Ulysses’ journey - the first sightings of James Joyce’s masterpiece
By Ed Mulhall
STATELY, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently
behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
—Introibo ad altare Dei,
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
—Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful Jesuit.
One of the most famous opening scenes in literature was first published one hundred years ago in March 1918 in a small American literary magazine, the Little Review. The opening episode of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, not to be published in book form until 1922, introduced Buck Mulligan standing on the parapet of the Martello Tower in Sandycove Co. Dublin, and blessing, with shaving foam, the emergence of Stephen Dedalus at the start of his epic day in Dublin of 1904. That edition of the Little Review, published in New York and edited by Margaret Anderson, included pieces by Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford (Hueffer), Arthur Symons and Ezra Pound.
It was the poet Pound, the designated foreign editor of the journal, who had facilitated Joyce’s contribution, just as he had done with the serialisation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the Egoist in London four years earlier. Pound had joined the Little Review with the expressed purpose of publishing Joyce together with his own work, that of T.S. Eliot (who had only recently published his first book Prufrock and other Observations) and Wyndham Lewis. ‘I want an 'official organ' (vile phrase). I mean I want a place where I and T.S. Elliot can appear once a month (or once an issue) and where James Joyce can appear when he likes, and where Wyndham Lewis can appear if he comes back from the war’, Pound wrote in January 1917.
When commissioning Joyce to contribute Pound had not seen a word of Ulysses but once Joyce was amenable he committed the Review to publish it in serial form (in an arrangement that would also see some of it appear in the Egoist as well). When Pound received the first draft of the opening he immediately saw it was special. He wrote back in a colloquial style: ‘Wall, Mr Joice, I recon your a damn fine writer, that’s what I recon’. An’ I recon this here work o yourn is some concarn’d litterchure. You can take it from me, an’ I’m a jedge.’ But he also recognised that publishing it was going to cause great difficulty: ‘I suppose we’ll be damn well suppressed if we print the text as it stands. BUT it is damn well worth it.’
The editor of the Review, Margaret Anderson, too, was in no doubt once she read the opening episodes. On receiving the first three – which she read together - from Pound, she came to the opening of the third episode: ‘Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of things I am here to read…’, she recalled. ‘This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have, I cried. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives.’
Over the next three years they would print episodes (or parts of episodes) nearly every month. Four times issues fell foul of the law; three were seized after publication and burned by order of the Post Office and one led to a prosecution with the editors in court, a case they lost thus preventing further publication. In all, 13 episodes and part of a 14th were published in the Little Review (‘Telemachus’ to ‘Oxen of the Sun’), from March 1918 to September/October 1920, with each episode sent first to Pound, who edited sections at times to try and prevent further censorship.
The challenge of serial publication gave Joyce a real momentum in his writing of the novel which was growing in complexity as it developed. He worked and reworked episodes while still trying to keep pace with the publication schedule. The planned parallel publication in London did not occur to the same extent with only five small extracts from four episodes published in the Egoist due to restrictions from printers fearing litigation.
It was through the Little Review that readers saw the developing work of Ulysses. Among them were many of Joyce’s leading literary peers. The poet W.B. Yeats wrote that summer from his tower under re-construction at Ballylee: ‘If I had had this tower of mine when Joyce began to write I dare say I might have been of use to him, have got him to meet those who might have helped him. I think him a most remarkable man, & his new story in The Little Review looks like becoming the best work he has done. It is an entirely new thing — neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears but what the rambling mind thinks & imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.’
George Bernard Shaw, who was sent free copies of the journal at Pound’s insistence, recalled later to Sylvia Beach: ‘I have read several fragments of Ulysses in its serial form. It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon round Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that foul mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity. To you, possibly, it may appeal as art: you are probably (you see I don’t know you) a young barbarian beglamoured by the excitements and enthusiasms that art stirs up in passionate material: but to me it is all hideously real…It is, however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it. In Ireland they try and make a cat cleanly by rubbing its nose in its own filth. Mr Joyce has tried the same treatment on the human subject. I hope it may prove successful.’
