You are on page 1of 7

Aichinger 1

Scott R. Aichinger

English 8010: Introduction to Literary Research

Dr. Johanningsmeier

2 March 2010

Biography of a Text: Ulysses by James Joyce

In the final line of a letter to his brother, postmarked 30 September 1906, James Joyce

made one of his first references to a story he planned to call “Ulysses”: “P.P.S. I have a new

story for Dubliners in my head” (Ellman, ed. 168). Less than four months later, Joyce wrote his

brother saying that the story “never got any forrader than the title” (209), and it would not be

included in Dubliners when Grant Richards Ltd. published it in 1914. That same year, however,

in Trieste, Austria, he began work on a new project: a standalone novel named Ulysses (65).

What resulted is the epic story that relies more on “epiphanies, symbols, images, impressions,

and dreams of meaning” (Tully 58) than plot.

Joyce wrote Ulysses as an account of the action of one day, 16 June 1904, in eighteen

episodes. Several aspects of Joyce's life happened on or around that day. Most notably, in early

June 1904, James Joyce met Nora Barnacle and was instantly taken by her. They agreed to meet

on June 14, but she stood him up. "Joyce sent her a note in some dejection," and a second

"appointment was made . . . for the evening of June 16" (Ellman, James 156). Joyce and Nora

Barnacle would continue a turbulent relationship for decades until they finally wed in 1931.

Nora is seen as a model for Molly, Bloom's wife in Ulysses, but Nora denied the modeling,

saying, "'I'm not – she was much fatter'" (743). Additionally, Nora's miscarriage "helped to make

Bloom's chief sorrow, in Ulysses, the death just after birth of his son Rudy" (269).
Aichinger 2

The New York magazine Little Review, printed Ulysses serially between March 1918 and

December 1920. In all, Little Review printed twenty-three installments, which covered fourteen

of the eighteen episodes, before the Society of the Suppression of Vice brought action against the

publisher (Slocum 97). Of the installments printed, the United States Post Office banned the

January and May 1919 issues, and the July and August 1920 issues (97). During its run of

Ulysses, however, the Little Review enjoyed its own spectacle. The Little Review understood that

their highbrow interpretation and presentation of the text "might not boost sales but would add to

its prestige" (Turner 176). Anderson and Heap seemed to take pleasure in the dislike for the

piece that was expressed by some of their readers, and even published subscribers' responses. In

one letter, a subscriber called Ulysses "punk … not at all interesting and rather disgusting" (qtd.

in Turner 176). Anderson and Heap reveled in the tumultuous effect of the printing of Ulysses

and reprinted many of the scathing letters from "readers who simply did not get it" (176).

Ulysses's limited appeal was exactly what the Little Review wanted in order to cater to a self-

aware intellectual audience. Before the Little Review could publish every episode of the text, it

garnered the reputation of being "too highbrow even for intellectuals" (177).

In January 1918, the Little Review ran an ad notifying its readers that a serial printing of

Ulysses would commence with the following issue. The information in the ad was vague, stating,

"It is called 'Ulysses'. It carries on the story of Stephen Dedalus, the central figure in 'A Portrait

of the Artist as a Young Man'. It is, I believe, better than 'A Portrait'" (Turner 177). Where the

advertisement errs is how it suggests that the character of Stephen Dedalus is the protagonist of

Ulysses, rather than Leopold Bloom. In January and May 1919, the United States Postal Service

intercepted issues of the Little Review that contained episodes of Ulysses; those confiscated

issues were destroyed (177). The next year, in July and August 1920, The New York Society for
Aichinger 3

the Prevention of Vice charged Anderson and Heap for violating obscenity laws for printing the

"Nausicaa" episode. Anderson and Heap lost their case and the publicity caused by the affair

generated a reputation that would cause trouble for the publishing of Ulysses in book form.

