Originally published in 1977.
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Ulysses in Progress
By Michael Groden
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1977 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Ulysses: The Three Stages
* * *
In October 1916, well over two years into his work on Ulysses, James Joyce provided one of the first progress reports on his new book:
I am working at it as well as I can. It is called Ulysses and the action takes place in Dublin in 1904. I have almost finished the first part and have written out part of the middle and end. I hope to finish it in 1918. (Letters , II, 387)
In fact, Joyce never really "finished" Ulysses. Rather, since he was determined that it should be published on his fortieth birthday, February 2, 1922, he had to stop writing it. By that time he had spent eight years on the work, lived in three cities, changed his address nineteen times, suffered several eye attacks and subsequent operations, and, at a distance, experienced a world war. More important, during this time his artistic goals changed to such an extent that a book that in some aspects began as a sequel to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ended as a prelude to Finnegans Wake.
Ulysses lies between A Portrait and Finnegans Wake in ways beyond mere chronology. To a large extent it is a novel in the traditional sense: it features three major characters, Leopold and Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and it introduces a technical device, the interior monologue, that contributes to the illusion of verisimilitude in these characters; it contains several developing themes and conflicts, including the movement of Stephen and Bloom toward each other in a "spiritual" father-son relationship, Bloom's need to deal with Molly's adultery (an act consummated during the course of the book), and Stephen's anguish over his mother's recent death and his refusal to obey her dying wish that he pray for her. On the other hand, from the start Ulysses contained elements that set it beyond the realm of the novel, and toward the end of his work Joyce emphasized these elements much more than the novelistic ones. The characters and events are determined not solely by the logic of their story but also by the external parallel with Homer's Odyssey. Before he stopped work on the book, Joyce filled it with countless minute correspondences to the Odyssey and other configurations. Furthermore, the last nine of the eighteen episodes transfer concern from character to technique and feature what has been called "the drama of the alternatives" of telling a story (Goldman, p. 78). There was thus a shift in Joyce's writing of Ulysses, a change of direction that expanded the book and made his prediction of a 1918 completion comically optimistic.
With uncanny faithfulness to his prediction, though, Joyce did finish the first major phase of the book in 1918. From the start he constructed each episode as a parallel to an incident in the Odyssey with a unique set of symbols and metaphors, but these variations existed within distinct limits. In 1918 he explained the stylistic differences to his Zurich friend Frank Budgen:
"Among other things," he said, "my book is the epic of the human body. ... In my book the body lives in and moves through space and is the home of a full human personality. The words I write are adapted to express first one of its functions then another. In Lestrygonians the stomach dominates and the rhythm of the episode is that of the peristaltic movement. ... If they [the characters] had no body they would have no mind. ... It's all one. Walking towards his lunch my hero, Leopold Bloom, thinks of his wife, and says to himself, 'Molly's legs are out of plumb.' At another time of day he might have expressed the same thought without any under-thought of food. But I want the reader to understand always through suggestion rather than direct statement." (Budgen, p. 21)
Changes like these occurred as variations on a basic style, which in 1919 Joyce called the book's "initial style" (Letters, I, 129). It involved a combination of third-person, past-tense narration and direct first-person, present-tense depiction of the characters' thoughts. The relationship of the narration to the interior monologue of Stephen or Bloom is not constant. At times, the narrator serves as an adjunct to the monologue, a method of placing the thinking character in time and space:
He halted. I have passed the way to aunt Sara's. Am I not going there? Seems not. No-one about. He turned northeast and crossed the firmer sand towards the Pigeonhouse. (41.11-13)
Sometimes the narrator aligns himself with the perceptions and point of view of the character:
Mr Bloom gazed across the road at the outsider drawn up before the door of the Grosvenor. The porter hoisted the valise up on the well. She stood still, waiting, while the man, husband, brother, like her, searched his pockets for change. Stylish kind of coat with that roll collar, warm for a day like this, looks like blanketcloth. Careless stand of her with her hands in those patch pockets. (73-32-38)
At other times, the narrator occupies a more distanced position from which he can report conditions or perceptions outside the characters' minds ("He [Mr. Power] glanced behind him to where a face with dark thinking eyes followed towards the cardinal's mausoleum. Speaking"; 101.36-37) or describe impressions or biases that are distinct from the characters' ("— Ah, poor dogsbody, he [Mulligan] said in a kind voice"; 6.2). The monologue, too, varies from episode to episode, from the lethargy of "Lotus Eaters" to the hunger of "Lestrygonians":
Nice kind of evening feeling. No more wandering about. Just loll there: quiet dusk: let everything rip. Forget. Tell about places you have been, strange customs. (79.11-13)
Hungry man is an angry man. Working tooth and jaw. Don't! O! A bone! That last pagan king of Ireland Cormac in the schoolpoem choked himself at Sletty southward of the Boyne. Wonder what he was eating. Something galoptious. Saint Patrick converted him to Christianity. Couldn't swallow it all however. (169.22-27)
These differences do not begin to approach the degree of variation among the later episodes, between, say, the "gigantism" of "Cyclops" (in which the happenings in Barney Kiernan's pub are related in the first person by an unnamed debt collector and the narration is frequently interrupted by parodies of such forms of expression as newspaper accounts and legal briefs) and the "tumescence-detumescence" of "Nausicaa" (where half the episode is told from Gerty MacDowell's point of view in the literary equivalent of her sentimental cast of mind, and half reports Bloom's thoughts in a return to the initial style). The original monologue technique, even with its built-in Homeric parallels, is basically concerned with character, verisimilitude, and a continuing human story involving three main characters (one present only in Bloom's mind throughout most of the book) and many subsidiary ones. In the later episodes, technique seems to dominate over content, parallels and correspondences override specific incidents, and the story seems buried under the surface.
