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The New ‘Ulysses’: The Hidden Controversy

The current public debate surrounding Hans Walter Gabler’s 1984 edition of Ulysses was prefigured by an internal controversy about editorial principles among the editor and the advisers as they prepared the edition. As early as 1981, serious differences arose between the editor, Hans Gabler, a professor in the Institute for English Philology at the University of Munich, and his “Academic Advisory Committee” appointed by the James Joyce Estate—Richard Ellmann, Philip Gaskell, tutor and librarian at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Clive Hart, chairman of English at the University of Essex.

The advisers, the editor, and the Joyce estate, represented by Faber and Faber editor Peter du Sautoy, have revealed very little about this conflict. But the acquisition of Richard Ellmann’s papers by the University of Tulsa now makes it possible to reconstruct part of the unknown history of Gabler’s edition. That history supplies much of the missing background to today’s public dispute. It also reveals a great deal about the tangled forces—money, copyright law, critical ideology, strength of will—that have shaped the only edition of Ulysses being printed today.

Ellmann’s correspondence contains thirty-four letters circulated among the editor Hans Gabler, his academic advisers, and the trustee Peter du Sautoy. From these I have pieced together a chronology of behind-the-scenes events. Of particular interest are six letters written by Ellmann himself. Given Ellmann’s involvement with Gabler’s edition and the surmises one now hears about his attitude toward it, Ellmann’s own words have special value.

All previous editions of Ulysses, beginning with the first edition of 1922, have contained many inaccuracies. Some corruptions derive from Joyce’s own errors of transcription or his oversights in proofreading. Others derive from mistakes by typists and printers. Whatever the source of error, all editions have (depending upon how one interprets the manuscript sources) between several hundred and five thousand mistakes. In 1973, eleven Joyce scholars, including Hans Gabler, formed a committee to promote textual studies that might lead to an accurate text of Ulysses (see The James Joyce Quarterly, Fall 1973, p. 61). Professor Gabler subsequently served as associate editor of Garland Publishing’s sixty-three volume edition of The James Joyce Archive (1977–1980). Then, in 1977, Professor Gabler began to prepare the new Ulysses, which Garland eventually published in three volumes on Bloomsday, 1984, as Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition, and which was republished in one volume without the critical apparatus in 1986 by Random House and, in England, by The Bodley Head and Penguin Books, as Ulysses: The Corrected Text.

Both during its preparation and upon initial publication, Hans Gabler’s Ulysses aroused much attention among scholars. Gabler’s project was intriguing on two counts. First was his use of computers to record and collate Joyce’s early drafts and his bewildering array of revisions. Gabler was compiling “the computerized Ulysses,” as Hugh Kenner called it in 1980, and in so doing appeared to be breaking new ground in the use of computers in the humanities. Second was his innovative notion of the “copytext”—the technical term for the antecedent version of Joyce’s work that Gabler selected for emendation.

Typically, an editor chooses as copytext a given edition or complete manuscript version of a work. He then emends that to eliminate errors that have accumulated during the history of transmission from manuscript to publication. For example, in establishing Cambridge University Press’s 1987 edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, the editors passed over all published editions and selected as their copytext (they use the term “base-text”) Lawrence’s second typescript, prepared in September 1919. On the other hand, in editing a rival version for Penguin Books (1982), Charles L. Ross chose as his copytext Thomas Seltzer’s first American edition, published in 1920. The essential point here is that whatever previous version an editor selects as copytext, that version is unified and continuous, a previously existing entity.

An editor of Ulysses might take, for example, either the 1922 first edition or the 1961 Random House edition as the copytext and compare it with all available manuscript sources and any subsequent editions that Joyce reviewed or corrected. Theoretically, at least, the result would be a version that was closer to Ulysses as Joyce intended it for print. Gabler, however, decided that all previous editions of Ulysses were too corrupt to serve as copytext. He therefore chose not to correct any single version, but to reconstruct Ulysses by tracing and collating the various stages of Joyce’s actual composition. Gabler began with the so-called Rosenbach Manuscript, a handwritten copy that Joyce made during 1917–1921 for sale to the American collector John Quinn. Although the Rosenbach Manuscript, which is now housed in the Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia, has important lacunae, it is the most nearly complete document in Joyce’s own handwriting before typescripts and proofs were made. Gabler augmented and emended it with material either derived from later work by Joyce or hypothetically reconstructed by Gabler himself. The result was an eclectic blend of materials from different stages of composition, what textual critics call a “genetic” or “conflated” text. Technically speaking, editors do not call such a text “corrected,” despite the subtitle of the Random House trade edition. Rather, it is an entirely new composite that differs from any single version that Joyce himself actually produced or saw.

