Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Notescape of Ulysses

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Notescape of Ulysses

Article excerpt

Unlike some artists, James Joyce was a methodical writer. His creative process was almost always founded on certain very practical habits and pragmatic techniques. For instance, he started taking notes for Dubliners and Stephen Hero as early as 1903 and continued notetaking for every one of his works, even after Finnegans Wake was published in 1939.1 Before he began writing or revising, he always spent weeks, months, and even years gathering and then sorting notes from his wide-ranging and eclectic reading, often with little or no idea of how he would ultimately use the material, but this never seemed to concern him as a writer. Not only are the surviving notebooks filled with a wide variety of fragmentary and decontextualized words and phrases, they also record the traces of Joyce's evolving conception of his characters, as well as some notional ideas for his works both before and as he was actually writing.

Besides the thousands of pages of manuscripts for Ulysses that survive in the form of drafts, fair copies, typescripts and proofs, there are also six notebooks and a relatively large collection of notesheets that document how Joyce conceived and wrote the book from 1917 to 1922. Four of these notebooks only came to light in 2002 (nli mss 36,639/3, 4, 5A and 5B), while the other note repositories were all transcribed and published in the 1970s (Buffalo mss V.A.2a and 2b, and bl add. ms 49,975, ff. 6-29).2 The notebooks and manuscripts are prospective maps of the literary work that will be. Taken together, they provide a variety of perspectives on the intellectual labour and actual creative process that is the foundation of Joyce's art in Ulysses.

We know a great deal about Joyce's notetaking practices, especially for Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. While reading, Joyce usually jotted down words and phrases directly in notebooks that he always kept by his side for this purpose. Although there were probably many such 'first-order' Ulysses notebooks, only one survives (Buffalo MS 2a).3 Once the notebook was full, he tended to use some of the notes almost immediately to write or revise whatever text he was currently working on, generally crossing through these notes with different coloured crayons. Later, he transferred the unused notes to other noterepositories, usually sorting them under either subject or episode headings; these account for all the other extant notebooks and notesheets.4 Once he had compiled these 'second-order' note-repositories, Joyce typically used some of these notes, again, to write and revise whatever text he was working on at the time, and the rest he transferred and resorted once again in yet other notebooks for future use.5

An examination of the necessarily partial traces of the work's evolution in its avant-textes is just one of the methods of the genetic approach. This textual, historical, and material information must be the foundation not just of arguments about the writer's creative processes but should also provide critical assessments of how the text's evolution impacts the meaning of the published work. Such an approach seeks to uncover the gradual, complex, and often unexpected ways in which the writer wove the narratological patterns in the work. Ultimately, the patterns that are uncovered are part of a dual creative and interpretive dynamic between what the writer has done and what the reader does when she encounters the published work.


An example will help to illustrate Joyce's notetaking and resorting practices and also how he used the notes to write Ulysses. Before he began to revise the rest of the episode in proofs in late October 1921, he wrote the so-called "Messianic scene" (Letters 1, 171) for "Circe" (now и 15.1398-954). As part of this new insert, Joyce brought together four separate notes almost verbatim - "don't you believe a word he says", "his real name is Higgins", "That man is Leopold Macintosh", and "lb fire raiser" - to create the following denunciation of Bloom:

The Man In the Macintosh

Don't you believe a word he says. …

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