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Terence Killeen — James Joyce: a sort of homecoming
Tuesday sees the official opening at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle of an exhibition devoted to the Rosenbach manuscript of Ulysses. With Bloomsday approaching, Terence Killeen traces the history of a manuscript which offers nothing less than a glimpse of Joyce's incredible creativity in progress.
Who ever anywhere will read these written words? — Ulysses
It is a homecoming of sorts, but, like most things to do with James Joyce, a qualified and ambiguous homecoming. Ulysses is not "set" in Dublin, it is not "about " Dublin; Dublin is its element, its world, much as water is the element for a fish. Yet not one line of this book, part of whose manuscript will soon be on display in Dublin at the Chester Beatty Library, was written in this city.
In fact, its author was very anxious that his fellow citizens should have as little to do with it as possible, apart from the unavoidable reality that they made up its world. In a letter to his aunt Josephine Murray during the writing of the book, he declared: "I don't want the help of my fellow countrymen, moral or material." Nevertheless, it is an occasion of much rejoicing that part of this invaluable document — the Rosenbach manuscript — has come to the city in which it did, in the most fundamental sense, originate.
The most accurate and succinct account of the Rosenbach manuscript that I know comes from the controversial Irish scholar, Danis Rose: he defines it as "a handwritten copy of each of the 18 episodes of Joyce's novel at an intermediate stage of development". It suffices to add only that the hand is Joyce's and that it is clear and legible throughout.
The Rosenbach manuscript is so named after the Philadelphia book dealer and collector, Dr Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, who acquired it in 1924 from the New York lawyer and art patron, John Quinn. Joyce had sold it — before publication in 1922 — to Quinn for about $1,200. (These figures are in 1920s prices, so the amounts involved are not inconsiderable.) Rosenbach paid almost $2,000 for it at auction. Joyce had been offered a half-share of the profits of the sale above $1,200 by Quinn, who perhaps had something of a guilty conscience about selling on the manuscript so very soon after acquiring it.
But Joyce, already angry at the sale, considered the price obtained far too low. After various deductions his portion of the profit made would come to a mere $240, which he coldly rejected. He also expressed a wish to buy back the manuscript, if possible. Somewhat irrationally, perhaps, his annoyance was also turned on the lucky purchaser, Rosenbach, who then rather tactlessly inquired of him if the corrected Ulysses proofs might also be for sale. Playing, as he liked to do, on the German components of Rosenbach's name — roses and brook — Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver: "When he receives a reply from me, all the rosy brooks will have run dry."
It would also appear that in the telegram offering to buy the proofs, the title of the novel may have been mis-spelled, for soon after Joyce composed one of his more caustic rhymes:
Rosy Brook he bought a book, Though he didn't know how to spell it. Such is the lure of literature, To the lad who can buy and sell it.
This implication was unjust, however, because Rosenbach was not just a dealer: he was also a collector of books and manuscripts, one of the greatest of the 20th century. He did not sell the Ulysses manuscript to anyone. (Joyce, in fact, appears to have become reconciled to the situation and had a reasonably amicable meeting with Rosenbach in 1928.)
The manuscript remained in Rosenbach's possession until his death in 1952, after which it went, along with the rest of a remarkable collection of manuscripts and rare books that he had assembled throughout his life, to a foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, named in his honour and that of his brother, Philip. Later, the foundation became the Rosenbach Museum and Library. There the manuscript has remained — until now, when some of it has made its way back across the Atlantic for the first time since the early 1920s, and to a city where it has never been before, although that city is its major subject.
The Rosenbach manuscript is mainly composed of loose-leaf sheets, with the last two episodes written out in bound notebooks. It was in fact delivered to Quinn piecemeal, in stages, between 1920 and 1922. The documents which compose it are "fair copies", that is, they are written out very clearly and legibly, with a minimum of deletions and insertions.
The most obvious reason for producing such documents was to provide clean copy for a typist. Joyce wrote Ulysses almost entirely by hand. He did not type, and only in extremis, when his health was very bad, would he dictate. It was clearly very important that the person in the next stage of the process, the typist, should have as legible and error-free a manuscript to work from as possible.
