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The New ‘Ulysses’: The Hidden Controversy

Ellmann here discloses in passing that an event of considerable importance occurred during the month between May 5, when Peter du Sautoy wrote to Gaskell to explain the estate’s intention for a renewed copyright, and the meeting of June 4. The estate decided that the advisers no longer had the last word, and that the “imprimatur” of the advisers was no longer required. As Ellmann puts it to Gabler: “…the Estate has decided to proceed with the edition regardless.” Of course, no one can be certain about the estate’s motives in this decision. But the estate appears to have decided that if a new copyright could not be attained with harmony between the editor and the advisers, it would be attained without the advisers.

The second letter that documents the extent of the failure of the June 4 meeting is from Philip Gaskell to Peter du Sautoy. On June 7, Gaskell wrote a brief letter withdrawing from the entire editing project. He makes it clear that he doesn’t want his work on the edition to be acknowledged or his name to be connected with the project in any way.

The correspondence in Ellmann’s papers records no direct response by Gabler to the resignation of two of his advisers. On June 16, 1983 (omitting to note that it was Bloomsday), Gabler replied to Ellmann’s letter from the day following the meeting in four single-spaced pages in which he makes no concessions. He defends his editorial positions, does not mention Gaskell and Hart, and notes that he has taken on as his personal advisers A. Walton Litz of Princeton and Michael Groden of the University of Western Ontario, “to support me inofficially [sic] with their advice.” Gabler speaks with the confidence of a person in command—as indeed he was, given the estate’s recent commitment to his edition over the objections of the advisers.

One might imagine that Gaskell’s and Hart’s departures from the project were settled. But in fact the advisers apparently completed their evaluations of the emended texts that they had already been sent. Ellmann again apparently acted as the mediator. There are no letters in Ellmann’s correspondence that explain how or why Gaskell and Hart accommodated themselves in August of 1983 to what they had rejected in June. But by August Ellmann had written to Gabler trying to restore the status quo ante bellum. Gabler replied on August 13, 1983, noting that Ellmann was now proposing that the advisory board resume its functions. Gabler expresses no desire for the advisory board to do so, but he says that he will abide by any decision of the trustees—on the specific condition that members of the board are appointed as his advisers, not the estate’s, and that he make the final editorial decisions.

For whatever reasons, Gaskell and Hart rejoined the project. It took several months to work out the manner in which the reconstituted and augmented body of advisers—now including A. Walton Litz and Michael Groden—were to be presented to the public. Eventually, in a memo dated December 4, 1983, Peter du Sautoy announced the form in which the divided advisers would be acknowledged. Ellmann, Gaskell, and Hart were to continue as the “Academic Advisory Committee,” but they would be “assisted by” Groden and Litz. And so the five are described in the Garland edition.

A week before du Sautoy’s memo, Gaskell and Hart wrote to him announcing that they were “content that [Gabler’s edition] go ahead in its present form, as decided by the estate.” But following that terse statement they appended four paragraphs that relate to their continuing quarrel with Gabler’s editorial procedures. With this last obstacle from the off-again, on-again academic advisers now overcome, the Garland edition appeared some six months later.

The anxiety of the advisers and of the estate was not to end with publication of Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition, despite the praise for the edition in the press and the enthusiastic early reviews, including one by Ellmann himself. Kidd’s criticism of the edition, Jerome McGann’s influential discussion of Gabler’s notion of copytext, and the Monaco conference all made the decision of whether to publish a subsequent trade edition unexpectedly complex.

After the Monaco conference, both Ellmann and Hart sent reports to Peter du Sautoy. Ellmann’s remarks have apparently not been preserved in his papers, but du Sautoy’s reply on August 13 describes them as “a bit worrying.” Ellmann’s papers contain Hart’s two-page assessment of the conference, written on June 12, 1985. Hart describes the numerous quibbles over details that took place and “the fairly general attack” by critics at the conference on the editorial principles upon which Gabler’s edition is based. As it happens, Hart’s own paper at the conference—“Art Thou Real, My Ideal?”—was a telling attack on the edition’s “fundamental presuppositions.” Hart argued against Gabler’s assemblage of the reading text from different stages of composition. Hart called the result “the Garland cockatrice: the incoherent amalgam of so many different Joyces in the clear reading text” (Assessing the 1984 Ulysses, p. 64).

A few items in the Ellmann correspondence suggest Ellmann’s own attitude toward publishing Gabler’s text as the trade edition. The letter from du Sautoy to Ellmann of August 13, 1985, implies that Ellmann had been arguing for a delay in publication. No doubt one of his chief reasons for advising such a delay was his dispute with Gabler over perhaps the most important single emendation in Gabler’s edition—the so-called love passage. In the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode, Gabler had added to Stephen Dedalus’s interior monologue five lines that include the passage: “Do you know what you are talking about? Love, yes. Word known to all men.” This addition has become famous because it appears to answer a question that Stephen asks his mother in a fantasy more than three hundred pages later: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.”