Joyce wrote the first nine episodes — through "Scylla and Charybdis" — in the initial style (third-person, past-tense narration; first-person, present-tense monologue). Then in "Wandering Rocks" he used this initial technique to depict the minds of other characters besides Bloom and Stephen, and in "Sirens" he distorted the style practically beyond recognition. Finally, he abandoned it as the book's exclusive narrative device in "Cyclops," using it again only in the second half of "Nausicaa." (In "Penelope," he closed Ulysses with another monologue, this time a pure one lacking the third-person narrator.) Joyce finished "Scylla and Charybdis" — hence the book's original style — at the end of 1918, and he indicated this clearly on the fair copy of that episode. On the last page of "Scylla and Charybdis" he wrote "End of First Part of'Ulysses'" and the date, "New Year's Eve 1918" (MS, fol. 37), as if to indicate that one phase of Ulysses was ending and something new was about to begin. In this way at least, he validated his original prediction.
Because of Joyce's changes in intention and technique after half the episodes, an approach to Ulysses by way of his composition processes inevitably points to the many provocative dualisms that permeate the book: given the epic parallel with the Odyssey, is Ulysses heroic or mock-heroic? Is it ultimately a realistic drama of human characters or a static Poundian "image" whose significance is carried through its symbols? What is the meaning of the ambiguous ending? The conclusions of both "stories" — of Stephen and Bloom and of Bloom and Molly — have been variously interpreted as conclusive and positive, conclusive and negative, and indeterminate. The study of Joyce's composition processes elicits questions of its own: what kind of book was he originally writing, and what kind did he later write? When and how did the change occur? What prompted it?
Joyce's first biographer, Herbert Gorman, ignored the idea of a change in his writing midway through Ulysses and claimed that from the start "the idea was clear in his mind and so was the variegated yet unified technique through which he intended to present it." It is now clear that this was not the case. Richard Ellmann's 1959 biography and A. Walton Litz's 1961 study of Joyce's notesheets and late revisions demonstrate that he markedly altered many of his artistic goals while he was writing Ulysses, to such an extent that he wrote later episodes in a method vastly different from that of earlier ones (and different from the way he originally intended to write them) and reworked earlier episodes to conform more closely with later ones. If "in the space of three or four years he travelled most of the distance from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake" (Litz, p. 35), then there are opposing tendencies in Ulysses — compression and expansion, verisimilitude and literary parody, "centripetal" and "centrifugal" writing — that achieve a state of resolution, remain locked in unresolved conflict, or are simply thrown together in a witches' brew that is proudly termed "all including" (423.26).
A prominent critical approach to the problem of Ulysses' dual tendencies has been to subordinate one aspect to the other. Two major unilateral interpretations are those of Stuart Gilbert and S. L. Goldberg. In James Joyce's Ulysses, Gilbert treats the entire book as if Joyce had not begun to write it until after the 1918-19 change. In defining his approach, Gilbert also provides one definition of the change:
The meaning of Ulysses ... is not to be sought in any analysis of the acts of the protagonist or the mental make-up of the characters; it is, rather, implicit in the technique of the various episodes, in nuances of language, in the thousand and one correspondences and allusions with which the book is studded. (Gilbert, pp. 8-9)
Prompted and aided by Joyce himself (and authorized to publish the famous schema for the first time), Gilbert emphasizes the parallel with the Odyssey, the minute correspondences from the schema, the expression of meaning through symbols, and Joyce's use of esoteric lore. He attempts to present "a clue to the mystery, a thread of Ariadne to guide a modern Theseus through its labyrinth" (p. 43); thus he oudines major themes, often derived from the episodes of the Odyssey, that subsume the details of plot and character. (His introductory chapter titles provide a sketch of his approach: "'Met-him-pike-hoses,'" "The Seal of Solomon," "The Omphalos," "Paternity," "Dubliners-Vikings-Achaeans," and "Ulysses and the Odyssey.") The Ulysses Gilbert presents is a vast Poundian image, a book of "static beauty" (p. 9).