Less than a year following the much publicized appearance of Gabler’s Ulysses, John Kidd called Gabler’s editorial procedures into question. In April of 1985, Kidd delivered his paper “Errors of Execution in the 1984 Ulysses,” the first serious public criticism of Gabler’s methods, to the Society for Textual Scholarship in New York. Kidd’s charges boil down to three technical objections to Gabler’s concept of copytext.1 Kidd’s first charge is that Gabler has included in his genetic assemblage of Joyce’s manuscripts a number of hypothetical documents that are lost but inferred from existing documents, and has unconvincingly granted them authority as part of his copytext. Kidd’s second charge is that Gabler, in emending his newly created copytext, has “corrected” Joyce’s own spellings in English and many foreign languages, revised Joyce’s own punctuation and his formation of compound words, and altered such other “errors” as Joyce’s dates and money sums. Kidd’s third charge is that Gabler has overlooked Joyce’s own involvement with the text of Ulysses after he completed the manuscript. Such involvement includes instructions sent by Joyce to his typists, his corrections to editions that appeared during his lifetime, and his acceptance of, or collaboration in, changes initiated by others.

Gabler was not on the program when Kidd delivered “Errors of Execution in the 1984 Ulysses.” But he had a copy of Kidd’s paper in advance, and he rose from the audience to offer a previously prepared, ten-page rejoinder (“A Response to: John Kidd, ‘Errors of Execution in the 1984 Ulysses,’ ” unpublished typescript widely circulated in photocopy). Gabler’s response was to declare his Ulysses above Kidd’s criticism. He began by saying: “A defense of the critical edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses against the allegations in Dr. Kidd’s paper is not required.” He rejected Kidd’s allegations as “all unfounded or misconceived.” More substantially, Gabler insisted on the validity of his distinctions among copytext, genetic text, and reading text. He justified his treatment of post-1922 editions of Ulysses on the grounds that Joyce “corrected” but did not “revise” after 1922. Gabler then concluded that “I wish I had had the privilege of answering a worthier challenge…. Let me stress in closing that nothing has emerged from Dr. Kidd’s paper to change the critical text of Ulysses.” (Despite Gabler’s emphatic denial, in subsequent impressions of the Garland edition and in the trade editions, he incorporated several new emendations mentioned in Kidd’s “Errors of Execution.”)

Although Gabler dismissed Kidd’s criticism, others took it seriously. Jeremy Treglown, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, in his account of the conflict between Kidd and Gabler in the TLS (May 10, 1985), called for a delay in bringing out a trade edition of the 1984 text until Kidd’s detailed findings could be published and evaluated. About the same time, Jerome McGann, a specialist in bibliography and textual scholarship now at the University of Virginia, published “Ulysses as a Postmodern Text: The Gabler Edition” (Criticism, Summer 1985). For McGann, Gabler’s edition was neither a technological miracle nor definitive. It was simply one more version of Ulysses that needed to be assessed for bibliographical soundness. McGann specifically cites Kidd’s work as “an important critique” whose implications “scholars have yet to assess fully” (Note 7, p. 304).

On May 24–27, 1985, four weeks after Kidd delivered his paper, a conference devoted to just such an assessment of the new Ulysses took place at the Princess Grace Irish Library of the Principality of Monaco. Thirty-five Joyce scholars attended. C.G. Sandulescu, the conference organizer, invited both Kidd and Gabler. Kidd said that he could not attend for personal reasons. Gabler also refused the invitation, with the observation that Sandulescu was “to a considerable degree falling victim to the strange operations of Dr. John Kidd.”2

What became clear at the Monaco conference was that the “Academic Advisory Committee” and the Joyce estate had some serious disagreements with their own edition. Indeed, Richard Ellmann and Clive Hart both delivered papers at the conference that took issue with several aspects of the very text that they had helped to prepare. But this public disagreement in Monaco merely hinted at the much deeper rift between the advisers and the editor that had first opened, as I have said, in 1981. The Ellmann papers at Tulsa do not supply all the details about either the origin of that rift or its resolution. But they tell us a great deal about what took place.

Ellmann’s papers indicate that from the inception of the project in 1977 until early 1981, work proceeded without serious conflict among the editor and his advisers. To be sure, Gaskell and Hart had been critical of Gabler’s early version of “Lestrygonians,” the eighth episode of Ulysses. The exact cause of their criticism is unclear from the correspondence. It is merely alluded to in a letter of May 7, 1981, from Gaskell to du Sautoy, in which Gaskell praises Gabler’s recent work on “Cyclops” and “Eumaeus” as “a great advance over the Lestrygonians of a couple of years ago.” The earlier version of “Lestrygonians” that Gaskell refers to was published by Gabler in 1979 as a short book, Ulysses 11.5: Prototype of a Critical Edition in Progress, intended not for sale but for the use of scholars at the International James Joyce Conference held between June 11 and June 16, 1979, in Zurich. Gabler argued in his preface that “Lestrygonians” did not derive directly from the Rosenbach Manuscript, but that both the Rosenbach and the typescript derived collaterally from a lost working draft. He explained that his copytext for the episode had been neither the Rosenbach Manuscript nor the typescript, but a hypothetically reconstructed version of the lost final working draft. It is precisely Gabler’s treatment of this episode (and others not immediately derived from the Rosenbach Manuscript) that eventually provoked the advisers’ later objections.

  1. 1

    Kidd’s views were amplified in his article “Gaelic in the New ‘Ulysses’ ” in the Fall 1985 Irish Literary Supplement and in “The Scandal of Ulysses” (The New York Review, June 30, 1988).

  2. 2

    C. George Sandulescu and Clive Hart, eds., Assessing the 1984 Ulysses (Colin Smyth/Barnes and Noble, 1986), p. xxii.

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