John Quinn understood that these typists' fair copies, then, were the documents that he was being sent in instalments as the manuscript of Ulysses, subsequently to become the Rosenbach manuscript. So did everyone else until about the mid-1970s, but this being Joyce, matters could not be that simple. More intensive study of the manuscript in the 1970s revealed that for eight of the book's 18 episodes — roughly half — the extant typescripts could not have derived directly from the Rosenbach documents.
Given that one incontrovertible fact, a welter of hypotheses followed, and it needs to be stressed that these are merely hypotheses, the documentary evidence to support them being lacking. The hypothesis that eventually gained scholarly acceptance was that these eight Rosenbach episodes were not written out by Joyce for use by the typist, but instead were copied out by him specially for sale to Quinn, for the very good reason that he urgently needed the money that the sale by instalments would provide. This meant that eight of the Rosenbach episodes were not in the direct line of transmission of Ulysses, but instead were marginal or "collateral" to it.
More recently, in what is, alas, the only worthwhile section of his Ulysses: A Read- er's Edition Danis Rose (somehow roses keep featuring in this story) has proposed the hypothesis that at least six of the disputed Rosenbach episodes are indeed in the direct line of transmission, and that the reason for the differences between them and the typescripts is that these latter are re-typings, incorporating Joyce's changes, from earlier, lost typescripts done directly from the Rosenbach manuscripts. Moreover, he argues, the other two episodes, while collateral, were copied from completed and revised typescripts and are in that sense also in the chain of transmission.
ALL THIS might seem like so much academic dancing on the head of a pin, but in fact, the status of the Rosenbach manuscript is of considerable importance to the text of Ulys- ses. For it was because of his belief that the Rosenbach manuscript contained material that Joyce had intended to appear in Ulys- ses, but that through various mishaps did not make it to the published text, that Hans Walter Gabler made some of the most controversial changes in his 1984 Ulysses: The Corrected Text. For instance, Gabler's insertion of the passage concerning "love" as the "word known to all men" in the library episode came from material he retrieved from a study of the Rosenbach manuscript.
To many of Gabler's critics, it seemed incredible that Joyce would have allowed such a passage to languish in a textual backwater; they felt that its continuing non-appearance in any edition of Ulysses published in Joyce's lifetime must have been due to a conscious decision of the author. And although Rose has now, in a sense, rehabilitated these episodes, the doubts are bound to persist.
One might especially feel that given the hypothetical nature of the suggested solutions to the Rosenbach conundrum, a policy of minimal interference with the text actually produced, the first edition of Ulysses, could well be the wisest. This is not the approach taken by Hans Walter Gabler, and, still less, Danis Rose. If nothing else, though, these debates do prove that we are dealing with a living document, one that still has power to bring scholars, if not to blows, certainly to heated debate.
Having said all that, too much should not be made of this textual contretemps. It remains the case that the Rosenbach manuscript is a unique and irreplaceable snapshot of Ulysses at a particular stage of its composition. But it must be seen, once again, as a living document, part of an ongoing process of accretion and modification. For, of course, the story of the composition of Ulys- ses does not end there. Subsequently, through additions to typescripts and, even more, to printers' proofs, Joyce expanded the book by about a third.
It is fascinating to follow the changes Joyce has made in developing the text from the stage it was at when the Rosenbach manuscript was written to its finished state. The current exhibition will provide a unique opportunity to observe this process in action. To take just one instance, the "headlines" which are such a startling aspect of the newspaper episode were added long after the Rosenbach version of the chapter had been dispatched to Quinn.
The Rosenbach manuscript, then, does not correspond word for word with any available text of Ulysses. It represents something much more valuable: a glimpse of Joyce's incredible creativity in progress. As such, it is a document of enormous literary importance. It is to be hoped that this importance will be fully reflected in the response it receives during its temporary and partial sojourn in Dublin, and that the question posed in the epigraph to this essay will receive an emphatic answer.
Terence Killeen is a Joyce scholar and an Irish Times journalist