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Joyce at Work on "Cyclops": Toward a Biography of Ulysses

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 2, Winter 2007
pp. 217-245 | 10.1353/jjq.2007.0035

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Here, then, is the biography of a book": with these words Herbert Gorman begins chapter 10 of his 1939 biography of Joyce. Gorman deals in this chapter with the initial publication of Ulysses and its early reviews, Joyce's protests against Samuel Roth's piracy in the late 1920s, and Judge John M. Woolsey's legal decision allowing Ulysses to be published in the United States, but not with Joyce's writing of Ulysses; brief accounts of that appeared in earlier chapters. Only a few years after Gorman's book, however (and following Joyce's death two years later), manuscripts for Ulysses found their ways into research libraries and inspired studies of Joyce's writing of Ulysses, and soon the composition of Ulysses was as much a part of its perceived life as was the published book.

The manuscripts acquired by the National Library of Ireland in 2002 offer vast amounts of new evidence regarding Joyce's writing of Ulysses, and I have been considering possible ways to study and write about these materials. My first idea was to produce an updated version of my 1977 book "Ulysses" in Progress and to look anew at the three stages I delineated there—early, middle, and last —but this plan quickly proved unfeasible. The new manuscripts would change the account drastically, as would the new models for studying manuscripts provided by French critique génétique, or genetic criticism, and yet "Ulysses" in Progress is locked into the manuscript archive as it existed in the mid-1970s and into the pre-theory, pre-genetic mindset of those years. In addition, the book quotes the manuscripts extensively, using permission that I was able to obtain quite easily then, whereas permission to re-quote those materials or to quote the new documents now would probably be extremely expensive, if it could be gotten at all. A new approach seems needed, one more narrative than bibliographically analytical, and I have come to think of my project as a biography of Ulysses, a biography of the book rather than of Joyce (or only of Joyce the writer), and, unlike in Gorman's biography, an account of Ulysses as it came into being more than of its life after publication. Such a biography can tell the story of how Joyce wrote Ulysses, using the manuscripts as evidence for part of that story and also locating the manuscripts within other important contexts of Joyce's writing, including his life as he was writing and the events going on in the world around him at the time.

This article is a first step toward this biography. Focusing on "Cyclops," my original example of Joyce's middle stage of work on Ulysses, it begins with a brief summary of the account I gave in "Ulysses" in Progress. It then looks at a newly available draft of the episode at the National Library of Ireland and speculates on how the story that I told based on the materials that were available in the 1970s changes because of this draft. In its second section, the article moves outward to offer some preliminary ideas about placing Joyce's writing of Ulysses into larger contexts. In contrast to the one-eyed Cyclopes, it turns out, the story needs not just a two-eyed, parallactic perspective but even a multi-headed Scyllean one.


"Cyclops" has long been a richly documented episode of Ulysses, and among the fascinating materials is an early draft, perhaps but not certainly a first draft, in the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo. Numbered as MS V.A.8 in Peter Spielberg's catalog of the Buffalo collection, this twenty-four-page copybook consists of eight fragmentary and relatively undeveloped scenes. Scenes 1 to 4 (as Joyce numbered them) move from the beginning of the episode to the end, whereas 5 to 8 are sections from the middle of the episode. The copybook stops partway through scene 8.

Like many of Joyce's drafts and sets of notes, MS V.A.8 is visually stunning. The first four of its eight scenes are in ink and the second four in pencil. Joyce began to write only on the rectos...

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