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The New ‘Ulysses’: The Hidden Controversy

In view of Gabler’s demonstration in 1979 of how he planned to handle such episodes, it is puzzling that no objections to his methods appear in the Ellmann correspondence before Gaskell’s passing reference to “Lestrygonians” in May 1981. It is also puzzling that just three months after Gaskell praised Gabler’s recent work in that same letter, both Gaskell and Hart should suddenly find themselves strongly resisting some of Gabler’s editorial procedures.3 In a letter of August 21, 1981, Gaskell proposed to Hart that the advisers meet with Gabler “for a detailed textual discussion”—the letter does not spell out the details—in the hope of reaching agreement about general editorial principles. The meeting took place in Gaskell’s rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, on September 21, 1981.

The meeting resolved (or patched over) their differences for the short run. The Ellmann correspondence reveals that Gabler was conciliatory, that Hart and Gaskell were less assertive than Ellmann had anticipated, and that Ellmann himself played the role of mediator between Gabler and his (other) advisers. A week after the meeting, Peter du Sautoy, acting as the responsible trustee for the Joyce estate, wrote to Hart that “it certainly seems to have been a useful and constructive meeting.” On October 2, 1981, Ellmann wrote to du Sautoy to report that the meeting was disarmingly genial:

This is just a brief note to comment on Clive’s letter and our meeting. On the whole, you must have felt as I did that the objections to Hans Gabler’s work were surprisingly minor after the rather considerable intimations of thunder in the correspondence before the meeting. Hans was I thought quite tractable about everything. So far as Clive’s letter is concerned I thought that Hans was quite willing to make concessions, and that in any case the general rule of holding to the manuscript version was far from being inflexible. [Here Ellmann evidently refers to Gabler’s willingness to concede that the Rosenbach did not always have maximum authority.] In fact, I thought the meeting had no Wedgy Benns to contend with, and that disagreements in the future are not likely to be any graver than what we had that day.

The letter from Clive Hart that Ellmann refers to was sent to Peter du Sautoy right after the meeting with Gabler. Despite the apparent harmony at the meeting, Hart expressed lingering doubts. He particularly wanted to clarify who would have final authority in the event of disputes between the editor and the academic advisers. A week later, Peter du Sautoy wrote Hart to lay his doubts to rest. Du Sautoy confessed that he had himself been worried that Gabler might interpret his role as general editor to mean that “he has the last word.” Du Sautoy made it clear that the academic advisers, not the editor, have the last word. Du Sautoy also assured Hart that the trustees would not accept a final text without the “imprimatur” of the academic advisers. The next day, Hart responded with pleasure to du Sautoy’s position, agreeing with his cryptic suggestion that Gabler’s “attitude” may “need some modification.” It is unclear what “attitude” the two had in mind.

Within a year or so, however, renewed tensions between Gabler and his advisers began to develop. By January of 1983, Gaskell had become sharply critical of Gabler’s most recent work—apparently on “Aeolus,” “Lestrygonians” (again), and “Scylla and Charybdis.” In each case, Gaskell objected to the authority Gabler was giving to the Rosenbach Manuscript over the typescript, proofs, and printed texts. In a letter to du Sautoy of February 9, 1983, Ellmann agrees with Gaskell:

I have gone over the Lestrygonians episode with the help of Pip’s [i.e, Gaskell’s] commentary. There is a complicated issue here, as you know, which centers on the fact that the typist whose typescript was the basis of the printed text probably didn’t follow Joyce’s punctuation and spelling with complete fidelity, and occasionally probably left out phrases. It seems impossible to deny that Rosenbach occasionally has phrases that were inadvertently omitted. Pip allows for these…. But Pip’s principal contention is that the typescript should have precedence wherever possible.

I checked the readings and it seemed to me that Hans had several times preferred Rosenbach readings inferior to the typescript readings. Pip objects on textual grounds, but I should add an objection on artistic grounds.