The consideration of the work in literary circles and its development during the serialisation can be seen in Virginia Woolf’s reaction. Woolf had been approached by Harriet Weaver, Joyce’s benefactor and editor of the Egoist, who brought her transcripts to see if she might publish Ulysses. She was not inclined to do so: ‘We both looked at the MS. Which seems to be an attempt to push the boundaries of expression further on, but still all in the same direction.’ But with more of the episodes published other writers were promoting the work. Woolf wrote of a visit from T.S. Eliot: ‘A personal upheaval of some kind came after Prufrock, & turned him aside from his inclination - to develop in the manner of Henry James. Now he wants to describe externals. Joyce gives internals. His novel Ulysses presents the life of man in 16 incidents, all taking place (I think) in one day. This, so far as he has seen it, is extremely brilliant, he says. Perhaps we shall try and publish it.’ It was however through the efforts of Weaver and Sylvia Beach that Ulysses would eventually be published in Paris in February 1922, completing the journey begun by two other women, Margaret Anderson and her partner Jane Heap in the Little Review four years earlier.
‘A Magazine for the Arts/Making No Compromise with the Public Taste’
The Little Review was founded in Chicago by Margaret Anderson who had been working as a literary editor in the city and was seeking on her own description ‘inspired conversation’. The magazine aimed to publish ‘creative criticism’ and it also featured pieces supportive of radical changes in society including the anarchism of Emma Goldman. The magazine championed the poetry of the ‘Imagists’ including Ezra Pound who at the time of publication had already moved away from association with that group.
The direction of the magazine shifted in 1916 when Anderson met Jane Heap, who became a lifelong companion and effective co-editor of the magazine. Heap’s influence moved the periodical away from politics and anarchism and instead sought a new focus on quality: ‘we shall have Art in this magazine or we shall have nothing.’
Dissatisfied with the quality of the material they were receiving, Anderson left 13 pages of the September 1916 edition blank accompanied by the statement: ‘The Little Review hopes to become a magazine of Art. The September issue is offered as a ‘Want’ Ad.’ The editors also moved the magazine from Chicago to New York. Pound who had made some small contributions to the magazine from London was prompted by the September edition to write to Anderson asking whether he could be of any use and in January 1917 made his proposal to take over and source funding for a number of pages of the magazine. Anderson readily agreed and in May 1917 Pound wrote his first editorial. At his instigation the masthead of the review now declared: ‘A Magazine for the Arts/Making No Compromise with the Public Taste’. Pound now stated publicly his reason for becoming foreign editor of the magazine: ‘I wished a place where the current prose writings of James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot and myself might appear regularly, promptly and together rather than irregularly, sporadically, and after useless delay.’ The recent works of the three named writers ‘are not only the most important contributions to English literature of the past three years, but they are practically the only works of the time in which the creative element is present, which in any way show invention, or a progress beyond precedent work.’ He declared too his non-compromising approach. ‘The shellfish grows its own shell, the genius creates its own milieu. You the public can kill genius by actual physical starvation, you may perhaps thwart or distort it, but you can in no way create it…There is no misanthropy in a thorough contempt for the mob. There is no respect for mankind save in respect for detached individuals.’ Pound and Anderson also acknowledged the association with the Egoist in London which had published Joyce’s Portrait and Eliot’s Prufrock as being ‘the two most important radical organs of contemporary literature’. The American lawyer John Quinn delivered the necessary funding for contributors, later telling W.B. Yeats that he paid $1,150 in 1917 and $750 in 1918 to the Little Review.
