- Ulysses: Bloom's Sway
Michael Groden's Ulysses in Focus: Genetic, Textual, and Personal Views is a many splendored thing. As a primer for genetic criticism, it serves effectively. As a defense of textual scholarship, it argues persuasively. As an apologia for Groden's life choices (professional and private), it engages and entertains elegantly. In each of its foci, it is a paean to Ulysses, the reading of which, Groden insists, changed him forever. Groden was "smitten by a book." In the spirit of the devoted genetic critic, he compares the memory of his earliest encounter with Joyce's novel to an early draft of the work that has become his life.
Referencing Stuart Gilbert's designation of Ulysses as "this monument of literature," Groden elaborates on the stature of Joyce's novel, subsequently applying the practices and procedures of genetic and textual criticism to show "the monumental Ulysses turning into a mobile." He follows his lucid introduction with a chapter on the acquisition in 2002 of a collection of "new" Joyce manuscripts by the National Library of Ireland. Groden had been invited by the Library to assess the previously unknown collection and present a statement to the press announcing its acquisition. That statement, reprised for the Eighteenth International Joyce Symposium and reprinted in an appendix to this book, succinctly explains the importance of the collection, a gift from Alexis Leon, son of Joyce's Parisian friends, Paul and Lucie Leon. Certainly the prestige of the National Library of Ireland has been enhanced by the acquisition of the six notebooks, sixteen drafts of Ulysses, and typescripts and proofs for Finnegans Wake. More important, however, is the potential for reaching a better understanding of human creativity that such "less guarded" documents than the writer's more calculated [End Page 274] accounts provide. In fulfilling his commission to assess the documents' authenticity, contents, and value, Groden became immersed and beguiled, ultimately developing a chart comparing the pre-2000 extant manuscripts with the post-2002 archive. That chart is provided in another appendix. The recently accessible manuscripts ushered in "a new phase of Ulysses scholarship," Groden contends. To make his point, Groden offers examples of the way in which the "new" drafts reveal the fluctuations in—or mobility of—Joyce's creative process.
As promised, Groden invites us into his remembrances of (Joycean) things past in chapter two. Recounting his first reading of Ulysses when he was a nineteen-year-old college student, Groden describes how he "devoured the episodes that dealt with Leopold Bloom." Forty years later, Groden admits, "Ulysses is always with [him]." Why? Because Groden finds that "Ulysses trains its readers to put aside expectations of simple, or even complicatedly single answers to questions." Accordingly, Groden seems so liberated by the open-endedness of Joyce's work, especially by Bloom's equanimity, that he is enabled to revisit and pose questions about his vexed relationship with his Jewish parents and his affair with his own once and future Molly. "My strong response to [Bloom] when I first read Ulysses must have been connected to my relationship with my father," Groden opines. However, it is to "Molly Peacock, the first Molly," that Groden dedicates his book. After revealing details about his troubled relationship with his parents, Groden turns attention to his high school sweetheart, Molly Peacock. "When I read Ulysses a few months after our breakup, I unexpectedly met a new Molly," he confides. Nonetheless, eighteen years and endless hours of immersion in Joyce's works later, Groden reconnected with his Molly and seven years after that they married. Molly Bloom then became his "second Molly." Reading about Groden's devotion to his Molly reminded me of one of Peacock's poems, "Putting A Burden Down," in which she describes how in unburdening oneself "you escape what you didn't even know had held you." For Groden, the unburdening/creative process has been undeniably facilitated by his ongoing affair with Joyce's characters.
In chapter three, "From Monument to Mobile," Groden explains that genetic critics stress the continuity...