Here follows a discussion of five of Gabler’s emendations and one of Gaskell’s. Gabler, for instance, preferred “A sombre Y.M.C.A. young man…placed a throwaway in the hand of Mr Bloom.” Ellmann preferred “in a hand.” Gabler wanted a passage to read “Lady Mount-cashel has now completely recovered from her confinement.” Ellmann preferred “now quite recovered.” It should be noted that Ellmann’s wishes to follow the typescript for the 1922 text prevailed in the published version in all five of the instances in which he differed from Gabler. Ellmann continues:

While I realize one could argue about idiomatic usage, I agree with Pip that the typescript has much more authority than Rosenbach in this chapter [“Lestrygonians”]. Since Pip also accepts some Rosenbach readings, chiefly where words have been omitted, I suppose we are bound to have a text which is slightly eclectic. But the eclecticism should be kept to a minimum. Wherever possible the typescript would rule.

To this somewhat technical letter Ellmann added a cover letter, in which the first paragraph introduces a new element—questions about Gabler’s command of colloquial English.

Besides this formal letter enclosed, a copy of which I’m sending to Pip, I wanted to say privately that Hans’s choices in this episode seem to me to be liable to attack in the way I feared earlier, that his command of English idiom was a little less firm and reliable than that of someone born in an English-speaking country.

Two weeks later, in a letter to Clive Hart dated February 24, Ellmann repeats his agreement with Gaskell’s criticism of Gabler’s text and offers the hypothesis that Gabler’s non-native English leads him to mistaken readings:

Thanks very much for sending me your searching criticisms of the edition. It does seem as if we may have reached the crisis. I went over the Lestrygonians episode and wrote to Peter [du Sautoy] about my support for Pip’s comments. I hope you can make some headway with Hans. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a sufficiently native command of English, in spite of his high intelligence, and so he makes wrong choices based ultimately, I think, upon a deficient sense of the nuances.

The divisions between Gabler and the academic advisers intensified as the spring of 1983 advanced. On April 12, Gaskell wrote to Hart that he finds numerous problems with Gabler’s editing of the “Nausicaa” episode. Hart replied that unless some progress was made in June—when the advisers and Gabler had scheduled a meeting to discuss their differences—“our ways may have to part.” On April 22, Gaskell wrote to Gabler explaining his and Hart’s objections. During this time, Gaskell also wrote to du Sautoy to warn him of the gathering storm.

On May 5, 1983, Peter du Sautoy wrote Gaskell about his unhappiness over recent developments. He began by expressing surprise that, after five years of the editing project, the academic advisers should suddenly raise fundamental questions about Gabler’s principles of editing. The issues at this point ought to be, du Sautoy insists, pragmatic matters of detail that would lead to publication. He then mentions two concerns that have been important to the estate from the beginning. First is du Sautoy’s own longstanding expectation that the new edition would contain “a significant element of fresh creativity,” with little dissension among the editors. The second concern appears to be little more than an elaboration of the first: “one of the important arguments that weighed with the Estate” was the prospect of an edition sufficiently different from prior editions to justify a renewed copyright.4

Peter du Sautoy’s letter to Gaskell clarifies the conflicting issues that would seek their resolution at the June meeting of Gabler and the advisers. One was Gabler’s uncompromising commitment to his editorial methods. Another was the theoretical opposition to those methods on the part of Gaskell and Hart. Third was the intentions of the Joyce estate, which as du Sautoy had made clear, were the best possible text of Ulysses and a renewed copyright.

Two days later, on May 7, 1983, Philip Gaskell wrote du Sautoy to explain that the sudden objection to Gabler’s editorial methods had arisen because they have reached a stage in their editing where “the Rosenbach ms is outside the main line of descent,” and that he and Hart were in “fundamental disagreement” with Gabler’s handling of the “verbal variants from the Ros in these episodes.” He warned that at present he felt he could not continue as a member of the advisory committee.

The anticipated meeting of Gabler, Hart, Gaskell, and Ellmann took place at New College, Oxford, on June 4, 1983. Unlike the meeting at Cambridge in September 1981, this one proved to be a disaster. Just how thorough a disaster it was is plain from two letters in the Ellmann collection at Tulsa. The first is from Ellmann to Gabler, written the day after the meeting, in which Ellmann expresses his distress at the meeting’s failure, and blames Gabler’s recalcitrance for much of that failure. He makes a strong appeal for compromise, including a rather avuncular anecdote about what the eminent textual scholar Fredson Bowers of the University of Virginia thought of the whole crisis. The entire letter deserves quotation:

Dear Hans,

Our meeting yesterday disturbed me a good deal, as it must have disturbed you. You will recall that at our lunch in New College I tried to persuade you to modify your presentation of your own point of view, so as to make it seem less dependent upon fixed principles. Although I think you made some effort in this direction, you were ultimately inflexible and what I feared happened. You will agree that the resignation of the Advisory Board—for that is what it comes to—is disastrous for the hopes of those who were looking forward to an edition of Ulysses that should be generally acceptable, under the direction of a wise and tolerant scholar. Although the Estate has decided to proceed with the edition regardless, I am sure that the result, which calls the enterprise into question, cannot be gratifying to you.

