The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses: The 1922 text with essays and notes
Cambridge University Press, $56.95 hb, 988 pp
Earlier this year, I took a group of students to the State Library of Victoria (SLV) to see its impressive Joyce collection. We examined some special books, including lavish editions of Ulysses: the 1935 Limited Editions Club edition, with Matisse’s accompanying etchings; the 1988 Arion Press edition, with illustrations by Robert Motherwell – and various others. But the one that had lured us down Swanston Street was the iconic first edition, with its famous blue cover, fortuitously acquired by the SLV in 1922.
The story of how James Joyce’s masterpiece was published is well known. Ulysses, the scandalous, ‘obscene’ book, was scuppered by censors even before it was launched. Some episodes from the novel had appeared in the American modernist magazine The Little Review. Copies were seized and destroyed, and the editors of the journal prosecuted for obscenity. As a result, no publisher wanted to touch the full novel. An American expatriate, Sylvia Beach, who ran Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, came to the rescue. She offered to publish the novel for a disheartened and discouraged Joyce, and the book duly appeared in time for Joyce’s fortieth birthday in February 1922.
A facsimile of this text has now been republished by Cambridge University Press under the editorial guidance of Catherine Flynn, a Cork-born Joycean based at Berkeley, California. The first thing you notice about the Cambridge Centenary Ulysses is its heft. As with the blue-wrapped original, its dimensions are as generous as a Holy Book, and it weighs in at 3.08 kg – the weight of a healthy newborn. You definitely get a lot of book here for your buck. Yet it might seem a strange decision for Cambridge to reproduce the first edition, which is notoriously riddled with errors. Joyce rushed to meet his self-imposed birthday deadline, finishing final chapters and adding copious emendations to galleys and proofs. The printer Beach deployed, Maurice Darantiere of Dijon, was hardly ideal for a complex experimental work in English, one with thousands of literary allusions and complex verbal play, as well as multiple languages, and cultural references, including vernacular, Irish-inflected English. (Flynn and Ronan Crowley explain here in a piece on the textual genesis that within a few weeks of beginning the first edition, the print shop had exhausted its supply of the characters w, b, and y – used less frequently in French – and e.)