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Book Review: ‘The Little Review “Ulysses”‘

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Joyce cover mech.inddJames Joyce’s Ulysses: arguably the greatest book written in the English language. I read it for a class in college, and I am forever grateful to that instructor who did a bang-up job unlocking a challenging tome to be accessible, enjoyable, and laugh-out-loud humorous.

But it turns out, I was not reading the original publication of the work. Starting in 1918, Ulysses was published in serial form within The Little Review, a daring literature mag edited at the time by two women–Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap–and helped along by Ezra Pound. Pound was told about Joyce by William Butler Yeats and afterwards guided Joyce towards publication. The famous schema Joyce would weave into the narrative–the genre parody, the color motifs, etc–would all develop over the course of the publication in The Little Review and only get chiseled into their current form in later edits for novel publication.

Now, published on Bloomsday (June 16th, the day the novel takes place), three scholars–Mark Gaipa, Sean Latham, and Robert Scholes–have edited together a printing of Ulysses that takes readers back to that first printing. They’ve done what they could to make the reading of this version authentic to 1918. They’ve left the manuscript as they found it in the magazine, keeping in all publication mistakes. They’ve kept the text itself clean of notes or annotations, but at the end of the book they’ve compiled notes aplenty on the details of writing and publishing this work. That way, the reader can enjoy Joyce’s text without interruption. On top of that, they’ve included essays and criticism to inform the understanding of this version of the text.

Here’s Yale University Press’s description of the book:

LRU editionJames Joyce’s Ulysses first appeared in print in the pages of an American avant-garde magazine, The Little Review, between 1918 and 1920. The novel many consider to be the most important literary work of the twentieth century was, at the time, deemed obscene and scandalous, resulting in the eventual seizure of The Little Review and the placing of a legal ban on Joyce’s masterwork that would not be lifted in the United States until 1933. For the first time, The Little Review “Ulysses” brings together the serial installments of Ulysses to create a new edition of the novel, enabling teachers, students, scholars, and general readers to see how one of the previous century’s most daring and influential prose narratives evolved, and how it was initially introduced to an audience who recognized its radical potential to transform Western literature. This unique and essential publication also includes essays and illustrations designed to help readers understand the rich contexts in which Ulysses first appeared and trace the complex changes Joyce introduced after it was banned.

A large part of Ulysses‘ legacy, besides becoming the defining text of Modernism, is the story of its censorship. The Introduction discusses the laws of the time and the risks Anderson and Heap took to publish the work. Because of this, the work as published in The Little Review is incomplete. The magazine was forced to stop publishing it after it was ultimately condemned as obscene.

This is a wonderful edition for fans and scholars of Joyce. The history surrounding the writing and publication is fascinating. Even the Table of Contents pages reproduced before each subsequent chapter tell a story of their own. Who and what is being published next to Ulysses gives a larger picture of the phase of the modernist movement and the conflict of identity it had within.


Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

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