Critics of James Joyce call his work cryptic and rambling, not easily followed by most readers. They proclaim that it lacks plot and classical elements of modern literature. However, Joyce did not intentionally write a bad novel, rather he was experimenting with a new literary style, one which broke almost all of the rules of modern literature. None the less, there have been those in society who have attempted to "correct" and "improve" upon Joyce's works. These attempts at "improvement" are to be the subject of this research. This research will approach the controversy surrounding Ulysses in reference to its place as a piece of art. In such a context, it is doubtful whether later versions of Ulysses have succeeded in clearing up the obscurities in the original novel, but rather have served to further confuse the issue.
Joyce was the first to use the technique of interior monologue1. Through this technique he attempted to bring the reader more in touch with the feelings of the character and give the piece greater depth. Joyce drew from a wealth of familiar symbolism in an attempt to make the internal ramblings more coherent and familiar to the contemporary 1920s person. He used many invented words, allusions and puns to add interest for the reader. James Joyce relied upon the assumption that all of his readers would be familiar with the references that he used. His work was written for an audience of well-educated and well-rounded individuals. Some of the confusion surrounding this work may stem from people reading it who were not from the target educational audience for which Joyce had written. To a less educated audience, his references would seem unintelligible and cryptic.
Some of the later "improved editions" of Ulysses may not have been an attempt to correct these obscurities, but may have been to either intentionally or unintentionally, bring it to the level of knowledge of the general population at the time. If this is truly the case, it can be argued on the basis ethics, that it is not improving the work, but destroying it. To alter the original work and inherently change the target audience would be to alter the original intent of the work. In this sense, it would change the fabric of the original work to one that only loosely resembled the original work. This is the dilemma faced when analyzing the works surrounding the Gabler/Kidd argument. Which, if either of these is the best rendition of the original work? To better answer this question, we must first examine exactly what the original intention of the work actually was. We must know the audience for which it was intended and place the work in the proper historical context.
From 1902, Joyce led a life similar to Odysseus. He spent time wandering in Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zurich. It was his homeland in Ireland, which always remained close to his heart and was the backdrop for all of his novels. James Joyce was born in Dublin, the son of a poor man. His father owned a failed distillery business, and spent his life wandering from profession to profession. Joyce's mother was a devout Catholic2. He himself attended Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, at Clane. He credits his education at this institution for teaching him to think logically3.
Joyce began his work on Ulysses after World War I forced him to move his family to Zurich for safety4. The first chapters of Ulysses were written with World War I as the backdrop. The book takes place in one day in Dublin (June 16, 1904) and reflected the works of Homer.
The main characters of the novel are Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, a hero from one of Joyce's earlier novels. They are intended to be modern counterparts of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope. The story, using stream-of-consciousness technique, parallels the major events in Odysseus' journey home. Many of the elements are borrowed, for instance the famous Sirens are barmaids. Bloom's adventures are less heroic and his homecoming less spectacular than that of Homer. The paths of Stephen and Bloom cross many times thoughout the day. Bloom makes his trip to the underworld by attending a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetary. The parallels between Ulysses and The Odyssey are intentional. The novel would stand alone, even if the reader had not read Homer. However, Joyce obviously meant the novel for those who had read Homer. Ulysses was revolutionary in the use of stream of consciousness literary technique. This technique was experimental and had not been used prior to this time. This technique may have been responsible for some of the confusion reported by some readers. They did not follow it, because they were more accustomed to classical literary techniques.
The controversy which boiled in the 1920s over the publication of Ulysses was not about the unusual literary style, but over the racy content of the novel. Later controversy focused on Joyce's "inaccuracies" regarding the Homerian epic. They attempted to correct the plot by making it more fluid and coherent. In doing this they strayed from Joyce's original intention. By reading Joyce's novel, it was not the intention of Joyce to rehash Homer. He uses Homer to add an element of satire and humor. It can be argued as to whether the differences between Ulysses and Bloom are mistakes and oversights, as later critics would have us believe, or if they truly served their purpose. Joyce may not have intended to strive for complete accuracy, but rather to allude to the comparison between Ulysses and this poor lower-class Dubliner.
It is the chapter of Ulysses entitled Circa, which served as the judge and jury in the issue surrounding racy content. Circa takes place in Dublin's red-light district. This chapter contains dream-like images of Blooms innermost fantasies. These are the types of fantasies, which many may have, however are considered to be best kept to one self. This was even more true in the 1920s when the novel was released. Joyce stepped out of bounds in expressing these types of feelings openly. No one will deny the existence of the red-light district as Joyce describes it. However, the 1920s mindset would not consider it to be a topic of public conversation and therefore a proper topic for a novel.
Joyce, not only broke the ideals of classical literary structure and social norms of the 1920s, but also those of elementary grammar. The last chapter, Penelope, contains only eight sentences. It runs on for forty-six pages of unpunctuated internal monologue. This technique was used by Joyce to mimic the way in which our minds ramble constantly inside our heads throughout the day. Out mind clutter contains no periods, or commas, it just goes on and on. Some critics have even tried to correct this horrible run-on sentence and obvious "mistake" in the printing. In doing so, they have taken away from the artistic form of the work, by their unsuspecting lack of knowledge and understanding of the author's intention.
Ulysses is a parody and was not intended to be taken as a serious historically correct work. The unconventional techniques are not mistakes. The reader of Ulysses must have a wide base of knowledge in order to absorb the full meaning behind the work. When read in the content of which it was written, it is hardly conceivable, that other than spelling and grammatical errors that Joyce acknowledged himself, that a contemporary writer could attempt to improve upon, much less convey the same meaning as the original work.
The first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses was published in Paris on February 2, 1922. It was first published by Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore and lending library. An American named Sylvia Beach was the owner. Sylvia Beach was a supporter of contemporary literature of the era. She made it an attempt to meet the authors of the books that she carried. Joyce moved to Paris in 1920 and it was here that he met Beach. Ulysses was considered to be obscene in many countries by 1920s standards and in some cases was said to violate strict laws forbidding its publication. This was the case in England and America. However, laws on obscene materials in Paris were not as strict and it was this avenue that Beach used to publish Ulysses, thereby circumventing English and American censors. Beach was to sell Ulysses at her own shop in Paris, exclusively5.
There were many circumstances surrounding the publication of the first edition of Ulysses. As a result, the text was not as refined as it had first been intended. There were many typographical errors, so many in fact, that Beach dedicated an entire page in an apology to the readers for the extreme number of errors6. Joyce was aware of these errors and in a letter to his wife, he stated that,
The edition you have is full of printers' errors. Please read it in…