The Wor(l)d of Ulysses.

Stan Carey at Sentence first has a great post about the mess that is the text of Joyce’s Ulysses:

The length and complexity of Ulysses, and the difficulties of its publication, mean that many subtly different versions of the text exist. The first legal edition in the US, which became its standard edition for decades, was based on a pirated copy, for example.

Typographical errors arose inevitably from multiple sources; complicating things further is the fact that some ‘errors’ were deliberate but wrongly ‘corrected’ by printers or editors. And then there were all those rewrites and updates by the author while the thing was being serialised. And afterwards.

So there is no ideal, ‘master’ text; in fact Joyce scholars fight over the best way to decide what this even means.

He provides some interesting quotes from Jeri Johnson‘s essay “Composition and Publication History,” starting with Leopold Bloom’s seeing his name misprinted as “L. Boom” in a list of attendees to a funeral; Johnson notes that the original French edition of Ulysses

mistakenly ‘corrected’ the fictive Dublin typesetter’s mis-set ‘L. Boom’, just as they mistakenly deleted the mistakenly reported ‘Stephen Dedalus’. Joyce correctly reinstated these errors in the Errata lists. […]

When earlier in the day, Bloom (this time in the guise, not of L. Boom, but of Henry Flower) reads Martha Clifford’s billet-doux, he encounters more ‘bitched type’: ‘I called you naughty boy because I do not like that other world. … So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty boy, if you do not wrote’. Her substitution of ‘world’ for ‘word’ teases the imagination: we notice, perhaps for the first time, that ‘world’ contains ‘word’ (plus a floating ‘l’ – the one gone missing from ‘Boom’?), the two being inextricably joined in this book. […]

Her second mistyping, ‘if you do not wrote’, floats into Bloom’s mind a paragraph later: ‘I wonder did she wrote it’. The odd thing about this mistake is that Joyce the author wrote ‘write’. It was either the typist or the typesetter who ‘wrote’ ‘wrote’. Joyce did not notice it until several proofs of this episode had been pulled and had repeatedly repeated ‘wrote’. When he did notice it, Joyce the writer wrote Bloom’s ‘I wonder did she wrote it’, thus opening wide his authorial arms to embrace the typesetter’s mistake. As Stephen Dedalus says later: ‘A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery’. Errors, it seems, are volitional even when made by someone else. […]

We trust, that is, that despite their erroneous status ‘L. Boom’, ‘world’, and ‘wrote’ communicate meanings that lie outside the scope of narrow rectitude. Ulysses repeatedly reminds us that certitude aligns itself with bigotry, racial hatred, blind nationalism, egotism, violence. … Joyce’s alternative authority is one which recognizes the inevitability of error, exercises a healthy scepticism, and yet happily embraces the new world occasioned by the fall, the lapses.

I like that last paragraph a lot.


  1. There is indeed authorial play involving addition and deletion of single letters in the wordworld of this nove. For what I regard as a clear case, consider the closing one-word sentence of episode 1 (“Telemachus”): “Usurper.” Yes, Mulligan is exactly that. A key-appropriating usurper. But he is also a usurer (one letter short of a usurper). He has lent Dedalus various items, such as boots: but he exacts full payment and more. Lending appears again and again in the episode, and recurs throughout the novel:

    He came over to the gunrest and, thrusting a hand into Stephen’s upper pocket, said:
    – Lend us a loan of your noserag to wipe my razor.

    – I get paid this morning, Stephen said.
    – The school kip? Buck Mulligan said. How much? Four quid? Lend us one.
    – If you want it, Stephen said.
    – Four shining sovereigns, Buck Mulligan cried with delight. We’ll have a glorious drunk to astonish the druidy druids. Four omnipotent sovereigns.

    We could conjure deftly with “omnipotent sovereigns”. And just a few lines before the end:

    – I’m going, Mulligan, he said.
    – Give us that key, Kinch, Buck Mulligan said, to keep my chemise flat.
    Stephen handed him the key. Buck Mulligan laid it across his heaped clothes.
    – And twopence, he said, for a pint. Throw it there.
    Stephen threw two pennies on the soft heap. Dressing, undressing. Buck Mulligan erect, with joined hands before him, said solemnly:
    – He who stealeth from the poor lendeth to the Lord. Thus spake Zarathustra.

    The themes of usury, usurpation, wealth accumulation, and the Jewish threat are enlarged upon in episode 2. Bloom himself, in episode 4 and onward, is much concerned with investment and interest – and as a Jew (or a “jewgreek” or a “greekjew”) he attracts general and special censure for supposed miserly and exploitative ways. He, tarred like both Mulligan and the sassanach Haines from the start, must as quintessential outsider wear opprobrium as a kind of usurper as well as usurer. But perpetually in search of lost keys (eventually having to gain entry to his own home by indirect means), he is a cuckolded victim of usurpation at the hands of arch-interloper Blazes Boylan.