Two years later, Shakespeare and Company, a Paris-based publishing company owned by

Sylvia Beach, published Ulysses on Joyce‟s fortieth birthday – 2 February 1922. The initial

pressing produced 1,000 copies on white laid paper: 100 copies on Dutch handmade paper,

signed by Joyce and numbered one to 100; 150 copies on verge d'Arches numbered 101 to 250;

and 750 copies on handmade paper numbered from 251 to 1,000 (Slocum 24). These various

versions of the first edition cost between 150 and 350 francs, depending on the version. A notice

printed on the eleventh slip requested “the reader's indulgence for typographical errors

unavoidable in the exceptional circumstances” (24). The book was bound in a paper cover of

white text on a blue field – a color combination that Joyce thought to be lucky (Ellman, James

524). The blue used was a color specially mixed for Joyce because the binders were unable to get

the exact shade desired and needed something to match (524n).

Joyce worked on the project entirely by hand, using different color pencils to distinguish

different parts of the novel (Tully 98). These handwritten drafts have become exceptionally

valuable. In 1920, Joyce agreed to sell some of the Ulysses manuscripts to New York lawyer

John Quinn, who purchased some of his other works in 1917 (Barsanti 98-99). Those

manuscripts, “the only complete, handwritten draft of Ulysses” (99), made their way to the

Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia.

Ulysses has been translated into many languages. Fragments of the text were translated

and published in French at various times from 1924 to 1927; the fully version of the French text,

Ulysse, was published in 1929. The text was translated into Italian and published serially as "Da
Aichinger 4

l''Ulysses' di James Joyce" in 1927. Other early translations include the German one in 1929 and

the Czech Odysseus in 1930. (Slocum 109).

Critical reception of Ulysses was mixed from the beginning. In The New Republic,

Edmund Wilson said, “It is, in short, perhaps the most faithful X-ray ever taken of the ordinary

human consciousness” (qtd. in Tully 19). Hart Crane called it “the epic of the age” (27).

Negative criticism was as enthusiastic as positive, however, and Virginia Woolf said, “Mr.

Joyce‟s indecency in Ulysses seems to me the conscious and calculated indecency of a desperate

man who feels that in order to breathe he must break the windows” (qtd. in Tully 23). She

admitted that “at moments . . . he is magnificent. But what a waste of energy!” (23).

The negative attention paid to Ulysses and Joyce during its serial publication

overshadowed the praise, and charges of indecency were made against the publisher. These

charges resulted in the book being banned in the United States. The second printing of Ulysses,

by Egoist Press, an English company, in France in October 1922, yielded 2,000 copies (Slocum

27). Five hundred of them were sent to America and “reported seized and burned by United

States government authorities” (27). Three months later Egoist Press undertook a second printing

of 500 copies in order to replace those destroyed in the United States. However, English customs

officials confiscated 499 of them in transit. It is believed that these copies were not destroyed,

though, because three known copies are known to exist: two in the Slocum Library and one in

the Lockwood Memorial Library (Slocum 27).

Starting in 1926, the New York magazine Two Worlds Monthly ran an unauthorized

printing of Ulysses in fourteen bowdlerized episodes in eleven installments. The individual

installments were later reissued in two bound volumes that included a twelfth installment not
Aichinger 5

previously published by the magazine. This unauthorized and highly erroneous serial printing

resulted in " considerable public indignation and provoked the 'International Protest' signed by

167 artists and writers" (Slocum 100). In fact, Joyce's legal team sought to obtain an "injunction

against Samuel Roth and Two Worlds Publishing Company on December 27, 1927, over a year

after Two Worlds Monthly had ceased publication" (100).

Deemed obscene by American courts, American publishers were not able to print the

work. This led to a sensational buzz in the United States that resulted in a proliferation of pirated

editions in book form – most notably, the "first American edition" printed by Adolph and

Rudolph Loewinger in 1929 for Samuel Roth of Two Worlds and Two Worlds Monthly (Slocum

29). Its title page claimed it to be by Shakespeare and Co., printed in 1927 (28). They printed

2,000 to 3,000 copies on white wove paper of a stock considerably heavier than the legitimate

editions, resulting in a bound book roughly one-eighth inch thicker (28). These pirated editions

included numerous textual errors, including the misprint “Jonthan” for “Jonathan” and the

absence of title and author on the spine (28).

