Assessing the 1984 ‘Ulysses’

Assessing the 1984 ‘Ulysses’

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Alongside Eliot's Waste Land and Ezra Pound's Cantos, Ulysses is unquestionably the most important literary text of this century. That is why it is both natural and necessary to pay more than the usual attention to the significant detail embedded in that monumental work.

Joyce demanded that Ulysses be published on his fortieth birthday, 2 February 1922. He forced the non-English-speaking printers in Dijon to work against next to impossible deadlines, and from almost unreadable manuscripts and proofs, so clotted were they with revisions. For this and other reasons, Joyce himself was acutely aware of the unusually large number of 'errors' in the body of the book, and said as much in his letters to friends. There 'errors' irritated him so much that he even issued a number of errata lists during his lifetime, but to no avail. All editions of Ulysses teemed with misprints and other 'errors': this is about the only statement on which there is genuine critical consensus.

In the late 1970s a comprehensive research project was mounted in Munich in systematically to deal with these 'errors' with the aid of a sophisticated computer program. The outcome was the 'error-free' edition of Ulysses published on Bloomsday 1984.

The sole purpose of the conference held in Monaco in 1985, bringing together some of the most outstanding experts of the Joycean text, was to scrutinise collectively the validity of the changes made by the Munich team.

Anthony Burgess points out in his Preface that in Ulysses as in Finnegans Wake, 'it is virtually impossible to divide substance from form... the characters are so embedded in their mode of presentation that it would be dangerous to release them from their verbal ambience'. It is precisely that point that makes this collection of papers an indispensable companion to the New Text of Ulysses as it has emerged from its 1984 facelift.

The outstanding Joyce scholars contributing to this work include Richard Ellmann, Clive Hart, Fritz Senn, David Hayman, and Richard Kain.

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