In advance of your coming to Oxford I had a long talk with Fredson Bowers about the issues involved. He pointed out that there were two distinct schools of editing, one depending upon a copy text and the other upon genetic reconstruction of the author’s best intentions. As you know, Fredson has worked in both modes, so I thought his opinion important. He thought that where differences were slight that it would make sense to stick to the printed version or typescript rather than seek to alter it. [By “alter” Ellmann implies he means substituting words of the Rosenbach Manuscript.] Of course there would be instances where typists’ derelictions could be demonstrated, or where, as in accidentals, typists’ variations must be expected. I don’t know whether he communicated this view to you, or whether he continued to hold it. But it is exactly the position which I should have wished you would take.

You seemed to feel that to grant any concession would be to deny all that you had done. But would it really be incompatible with your genetic working out of the ideal manuscript to say that, aside from inadvertent omissions from earlier versions and occasional special instances where exceptional treatment seemed to be required, there are two or three hundred verbal variants in nine chapters which can be reconstructed from earlier versions, but that since there is no final document which lends them authority, you are listing them in an appendix rather than putting them into the text proper? This would show a commendable freedom from doctrinaire inflexibility, and would be highly creditable to you as indicating the fact that you recognise limits to any textual theory, even your own.

We have been friends for many years and I can’t refrain from making this last ditch appeal to you. What I said at our meeting on Saturday was awkwardly put, but it was a plea to recognise that much of what you have been describing as logical or systematic is in fact capricious, based upon aesthetic, linguistic, or psychological inferences that are open to question. I wish we could enter Joyce’s mind and know why he changed whipser to whisper [in the last paragraph of episode 14, “Oxen of the Sun”], but we can’t. All we know is that he did it, and of course reasons could be found. On the linguistic side, the problems are equally insuperable, even for native speakers of English. And of course no one will ever agree about aesthetic shadings. I hope you will not take this comment amiss. Any editor of any text is bound to be limited in one way or another. Some sense of this fact would be appropriate where the text—Joyce’s work—is so important to so many people. Besides personal limitations, there are also the limitations of textual scholarship. I should plead for a little self-skepticism in a field where so much is problematic and in a situation where so much cannot be known. I am not asking you to throw up your hands, but only to show an awareness of the pitfalls and a respect for the work as Joyce knew it from 1922 until his death twenty years later.

I very much hope that you will still see the possibility of modifying your rigid stance about the results of your genetic investigation, and of modifying your oppositely indulgent position about critical questions where changes must inevitably seem presumptuous. If you do so, the result would be much more widely acceptable, and the brilliant way in which you have prepared the genetic text and the final version would receive the accolade it deserves. Otherwise the enterprise is clouded from the start and you lose the sympathy you would have.

In our personal dealings I have never felt that you were unwilling to take other views into consideration and to alter your own when necessary. Now that tempers have cooled, I believe you will be true to your own nature if you show yourself willing to make the rather minor withdrawals from a doctrinaire position that would be necessary.

I hope to see you again in Oxford before long.

Best wishes,

  1. 3

    It seems likely that the approval or criticism of Gaskell and Hart depended upon which episodes they addressed. For example, in From Writer to Reader (1984), Gaskell cites the “Lestrygonians” episode as especially taxing for an editor, precisely because of its obscure line of transmission from working draft to typescript. In contrast to “Lestrygonians,” “Cyclops” and “Eumaeus” descend directly from the Rosenbach Manuscript, and thus pose fewer editorial problems that might provoke Gaskell’s and Hart’s criticism of Gabler’s methods.

  2. 4

    For a fuller discussion of the implications of this crucial letter, see my comments in the Times Literary Supplement, September 2–8, 1988, p. 963.

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