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Ulysses in FocusGenetic, Textual, and Personal Views$

Michael Groden

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780813034980

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813034980.001.0001

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(p.195) Appendix 1. Remarks on the National Library of Ireland’s Newly Acquired Joyce Manuscripts

(p.195) Appendix 1. Remarks on the National Library of Ireland’s Newly Acquired Joyce Manuscripts

Ulysses in Focus
University Press of Florida

On May 30, 2002, The National Library of Ireland held a press conference in its Front Hall to announce its acquisition of a previously unknown collection of Joyce manuscripts. At the library’s request I read a short statement about the documents on that occasion, and I reprised it on June 18, 2002, as part of a plenary talk at the Eighteenth International James Joyce Symposium in Trieste. The text of those remarks follows.

This is an incredible day for the National Library, for Ireland, and for lovers of James Joyce’s works and of literature everywhere. All at once, six of Joyce’s notebooks, sixteen drafts of Ulysses (any one of which would be a cause of excitement on its own), and some typescripts and proofs for Finnegans Wake—all completely unknown until now—become part of the National Library of Ireland’s collection. The National Library joins the ranks of the major collections of manuscripts of the works of Ireland’s greatest novelist.

Writers themselves often cannot or will not speak directly about their creative processes, and Joyce was certainly no exception to this. But the notes, drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs for their works can speak, and, because they are less guarded than the writers might be, they can even take us closer to the creative process than might the writers’ own accounts. The documents can lead us into an area of literary research that sheds a unique and profound light on literature and on human creativity. Often preserved by the authors themselves, the pages can show us the words the authors wrote, those they eliminated or replaced, their false starts and new beginnings, their responses to mistakes the typists or printers made—all the ways the works moved from conception to completion. The documents can’t give us direct (p.196) access to the mental activities that accompanied the writing, but, if the record is complete enough, they can provide incredibly valuable and fascinating evidence of creativity in action. James Joyce provides the best example we have in the English-speaking world of the excitement and value of an author’s manuscripts, and the manuscripts take us as close as we can get to Joyce at work.

For over fifty years, we have had a huge amount of manuscript material for Joyce’s works, and collections have been established at the University at Buffalo; Cornell, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton universities; the British Library; the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia; the Universities of Texas and Tulsa; and the National Library of Ireland. Some important documents, such as fair copies and proofs, survive for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but from the start it was the materials for Ulysses and Finnegans Wake that were thrillingly voluminous. These papers allowed a detailed picture of Joyce at work to emerge. The notebooks revealed the sources he read and used in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; the drafts showed the various episodes in gestation and development; and the later typescripts and proofs documented the unbelievable way Joyce built up the books by adding words and phrases to the typed and printed pages as they passed under his eyes—up to a third of the words in parts of Ulysses first entered the book in this way. Full as it was, the manuscript record was incomplete, but it allowed scholars to put together as detailed a picture of an artist in the process of creating a major work of Western culture as any record could be imagined to permit.

For the most part, the existing Joyce collections were in place by 1960. No other major documents surfaced in almost forty years, and the record seemed fixed. Then, in 2000, a draft of the “Circe” episode of Ulysses came to light, and the National Library of Ireland purchased it. The next year, even more surprisingly, came a draft of the “Eumaeus” episode—hardly anyone knew this draft existed, and almost no one knows who bought it at auction. (I certainly don’t.) These two documents opened up the tantalizing possibility that yet more materials survived. Now, all at once, we are presented with two notebooks from Joyce’s early adult years, a few documents for Finnegans Wake, and, especially, four notebooks full of notes for Ulysses and sixteen drafts of Ulysses covering almost half (eight) of the book’s eighteen episodes. Once again, Ulysses demonstrates without a doubt that it is the novel of the twentieth century.

Some of these documents are like long-separated siblings who, after years, even generations, of not knowing about each other’s survival are brought together and allowed to reunite. A draft of the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses in the (p.197) National Library collection is the first half of an incomplete early draft of that episode in a copybook held at Buffalo, and a draft of the “Cyclops” episode is the second half of a Buffalo copybook. Together, the four copybooks represent the complete draft stage of those two episodes. Buffalo also possesses six copybooks that contain parts of a single early draft stage of the “Oxen of the Sun” episode—Joyce numbered them 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8 in large red-orange Roman numerals—and these manuscripts are now joined and completed by the National Library’s copybooks numbered 3, 5, and 9. Four seemingly stray pages of notes for Finnegans Wake fit securely into the middle of a Buffalo Wake notebook from which they somehow got separated seventy or so years ago.1 And Joyce’s early notes on aesthetics—quotations and questions he wrote down in 1903, which were first quoted in Herbert Gorman’s biography in 1939 and often reproduced from that printed source—are now available for us to read in the handwritten document that Joyce let Gorman transcribe and publish.2