Pound’s energy and contacts invigorated the magazine. He made lists of new subscriptions, wrote pieces for every edition and sourced content. He got work from established writers like T.S. Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, both of whom appeared in that May 1917 issue, as well from Henry James, Lady Gregory, Ford Maddox Ford and W.B. Yeats. He also published work by by new writers Iris Barry and John Rodker. With Joyce, Pound already had history. He had facilitated the publication of A Portrait in the Egoist and thus encouraged Joyce to complete his work on the novel and was in regular contact with him, sourcing funding and support. In March 1917 he wrote to Joyce with his plan for the Little Review and a request ‘I want SOMETHNG from you even if it is only 500 words…I don’t want at any price to interfere with the progress of 'Odysseus', but you must have some stray leaves of paper, with some sort of arabesques on them…If you haven’t, absolutely haven’t anything, will you send me a note of general good wishes, saying you are ill, but hope to send something soon.’ Joyce replied with the requested note: ‘I hope to send you something very soon - as soon in fact as my health allows me to resume work. I am much better however, though I am still under care of the doctor. I wish the Little Review every success.’ In an accompanying letter Joyce explained to Pound, he could have some poems already sent to Poetry if they hadn’t been used. ‘As regards stories I have none. I have some prose sketches, as I told you, but they are locked up in my desk in Trieste. As regards excerpts from Ulysses, the only thing I could send would be the Hamlet chapter or part of it - which however would suffer by excision...I am a most tiresome writer - to myself at least. It exhausts me before I end it. I wonder if you will like the book I am writing? I am doing it, as Aristotle would say, by different means in different parts. Strange to say, in spite of my illness I have written enough already. As regards my novel it seems to have come to a standstill.’
Joyce had been experiencing serious eye trouble throughout the first half of 1917, beginning with a severe attack of rheumatic iritis in February and this was obviously impairing his work on Ulysses. His report on the progress of the novel must be considered in light of what is now known of Joyce’s compositional technique. There is a lot of evidence that, rather than work chapter by chapter in a consecutive, linear manner, Joyce instead wrote sections at a time, often from complex and diverse series of notes and only later combined them into the narrative. Thus he might often move to new episodes (or chapters) before finally completing them but knowing that he had the essence of the approach conquered. He wrote about this approach much later to Harriet Weaver: ‘the elements needed will fuse only after a prolonged existence together’ and he would explain to Pound: ‘I write and think all day and part of the night. It goes on as it has been going on these five or six years! But the ingredients will not fuse until they have reached a certain temperature.’ Thus when Joyce announced to his brother Stanislaus dramatically on 16 June 1915 that the first episode had been written and outlined the plan for the rest, he had in fact drafts already done of parts of the second and third episodes, as well, at least, as sketches for sections of many other episodes in the book. And as we see from the letter to Pound the first episode was not in a publishable state yet. Herbert Gorman, his first biographer, whose work was overseen by Joyce, said that Joyce began serious work on Ulysses in Trieste in 1914 starting by outlining preliminary sketches of the final sections, then the opening ones and was in the middle of the third episode ‘Proteus’, with Stephen Dedalus on Sandymount Strand, when he left Trieste for Zurich. Gorman wrote that Joyce had reached the point in ‘Proteus’ which read ‘A choir gives back menace and echo, assisted about the altar’s horns, the snorted Latin of jackpriests moving burly in their albs, tonsured and oiled and gelded, fat with the fat of kidneys of wheat’ and would continue from there in Switzerland. Within days of the Stanislaus postcard, Joyce wrote to Pound that he had finished the ‘first two episodes’ and it was a ‘continuation of A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man after three years interval blended with many of the persons of Dubliners.’
The announcement that Ulysses would be serialised in the Little Review was finally delivered by Margaret Anderson in its January 1918 edition. It didn’t under sell what was to come, Anderson opting to cite Ezra Pound. ‘It is, I believe, even better than the Portrait. So far it has been read by only one critic of international reputation. He says: ‘It is certainly worth running a magazine if one can get stuff like this to put in it, compression, intensity. It looks to me rather better than Flaubert.’ This announcement means we are about to publish a prose masterpiece.’ And that’s what they did. The first instalment went into print in March 1918, the next the following July, and then another in August. Owing to illness, the following episodes were not delivered until October. A further Joyce contribution, published in the January 1919 edition of the Little Review, was seized by the Post Office, prompting John Quinn to intervene on behalf of the magazine to defend Joyce. But it was not Joyce’s work to which the Post Office took offence, but the edition in general, which included some nude drawings. The Little Review once more resumed with publication with the serialisation of Joyce’s and it continued uninterrupted until January 1920 when there was yet another seizure by the Post Office. On this occasion, however, copies of the magazine were burned. ‘This is the second time I have had the pleasure of being burned while on earth so that I hope that I shall pass through the fires of purgatory as quickly as my patron S. Aloysius’, Joyce wrote around this time to Harriet Weaver, whose own efforts to serialise Ulysses came to an end in December 1919 when the Egoist ceased to publish. It had only succeeded in publishing about three and a half episodes, using the Little Review typescripts, in five numbers. Margaret Anderson recalled her frustration at the latest seizure by the Post Office: ‘The care we had taken to preserve Joyce’s text intact; the worry over the bills that accumulated when we had no advance funds; the technique I used on printer, bookbinder, paper houses - tears, prayers, hysterics or rages - to make them push ahead without a guarantee of money; the addressing, wrapping, mailing; the excitement of anticipating the world’s response to the literary masterpiece of our generation...and then a notice from the Post Office: BURNED.’
