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Ulysses in Focus: Genetic, Textual, and Personal Views by Michael Groden (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael Groden, Ulysses in Focus: Genetic, Textual, and Personal Views (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010), 245 pp.

The most consistently reliable and industrious “genetic scholar” among all of Joyce critics, Michael Groden has brought together in this book a collection of his essays about Joyce and Ulysses that, in their unified disunion, give us “a portrait of the scholar as a young man and a middle-aged man.” The portrait, wholly attractive, lets us see how the young Groden came to Joyce when a college student, [End Page 562] how Joyce thereafter served him as guide and mentor, and how today Joyce gives to the middle-aged Groden a secure position from which he can understand the students and books he teaches, the woman to whom (after a long Odyssean voyage away from her) he is married, and the life he has wound up living.

In its quiet way, the book does what only one other book (Declan Kiberd’s Ulysses and Us) has been able to do: bring together in one place both the meaning of the book and the deeply personal reasons for reading it. The scholarly resistance to amalgamating the two, based as it is on the fear of embarrassing the formal scholar by exposing the wholly informal and intimate reasons for his affair with the book, is broken—gracefully—by Groden. He plainly sees what Ulysses has been for him: a guide for his life. Confession made, he also shows just how much he knows about the book and, in particular, how it got made.

Since 1977, Groden has been inspecting in precise detail the ways in which, over time, Ulysses evolved. His book gives us new findings—among them, how the “Aeolus” and “Cyclops” episodes grew to be what they now are, how the controversial “Gabler” edition of 1986 revealed the myriad choices Joyce made when deciding what would appear in print and what would be left behind when the book’s first edition appeared in 1922, and how our understanding of the book and its half-buried origins has been enhanced by additional manuscripts of the book which, coming into public view in 2001, are now owned by Ireland’s National Library.

Two romances undergird Groden’s book: his devotion to the book’s compelling portrait of its uncommon hero, Leopold Bloom, and Groden’s devotion to his own “Molly,” his wife. This combination, which in other hands might have been maudlin, instead reminds us that real books do indeed read us, that we bring them close to us the better to see ourselves, and that we keep looking at them because their wisdom turns out to be stronger than our own.

William M. Chace

William M. Chace is president emeritus of Emory University and honorary professor of English emeritus at Stanford. His books include One Hundred Semesters; Lionel Trilling: Criticism and Politics; The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot; and (as editor) Making It New, Justice Denied: The Black Man in White America, and James Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays.

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