The Big Word in ‘Ulysses’

Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition

by James Joyce, prepared by Hans Walter Gabler and Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior
Garland, 1919 (3 vols.) pp., $200.00

No one reading Ulysses from 1922 to the present can have been unaware that the text was faulty. It was difficult to be sure whether a given extravagance was a flourish of genius or an aberration of the typist or typesetter. Those humble functionaries should not be derided, for Joyce was idiosyneratic in the presentation of his work on the page as well as in the construction of its sentences and half-sentences. Mistakes were inevitable. Soon after Sylvia Beach published the first printing of the first edition on February 2, 1922, Joyce gathered together a list of errata. It was by no means complete. In 1932 his friend Stuart Gilbert, who had become aware of many more errors as he assisted with a translation of the book into French, corrected the text for the Odyssey Press edition published in Hamburg. Not all his changes had Joyce’s explicit authorization, however. Finally, in 1936, Joyce reread the book before it was published in London by the Bodley Head. After that year there is a long 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 question, “Where?”

In this situation Hans Walter Gabler has come nobly to the rescue. A professor at the University of Munich, trained in the rigorous textual-editing school of the University of Virginia, he has conceived the idea of not merely touching up the text of 1922, but returning to manuscript evidence. His rationale for this procedure is that Joyce rarely if ever had an earlier version beside him when he corrected a later one. Relying on memory, he sometimes sanctioned the inadvertent dropping of passages which he presumably meant to retain, and at other times—not recalling the earlier version but sensing that something was wrong—he devised a circumlocutory substitute. Then, too, it was inevitable that the typist or printer would conventionalize Joyce’s mannered punctuation and spelling. What Gabler aims at then is an ideal text, based upon the evidence of existing manuscripts or upon the deduction from typescripts or printed versions of what the lost manuscripts must have contained.

The undertaking has its perils. Deductions may not always be right, and the fact that many versions have not survived adds to the editor’s difficulty. There is always the possibility that certain instructions to printer or typist were relayed by word of mouth or written down so casually that they were lost or discarded. Touchy situations arise when the printed text differs from all known manuscripts. In these the editor has to decide whether Joyce was responsible for the correction or not. Professor Gabler rejects the idea of “passive authorization,” on the grounds that the majority of instances show Joyce, under pressure of time, spotting one error and missing another.

Professor Gabler is happily…


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