For Gilbert the elaborate pattern of symbols and correspondences, that is, the Ulysses of 1919-22, completely absorbs the possible human conflicts in the Ulysses of 1914-18. For example, "Sirens," a transitional episode that would upset any reader approaching Ulysses with rigid novelistic expectations, presents no problems for Gilbert; it represents a "complete 'atonement' between subject-matter and form ... the musical rhythm, the sonority and counterpoint of the prose are evocative of the theme itself, the Sirens' 'song of enthralment'" (p. 257). No conflict exists for Gilbert between the early and the late Ulysses, partly because he avoids the inherent conflicts in the characters and reduces the meaning of an episode to a phrase like "song of enthralment," partly because, like Joyce devising the schema late in his work on Ulysses, Gilbert seizes on the aspects of the book that best support his argument. The themes and patterns he discusses certainly exist in Ulysses, but by denying the possible importance of "the acts of the protagonist or the mental make-up of the characters," he can present no more than a partial, distorted reading of the book.
An approach exactly opposite to Gilbert's is that of S. L. Goldberg in The Classical Temper. Gilbert discusses the "meaning" of Ulysses in terms of symbols and correspondences (pp. 8-9); Goldberg considers the "value" of Ulysses through "its dramatic presentation and ordering of human experience" (Goldberg, p. 30; Goldberg's italics). Gilbert rejects the importance of the characters' minds or actions; to Goldberg, "what is of permanent interest ... is what always interests us with the novel: its imaginative illumination of the moral — and ultimately, spiritual — experience of representative human beings" (p. 30). For Gilbert, Joyce only began to write Ulysses in 1919, but for Goldberg he should have stopped (with few exceptions) after 1918.
Goldberg thoroughly recognizes the dichotomy in Joyce's intentions, but he damns most of the last nine episodes (and, of course, all of Finnegans Wake) as "precarious intellectualization of structure" (p. 281). He rejects seven of the last nine episodes; only "Circe" and "Ithaca" successfully merge form and content, or "structures" and "values" (pp. 248, 289). The novel that Goldberg reads in the first nine episodes is almost exclusively the fair copy-Little Review Ulysses; most of his examples tend to be passages that were in the book by the time of the serial publication. Because of Goldberg's rigidly defined concept of what Ulysses, as a novel, should be — the dramatic rendering of character and human action — he is extremely sensitive to all Joyce's deviations from this norm. Gilbert and Goldberg thus represent two one-sided approaches to the inherent problems Ulysses poses; the one ignores the human drama to find a coherent structure of symbols, the other dogmatically rejects the expanding symbolic structure in a determined effort to make Ulysses a dramatically rendered novel gone wrong. Both miss much of the reality of Ulysses and its unique achievement.
There have been several responses to such one-sided readings. The most valuable have been attempts to incorporate both the human drama and the symbolic structure into a unified theory of the book. Such a synthesis has been made by critics like Arnold Goldman and Peter K. Garrett. In The Joyce Paradox, for example, Goldman argues that the interrelationship of Ulysses' many styles precludes a single interpretation on either the realistic or the symbolic level; as he says of the numerous styles of "Cyclops," "where so many are available at all times, the choice of one mode of vision ... is demoted in importance" (Goldman, p. 93). The human drama of the opening episodes is gradually replaced by a "drama of the alternatives," the various methods of presentation; thus, the poles of realism and symbolism, the problematic relationship of Ulysses to the Odyssey, and the book's ending all partake of a "radical ambiguity" that Joyce built into the book and that itself, rather than any one of the alternatives, constitutes the book's ultimate meaning. "We do not wish to strike through the mask to discover which of the alternatives is right, we wish to enjoy the drama of the alternatives."
Excerpted from Ulysses in Progress by Michael Groden. Copyright © 1977 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- FrontMatter, pg. i
- Acknowledgments, pg. vii
- Contents, pg. xi
- Illustrations, pg. xii
- Abbreviations, pg. xiii
- Introduction, pg. 1
- Ulysses: The Three Stages, pg. 13
- The Early Stage: “Aeolus”, pg. 64
- The Middle Stage: “Cyclops”, pg. 115
- The Last Stage: 1920-1922, pg. 166
- Appendix–The Early Texts of Ulysses, pg. 205
- Bibliography, pg. 221
- Index, pg. 229