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James Joyce. "Ulysses": A Critical and Synoptic Edition. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior. New York: Garland, 1984. 1919 pp. $200.00.

James Joyce scholarship is replete with significant publication dates—1922: the year in which Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company published the first edition of Ulysses , printed in Dijon (and, incidentally, the year of publication of T. S. Eliot's most famous poem); 1934: the appearance of the American Random House edition of Ulysses, following Judge Woolsey's decision that the novel might be admitted to the United States without precipitating the moral decline of the country; 1975: the date of the facsimile edition of the Rosenbach manuscript of Ulysses by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and the Rosenbach Foundation. Now, sixtytwo years after Joyce's novel was originally published in book form, a new date must be added—1984: the year in which Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition was issued by Garland Publishing.

As Joyceans know, this impressive work in three volumes is Professor Gabler's attempt to reconstruct the true, authentic text of Ulysses as Joyce fully intended it to be. With most literary works, this might not present many problems. With Joyce's work, difficulties abound. The writer's poor eyesight accounts for many of the errors that crept into the printed work. Joyce also had to rely often on typists of less than professional skill, sometimes in distant places, to interpret his handwriting or to second-guess his verbal intention. Such an arrangement does not make for fidelity or accuracy, nor did the necessity of printing such an elaborately difficult book, written in English, in a provincial French city, in a printing firm whose employees did not understand the language of the text, help to ensure errorless printing. Prior appearance of sections of the novel in The Little Review and The Egoist further muddied the waters. Finally, Joyce did not help his own cause by extensive revision on printer's proofs, mercilessly editing what he had earlier submitted as final manuscript copy. The printed novel that emerged from all this chaos has thus never been, in all details, the book he thought he had written. Nor have attempts at correction of the first and subsequent editions done a great deal to restore Joyce's text.

The Gabler edition attempts to offer the definitive reading of Ulysses, correcting over five thousand errors in the published versions of the novel so that finally readers may experience it as Joyce wrote it. Such an intention would seem to be enough for any editor. This edition, however, goes further, offering on the left-hand page a synoptic account of all the changes the text has undergone in the various stages of preparation and specifying the source of each by the use of symbols and diacritical marks; while the complementary right-hand page presents the final, true reading of the same passage from the novel.

The result is a staggering scholarly and editorial achievement for academics immersed in Joycean research. The ability to follow the course of textual composition [End Page 782] , layer by layer, through Joyce's handwriting, to stages of typescript, to levels of proof and proof correction, and finally to the printed versions of Ulysses , to do so without resort to international travel and library frustrations, is a major accomplishment that no other publishing accommodation could have eased. Just the Gabler "Historical Collation List," which records, episode by episode, departures from the newly established text in earlier printed versions, is for such scholars an unparalleled reference aid. The presence of this hundred pages alone justifies publication for the specialist.

But what of the claims of the publisher and of some interested scholars to the effect that the new reading substantially alters the view of this novel for competent, intelligent readers who do not happen to be primarily Joyce scholars? What kinds of mistakes do these five thousand corrections correct? What new insights are provided by the restored text? Here, through no fault of the editors of the synoptic edition, there may be less cause for euphoria.

This reviewer, in his role as college instructor leading several decades of graduate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 782-784
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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