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…

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