American publishing houses were hesitant to take on Joyce's novel for fear of facing

charges of obscenity, but in 1932 Random House announced that it planned to publish the book

(Turner 197). Guided by Morris Ernst, a "high-powered civil rights and censorship lawyer"

(197), Random House prepared a special copy of Ulysses for seizure. "This copy had the

testimonials that Cerf had gathered from critics and writers glued inside so that the court would

have to admit these opinions into evidence" (197). In 1933, Judge John M. Woolsey decided that

“…In writing „Ulysses‟, Joyce sought to make a serious experiment in a new, if not wholly

novel, literary genre. He takes persons . . . and seeks not only to describe what they did on a

certain day . . . , but also to tell what many of them thought about the while” (Woolsey 36). The
Aichinger 6

novel, which contains transparent descriptions of sex organs, built the reputation of being

obscene, lewd, and crass, and it was not until Judge Woolsey‟s decision that lifted the ban of the

text‟s dissemination in the United States. After careful consideration, it was Judge Woolsey‟s

decision that while “in many places the effect of „Ulysses‟ on the reader undoubtedly is

somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac. „Ulysses‟ may, therefore, be

admitted into the United States” (37).

Random House published the book in America in 1934. Because of the wealth of pirated

editions, however, the Random House “edition was set up from the text of a copy of the 1929

pirated edition, thus incorporating most of its typographical errors and adding a few new ones"

(Slocum 31). This edition was bound in cream-colored cloth, stamped in black and red with

beveled edges; it was issued in a cream-colored wrapper, printed in black and red. Random

House ran an initial pressing of 100 copies "for reasons of copyright," but increased the volume

to 10,300 for the second printing (31). This first true American edition cost $3.50 at the time of


Random House ran an ad in The Saturday Review of Literature on 27 January 1934, just

two days after it was published. The ad focused on the sensational international history of the

text, stating, "The novel America was forbidden to read! Suppressed for 20 years, now available

in an unexpurgated edition with a new preface by the author and the court decision that released

it" (reprinted in Turner 202). An advertisement from the same publication appeared on 20

January 1934, which addressed the idea that Ulysses was becoming an "unread bestseller": "no

book of our time has had such wide influence, been so much discussed – yet so little read!" (qtd.

in Turner 199).
Aichinger 7

Works Cited

Barsanti, Mike. “A Handwritten Odyssey: Joyce‟sManuscripts.” Yes I said yes I will Yes: A

Celebration of James Joyce, Ulysses, and 100 Years of Bloomsday. Ed. Nola Tully. New

York: Vintage Books, 2004. 98-99. Print.

Ellman, Richard. James Joyce: New and Revised Edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. Print.

Ellman, Richard, ed. Letters of James Joyce: Volumes I and II. New York: The Viking Press,

1966. Print.

Slocum, John J. and Herbert Cahoon. A Bibliography of James Joyce [1882-1941]. New Haven:

Yale UP, 1953. Print.

Tully, Nola, ed. yes I said yes I will Yes: A Celebration of James Joyce, Ulysses, and 100 Years

of Bloomsday. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. Print.

Turner, Catherine. Marketing Modernism: Between the Two World Wars. Amherst: U of

Massechusetts Press, 2003. Print.

Woolsey, Judge John M. “Excerpts from Judge Woolsey‟s Decision: United States District Court

Southern District of New York Opinion A. 110-59.” yes I said yes I will Yes: A

Celebration of James Joyce, Ulysses, and 100 Years of Bloomsday. Ed. Nola Tully. New

York: Vintage Books, 2004. 36-37. Print.