Originally published June 2011 on our Rare Books Online Showcase; written and compiled by our maestro of digital projects (then supervisor), Joel Salt.
In honour of Bloomsday, celebrated 16 June (the day in which the entire novel of Ulysses takes place), Special Collections will showcase its first edition of Ulysses published in 1922. Ulysses was banned from England until the 1930s so Joyce took it to Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris to first have it published, which was done quickly and with many errors. Special Collection’s edition was published by Egoist Press in London, but it was printed at Dijon, France. It was a limited edition print run; Special Collections owns number 512 out of 2000 copies. Ulysses is well-known for its difficulties in printing. According to Joyce scholar Jack Dalton the first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors but was still the most accurate edition published. Several other attempts at correction took place, notably in 1932 by Stuart Gilbert for the Odyssey Press, the Bodley Head Revised Edition in 1960, and notably in 1984 by Hans Walter Gruber who used a computer to collate Ulysses manuscripts, though this edition has come under heavy criticism for a variety of reasons. Many publishers briefly used Gruber’s edition before going back to the 1960 text.
Bloomsday was invented in 1954 on the 50th anniversary of the day the events take place in the novel when John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Flann O’Brien organised what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. Ulysses is renowned for its attention to the detail of its Dublin setting. Joyce once even joked that if Dublin were wiped off the face of the earth it could be rebuilt accurately simply by reading his novel. Joyce’s chef d’oeuvre mirrors the structure of Homer’s Greek epic poem The Odyssey, and Ulysses is the Latinized name for the eponymous Greek hero Odysseus. Headings suggesting a similar structure to The Odyssey were added later to quell certain allegations of obscenity.
Ulysses was a polarizing novel when it came out. Certain critics, mostly those now called modernists such as Ezra Pound, immediately found it revolutionary. Many other critics, along with government officials and the general public, found it offensive, obscene, lacking structure, and even at times bordering on the unintelligible. Random House eventually secured a court ruling in 1933 that deemed the book not pornographic, and hence not obscene, after a shipment of copies of the book was seized at the border. In Canada Ulysses was banned until 1949, though it was apparently still taught in class and illegal copies still resided in some University Libraries. (http://www.bcla.bc.ca/ifc/Censorship%20BC/1920.html). In Australia the ban wasn’t finally lifted for good until 1953, over 30 years after it was first published.
Ulysses is often called the perfect example of high modernism; some would say it was the culmination of modern beliefs and indeed had already started to become “postmodern.” Others reserve this latter claim for Joyce’s next novel, Finnegan’s Wake. Regardless, Ulysses is without a doubt one of the most important works of literature due to its allusive style, multi-lingual punning, parodies, and stream-of-consciousness style. Joyce once quipped he “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant” and so far, it has proved true. It has also been described as using ‘every possible literary device available to him’ and it resides as the best novel on Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century list. It is a constant contender in academic debates, along with the likes of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, for the distinction of best novel of all time.
James Joyce was born in Dublin into a Catholic family, but he would later renounce the church and be buried without a funeral mass because his wife “couldn’t do that to him.” Joyce was educated in Jesuit Schools then University College in Dublin. Joyce went on a first date with his soon-to-be wife Nora on 16 June 1904 (the day Ulysses takes place) and the two soon-after went into a self-imposed exile to Trieste and Zurich. In 1920 Joyce then went to Paris for what he thought was only a couple of days but turned out to be the next twenty years. There he hobnobbed with other fine modernist writers like Ezra Pound and Eugene Jolas, the man who would publish his final novel Finnegan’s Wake. Joyce fled the Nazis in 1940, going to Zurich where he died of a perforated ulcer in 1941. Swiss tenor Max Meili sang “Tu sei morta” (you are dead), sometimes refered to as “Addio terra, addio cielo” (goodbye earth, goodbye sky), from the then recently revived early 17th century composer Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo (1607) at the funeral service.
Special Collection’s copies of Ulysses can be found in the catalogue here; or, you come on up to the third floor of the Murray Library to see them yourself!
Some further resources:
Frank Delaney has a blog/podcast available here where he talks in depth about each page of Ulysses.
Ulyssesseen is a webcomic adapted from Ulysses.
There was a movie adaptation in 1967 entitled Ulysses.