    Now, what light does the usurer–usurper pairing throw on “U.P.”, which shows up first in episode 8? An excerpt:

    – Woke me up in the night, she said. Dream he had, a nightmare.
    – Said the ace of spades was walking up the stairs.
    – The ace of spades! Mr Bloom said.
    She took a folded postcard from her handbag.
    – Read that, she said. He got it this morning.
    – What is it? Mr Bloom asked, taking the card. U.P.?
    – U.P.: up, she said. Someone taking a rise out of him. It’s a great shame for them whoever he is.
    – Indeed it is, Mr Bloom said.
    She took back the card, sighing.
    – And now he’s going round to Mr Menton’s office. He’s going to take an action for ten thousand pounds, he says.

  2. David Marjanović says

    I like that last paragraph a lot.

    Jacob Bronowski said it better.

  3. “You pee up”, an accusation of impotence and urination in place of ejaculation, I think.

  4. Noetica: Nice to see you back, with a typically learned and thought-provoking comment!

    David M: Where?

  5. The introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of Ulysses by Craig Raine, which is mainly a response to Gabler’s “corrected edition”, has some insightful remarks on just how little impact these attempts at a “perfect text” have on any reader’s actual enjoyment. But for me that introduction is especially memorable for introducing me to the delightful phrase “I couldn’t give a fuppeny tuck”.

  6. It just occurred to me that Kindle sounds like Kindl, the South German dialect diminutive of Kind ‘child,’ and this seemed like as good a thread as any to mention it in. I wonder if Germans joke about this?

  7. Huh. I always internally pronounced it kine-dell, so the thought never occurred to me. (And yes, that means I have been mentally mispronouncing the verb all these years.)

  8. David Marjanović says

    David M: Where?

    The video is on YouTube somewhere… I’ll look for it, but perhaps only on the weekend.

    I wonder if Germans joke about this?

    Not that I’ve noticed. Maybe the Swabians and Carinthians do, because they have -[lɛ] instead of just -[l̩] in their diminutives (or -[li] like the Swiss)…

  9. I guess David M. has in mind the final scene of Bronowski’s Ascent of Man.

  10. Ah, yes, that must be what he had in mind. Certainly Jacob Bronowski said it very well, but I suspect David M. writes “Jacob Bronowski said it better” because Jacob Bronowski was praising science rather than Joyce.

  11. David Marjanović says

    No, I really find that scene about the certainty of gods more impressive than the abstract, somewhat convoluted statement in the last quoted paragraph.

  12. Well, OK, but they’re in very different styles and contexts and for completely different media, so I’m not sure it’s fair to compare them. A scholarly introduction is pretty much always going to be more abstract and convoluted than a TV show. And the Holocaust is always going to trump pretty much anything else.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Well, yes.

  14. Bathrobe says

    Hat, you know how there was a taboo on using characters found in the names of Chinese emperors?

    Could we do the same for “trump”?

  15. David Marjanović says

    I thought that applied only to dead emperors (and then only those of the reigning dynasty)?

  16. Re = “U.P.: up”

    What was written on that card?

    Just “U.P.”? Was the “up” following the colon written on the card too or was that the Missus (in her simplicity) just pronouncing the words the capitalized letters seemed to spell?

    I suspect it was only the letters, based on Bloom’s silent thought = U.P.? (he asks himself). He was questioning the letters’ meaning. Had the word “up” been written there too, I’m sure he’d have that in his thought as well. (On the other hand, he’d have reason only to question the capped letters, not the word “up”.) Still, I think it was only the letters.

    What would “U.P.” mean by itself that would be insulting?

  17. Narrow:

    I suspect it was only the letters, based on Bloom’s silent thought = U.P.? (he asks himself).

    Yes, I was going to say the same. The two letters alone seems to be what Joyce intended. (That is, of course, as near to a “fact of the matter” as would make any sense; compare speculations on the colour of Ophelia’s underwear – if she wore any, that is.)

    But we’d better go and read this pretty thorough MA thesis, if we are to appreciate the textual and exegetical complexities:

    Why assume anything definitive about the punctuation and capitalisation even (variously detailed in the several drafts and editions)?

  18. Noetica:

    In the process of reading it.


  1. […] Hat links to a wonderful examination of the textual complexities of James Joyce’s […]

Speak Your Mind