Within months of this seizure and burning, the Little Review was faced with a further – and potentially more ruinous – problem: it was being prosecuted. The magazine’s edition of July-August 1920 had included a Joyce instalment, entitled ‘Nausicaa’, that led to a case been taken against it by John Sumner, the secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an organisation invested by the New York State legislature with the power to enforce the state’s obscenity laws. ‘Nausika has been pinched by the PO-lice’, Pound informed Joyce by letter. For Joyce Ulysses was becoming his ‘world troubling seaman’. As for the Little Review, it was represented in the case by John Quinn, who initially tried to negotiate a settlement with Sumner over the heads of the editors by promising that the magazine would cease publishing extracts. However, the prosecution had been set in train and went to court.
‘Joyce is a man of genius...He is a patriot, above all an Irish patriot.’
The case had its preliminary hearing on 21 October 1920, with publishers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap granted bail until the trial proper began before the Court of Special Sessions in February 1921. W.B. Yeats’ father John Butler Yeats had sent John Quinn a detailed argument supporting the work on artistic grounds. ‘Joyce is a man of genius, inspired by an intense feeling for what is actual and true, and he sees the whole world, especially in his own native city, Dublin, living luxuriously in the lap of falsehood. He would awaken these people. He is a patriot, above all an Irish patriot.’ But despite this and the wishes of the editors, Quinn did not argue on artistic or free speech grounds. He said that the work was too complex to corrupt an innocent mind. The average reader would not be harmed by Joyce’s prose ‘because if they read the magazine, which was improbable, they would be either unable to comprehend Joyce’s style, or would be bored and disgusted.’ Quinn said that even he did not understand it, to which one judge responded: ‘Yes...it sounds to me like the ravings of a disordered mind - I can’t see why anyone would publish it.’ Joyce, having read an account of the trial in the New York Tribune, commented to Harriet Weaver that the offence was less grotesque than the defence. Anderson and Heap were found guilty and fined $50 each and barred from printing any additional portions of Ulysses in their magazine. Quinn had persuaded them they had no chance in an appeal thus the September-December 1920 edition saw the end of the Little Review and Ulysses. It also meant that there was a legal obstacle preventing Ulysses being published in the United States and this would continue until Judge John Woolsey’s celebrated judgement in 1933. The principles enshrined in that judgement - that the artistic quality of a work was a defence against suppression on obscenity grounds - though not those argued by Quinn in the earlier case, remain important safeguards against suppression of literary works in the United States.
Ulysses was eventually published in book form in France in 1922. However, what appeared in the Little Review had been almost a full draft of what ultimately became the celebrated novel. The serialisation of the book had ended with the court case and soon after the magazine lost it printer. It continued publication, with some interruption, until 1929. In its final edition, Jane Heap acknowledged that it was the relationship with Joyce that would prove its defining legacy. She wrote that the publication of Ulysses was the one ‘masterpiece’ that they had produced. ‘Ulysses will have to be the masterpiece of this time. But it is too personal, too tortured, too special a document to be a masterpiece in the true sense of the word. It is an intense and elaborate expression of Mr. Joyce’s dislike of this time.’
This is an abridged version of a longer article. Click here to read the full annonated version.
Ed Mulhall is a former Managing Director of RTÉ News and Current Affairs and an Editorial Advisor to Century Ireland.