only Bloom but Joyce's master, Dante, and
Dante's master, Thomas Aquinas. (Aquinas declares, in the ''Summa Theologica,''
that ''God is love and loves all things.'') It is the kind of parody that protects
seriousness by immediately going away from intensity. Love cannot be discussed
without peril, but Bloom has nobly named it.
If we consider the book
as a whole, the theme of love will be seen to pervade it. ''Love's bitter mystery,''
quoted repeatedly from Yeats's poem ''Who Goes With Fergus?,'' is something
Stephen remembers having sung to his mother on her deathbed. It is something
that Buck Mulligan, though he is the first to quote the poem, cannot understand,
being himself the spirit that always denies. It is alien also to the experience
of the womanizer Blazes Boylan. But Bloom does understand it, and so does Molly
Bloom, and both cherish moments of affection from their lives together as crucial
points from which to judge later events. JOYCE is of course wary of stating
distinctly -as Virgil does to Dante in ''The Divine Comedy'' - his conception
of love as the omnipresent force in the universe. As a young man he had the
greatest difficulty in telling Nora Barnacle that he loved her, and Molly Bloom,
on the subject of Bloom's declaration of love during their courtship, remembers,
''I had the devils own job to get it out of him.'' But allowing for the obliquity
necessary to preserve the novel from didacticism or sentimentality, we perceive
that the word known to the whole book is love in its various forms, sexual,
parental, filial, brotherly and, by extension, social. It is so glossed by Stephen,
Bloom and Molly. At the end the characters, discombobulated in the brothel,
return to their habitual identities. ''Ulysses'' revolts against history as
hatred and violence, and speaks in its most intense moments of their opposite.
It does so with the keenest sense of how love can degenerate into creamy dreaminess
or into brutishness, can claim to be all soul or all body, when only in the
union of both can it truly exist. Like other comedies, ''Ulysses'' ends in a
vision of reconciliation rather than of sundering. Affection between human beings,
however transitory, however qualified, is the closest we can come to paradise.
That it loses its force does not invalidate it. Dante says that Adam and Eve's
paradise lasted only six hours, and Proust reminds us that the only true paradise
is the one we have lost. But the word known to all men has been defined and
affirmed, regardless of whether or not it is subject to diminution.
It has been said that Molly
Bloom's thoughts may not end. But Joyce has put a full stop to them. The full
stop comes just at the moment when her memories culminate in a practical demonstration
of the nature of love that bears out what Stephen and Bloom have said more abstractly.
Another critical suggestion has been that Joyce never finished ''Ulysses,''
only abandoned it, on the grounds that he was revising it up to the last moment.
But many writers stop writing at deadlines, and we do not say that their books
are unfinished. Joyce finished his book in the sense of regarding his work as
done and in another sense as well. Because Molly Bloom countersigns with the
rhythm of finality what Stephen and Bloom have said about the word known to
all men, ''Ulysses'' is one of the most concluded books ever written. (Adapted
from the introduction to ''Ulysses: The Corrected Text'' by James Joyce, edited
by Hans Walter Gabler with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior, to be published
by Random House tomorrow - Bloomsday, the day on which the novel's action takes
place. The new publication is a single-volume edition of the three-volume corrected
text published in 1984.)
Richard Ellmann is the
author of the biography ''James Joyce'' and other critical works on Joyce.