Other manuscripts are like relatives whom a family never even knew to exist. The Buffalo collection possesses an early draft of “Proteus,” the third episode in Ulysses, and this document has long been considered the earliest surviving draft of Ulysses. The National Library’s collection contains an even earlier version of “Proteus.” The “Sirens” episode, eleventh in Ulysses, is often seen as a turning point in the book because Joyce decided, for the first time, to make his fictional form match his subject matter in a radical way—here, he wrote an episode about music in the form of a fugue. The National Library’s collection contains a very early draft of “Sirens,” in the same copybook as the “Proteus” draft, and it shows the episode in a state before Joyce decided to impose the musical form on it. The National Library collection also contains a second draft of “Circe” to join the library’s previously acquired one, so now the once-empty record between the early draft at Buffalo and the fair copy at the Rosenbach Museum and Library is filled with not one but two intermediate states of development of the longest and most complex episode in Ulysses.

And we have never had any drafts at all of “Scylla and Charybdis,” the episode in which Stephen Dedalus expounds his theory of Hamlet in the National Library of Ireland, or of the last two episodes, “Ithaca” and “Penelope”—“Ithaca” with its questions and answers about Leopold Bloom’s return home to No. 7 Eccles Street with Stephen, Stephen’s departure, and Bloom’s reunion with Molly after his day out in Dublin and her day at home with Blazes Boylan; (p.198) and “Penelope” featuring Molly’s monologue. The earliest document we have had for these three episodes is the fair copy, the Rosenbach Manuscript. The National Library’s collection contains drafts of all three episodes. As an indication of how an author’s use of even the simplest words in the language can make a difference, I can think of no better example than the end of “Penelope,” where the National Library’s draft shows that, as Joyce first composed Molly’s last words, she thought, “and I said I would,” before he crossed out “would,” substituted “will,” and then wrote the final word, “yes.” That final verb “will” (“and yes I said yes I will Yes” [U 18.1608–9]), so forward looking a memory as a future-tense verb, so decisive in its assertion of human will—how amazing to think that it was once locked in a subjunctive tense, a memory restrained both grammatically and emotionally.

As I have been indicating, the greatest excitement in the National Library’s new collection lies in the materials for Ulysses. Joyce took eight years to write his book, and his readers have now spent eighty years responding to it, analyzing it, or, as Richard Ellmann put it, “learning to be James Joyce’s contemporaries, to understand our interpreter.”3 The drafts are all working documents that precede the fair copy—they show the episodes in states of gestation and in flux, and we can observe Joyce trying out ideas, strengthening some and discarding others, in ways that we cannot in the later typescripts and proofs, where his revisions mostly serve to augment an existing, fixed pattern. The other Ulysses materials are notebooks, page after page of notes. Each time Joyce used a note, he crossed it out in a red, blue, or green crayon, and some of the pages are marvels of Technicolor cross-outs. Most of the notebooks are from late stages of Joyce’s work, but one, tantalizingly, dates from his early work, a stage of his writing of Ulysses that has been almost completely undocumented until now. Once these notes are deciphered and analyzed, they might turn out to provide the most drastic alterations of all to our sense of how Joyce conceived and wrote Ulysses.

The French genetic critic Louis Hay has written that “Manuscripts have something new to tell us: it is high time we learned to make them speak.”4 For decades now, we have been learning how to listen to manuscripts. On this great day, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Alexis Léon’s private offer of these materials to the National Library of Ireland, the library’s and Ireland’s gift to the literary, cultural, and scholarly world presents us all with an extraordinary, unprecedented opportunity to discover the “something new” that these manuscripts can tell us specifically about James Joyce and more generally about the mysteries and marvels of human creativity.


(1.) Buffalo MS VI.B.17; Archive 33:2–56. The National Library’s pages would fit between notebook pages 54 and 55; see Archive 33:29.

(2.) Gorman, James Joyce, 95–99, 107, 133–38. The notebook page that is transcribed on page 107 is also reproduced photographically among the illustrations between pages 184 and 185.

(3.) Ellmann, James Joyce, 3.

(4.) Hay, “History or Genesis?” 207.