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  • Ulysses, Gabler, and Kidd:The Personal Note
  • Mark Wollaeger

Introducing Charles Rossman's "Introduction: A Special Issue on Editing Ulysses," first published in Studies in the Novel Vol. 22, No. 2 (special number: "A Special Issue on Editing Ulysses"), summer 1990, pp. 113-18.

The publication of Ulysses in 1922 changed novels forever. Ambitious novelists had to take Joyce's book into account, and readers of experimental fiction were taught to read in a new way. The novel's reception was contentious from the start, with some denouncing Ulysses as an obscurantist hoax and others hailing it as a new way forward in fiction. Its explosiveness, beginning in 1921, when serial publication was halted owing to the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and culminating in a 1932-34 litigation over obscenity, guaranteed its status as at once literature's "most dangerous book" and a modern classic.1 For over sixty years, the phrase "the scandal of Ulysses" referred to this history and was associated with a well-known 1922 photograph of Joyce sitting with Sylvia Beach in front of a poster bearing those words. But in 1988 the phrase was reappropriated and applied to the usually staid field of textual editing by a largely unknown literary academic with a flair for self-promotion whose consequent rise and fall would be spectacular. Charles Rossman's 1990 special issue of Studies in the Novel on editing Ulysses reported on the unfolding of what had become known as the Joyce Wars.

I chose to reprint Rossman's introduction for the fiftieth anniversary issue of this journal because even though Rossman was at the time widely seen as an allied combatant, he offers here a reasonably level-headed overview of a heated dispute that would last, it turned out, for another decade and beyond. In fact, one of the major characters in what from today's perspective looks like a David Lodge novel is still fighting the war. My interest in this dispute is both scholarly and, in a fundamental sense, novelistic: a significant opportunity for [End Page 86] literary scholars to learn about theories of textual editing was missed owing to the kind of personal conflict that is the stuff of fiction. And with the recent affective turn in literary criticism, the story also makes me wonder how often scholarly disputes have been shaped more by personalities than by ideas.

Only in fiction do stories have a single beginning. This one seemed to begin on April 26, 1985, at the Society for Textual Scholarship in New York, when Hans Walter Gabler, assistant professor at the University of Munich and editor of the much ballyhooed Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition (1984), rose from the audience during the question period after a panel to read aloud a prepared response to a talk entitled "Errors of Execution in the 1984 Ulysses" that had just been delivered by John Kidd, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia. These papers are both included in Rossman's special issue. Also printed there is a second essay by Kidd, "The Context for the First Salvo in the Joyce Wars," in which he describes his experience of the event. Kidd was not told his paper would receive "an onthe-spot response. Naturally I was shocked….Mr Gabler launched a vehement assault on the very person of his rival" (240). Kidd terms the unexpected paper "blistering" and "intemperate" (239). A quick reading of Gabler's response shows ample warrant for Kidd's dismay. Gabler begins imperiously: "A defense of the critical edition of James Joyce's Ulysses against the allegations in Dr. Kidd's paper is not required. These allegations are all unfounded or misconceived" (250). The response then descends into the weeds to dispute specific claims (should a word in the "Circe" episode be singular or plural?) before offering a murky justification of his editorial theory (he got better at it over time) and a dismissal of Kidd's paper as "a shambles of undigested editorial lore in an argument that, for lack of stringency and incisiveness, collapses into triviality" (251). Gabler ends his response by eschewing the usual scholarly gesture...


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