Ellmann welcomed the addition of the passage in his earlier review praising the edition: “The Big Word in Ulysses” (The New York Review, October 25, 1984). But he changed his mind and publicly challenged its legitimacy at the Monaco conference. Following the conference, Ellmann sent Gabler the paper that he read in Monaco. Gabler responded on July 29, 1985, arguing against Ellmann’s views on the love passage and concluding that he did not intend to remove it. Ellmann subsequently made his most overt declaration of his feelings about publishing the existing text as the trade edition in a letter to du Sautoy dated August 22, 1985:

That we are publishing an edition not as Joyce intended it to reach readers but as he wrote it, no doubt with many implicit ideas about changing it before publication, is really dismaying. I feel that Hans has been most tendentious about this theory. If we wanted it as he wrote it, we could have a facsimile of the manuscripts—the use of print argues different criteria. I enclose a copy of my answer to Hans. It doesn’t seem possible to conduct a real debate with him at this stage, and his refusal to reconsider now what he considered earlier is certainly a discouragement.

Clive’s letter and its disquietudes seem sensible. But I suppose that Gabler will automatically reject any suggestions from Kidd, in view of the bad feeling that has been generated. [Here Ellmann refers to Kidd’s 1985 paper, “Errors of Execution in the 1984 Ulysses,” discussed above.]

This is a touching lament from a man who had devoted hundreds of hours to the very text that now dismays him, and who had worked diligently to promote harmony among the members of its editorial team. But before we infer from Ellmann’s reservations a general condemnation of Gabler’s work, we should also remember that Ellmann allowed a revised version of his 1984 review to serve as the preface to the trade edition, and that in the summer of 1986, in his discussion of “The New Ulysses” in the Georgia Review, he called it “a great gift to Joyce’s readers.”

Du Sautoy’s letter to Ellmann of August 13, 1985, reveals the ambiguity of his own position. He resists any delay in bringing out a trade edition, but admits to being troubled by Gabler’s text. He says that he has read Jerome McGann’s article and that it made him wonder whether Gabler’s text ought to be published at all in a trade edition without the technical apparatus. But he quickly recoils from the implications of that doubt. He writes as if accepting a fait accompli, saying that he thought it was too late to go back. He then mentions, as he had in his letter to Gaskell more than two years before, on May 5, 1983, the importance to the estate of establishing a new copyright. The result of all this soul searching was that the trade edition appeared on June 16, 1986, as Gabler wanted.

Where are we now—or rather, where is the edition—four years after original publication? Gabler’s Ulysses is the only version currently being published on either side of the Atlantic. Critically, on the other hand, the edition is distinctly sub judice. Following the publication of John Kidd’s “Scandal of Ulysses,” Jason Epstein, vice-president of Random House, announced that a committee to be headed by G. Thomas Tanselle, past president of the Bibliographical Society of America, would be appointed. The committee’s task will be to advise Random House whether to continue publishing Gabler’s Ulysses as the trade edition or to withdraw it from the market.5

On July 7, 1988, Michael Groden, Hugh Kenner, and A. Walton Litz wrote Jason Epstein arguing against appointing a committee to decide the fate of Gabler’s Ulysses, and urging Epstein to let the edition be debated by scholars in public before he makes any decisions. Gabler, they said, had not been given an opportunity to respond to criticism. They charged Tanselle with being incapable of impartial judgment. (Their letter has been widely circulated in photocopy and Groden has now made similar charges in an attack on Kidd published in the TLS of October 7–13.)

On November 1, 1988, Tanselle announced that the members of his committee would be Jo Ann Boydston, distinguished professor, Southern Illinois University, editor of the Works of John Dewey, chair of the Committee on Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association of America, and president of the Society for Textual Scholarship; Herbert Cahoon, curator of manuscripts at the Pierpont Morgan Library and coauthor of A Bibliography of James Joyce; Denis Donoghue, Henry James professor of English and American letters at New York University; and Tanselle, vice-president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, adjunct professor of English at Columbia University, coeditor of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of the Writings of Herman Melville, and former president of the Society for Textual Scholarship and Bibliographical Society of America.

The next important event in the controversy over Ulysses will be the publication of Kidd’s detailed claims that Gabler’s edition is deficient. Kidd’s work, some 180 pages in typescript, was submitted in September to the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. It seems unlikely that Random House will make a decision before Kidd’s case has been set out in more detail and Gabler and his allies have had a chance to comment on it. What is now clear, however, is that Kidd’s public criticisms of the new Ulysses were preceded by serious private doubts among the scholars who were chosen by the estate to advise its editor.6


Ulysses’ Update February 2, 1989

The New ‘Ulysses’: Unanswered Questions January 19, 1989

  1. 5

    Random House’s decision will have important implications for future editions of Joyce’s other works. The Ellmann correspondence indicates that as early as 1981 Hans Gabler regarded his association with Garland Publishing as possibly leading to publication of newly edited editions of all Joyce’s works. In a letter to Ellmann of August 13, 1985, Peter du Sautoy mentions a synoptic version of Finnegans Wake being edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon according to principles similar to Gabler’s. Du Sautoy expresses his doubts that the estate would want to get involved in any more synoptic texts.

  2. 6

    I wish to thank the Richard Ellmann Estate and the Department of Special Collections at the McFarlin Library of the University of Tulsa for permission to examine and quote at length from the correspondence of Richard Ellmann.

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