Adolf Hoffmeister, James Joyce, 1966

Adolf Hoffmeister, James Joyce (1966). Wikimedia Commons / CC 4.0

One hundred years ago, James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published in Paris. This year, the Morgan Library in New York is celebrating with a remarkable exhibition, “One Hundred Years of James Joyce’s Ulysses,” on display until October 2.  

In one mid-sized room, the Morgan has assembled treasures that will bring joy to any Joycean. Here can be found objects like childhood photographs and Joyce’s walking stick, eyeglasses and some loose lenses, early publications by the student Joyce, his passport, a broadside written in Dublin in 1904 before leaving the city that he was unable to pay for that sum up Joyce’s vision of himself and his mission: “I stand the self-doomed, unafraid, unfollowed friendless and alone.” 

In fact, he was not “friendless and alone,” as he left Ireland for the continent in October 1904 accompanied by Nora Barnacle, his companion and later wife. So important was she to him (he once told her, “You made a man of me”) that he commemorated their first date, a stroll around a Dublin neighborhood on June 16, 1904, by having the events of Ulysses occur on that same day. 

Magazines containing serial publications of Joyce’s books are displayed, photos and paintings of people in his life, his publishers, editors, friends, and supporters illustrate the documents. But most important are the manuscript pages of Ulysses, including those of the famous opening and closing pages of the book. His work methods are elucidated by printer’s galley sheets, with Joyce’s emendations and additions, keyed to separate pages that needed to be intercalated. 

Useful to any reader, past or potential of Ulysses, is a scroll prepared for Joyce’s fellow expatriate, the American-born and Paris-based composer George Antheil, providing a short but informative skeleton key to Ulysses: giving the incident in Homer to which each chapter in Ulysses corresponds, the characters and who they represent from the ancient work, the literary mode employed in each chapter, and even the color that corresponds to each section. 

More mundane matters are explained as well. The printing of Ulysses in Paris cost the book’s publisher, the bookstore owner Sylvia Beach, 12,492 francs, who also laid out 642 francs for a copy of Arabian Nights for Joyce. The payout from the first edition was 13,278 francs for the publisher and 39,500 francs for the author. Examining the notebooks, loose sheets, and galleys on display, it’s hard to gainsay an author receiving two-thirds of the takings for a book. It’s all the more reasonable when we learn that Joyce compiled over 100 pages of notes, 39 handwritten drafts, 1,400 pages of typescript, 800 pages of manuscript, and 5,000 pages of galleys. 

That so magnificent an exhibition should be in America and not Ireland or France is not really surprising. American collectors and collections have gobbled up much valuable Joyceana. Many of the items on display at the Morgan are in the holdings of Cornell University; ​​University at Buffalo, the State University of New York (SUNY), which has a massive Joyce collection; and the Morgan. Though there are also items on loan from Europe, the wealth and voraciousness of American collectors have ensured that it is possible to put together an important show based largely on American holdings. 

The excellent catalog that accompanies the show recognizes the importance of collectors, dedicating three essays to significant collectors and collections. In the words of the catalog, “Joyce now resides at Buffalo, Princeton, and Texas, the National Library of Ireland, and the British Library,” a list that is far from exhaustive. 

Joyce thought highly of himself and his talents; he is, after all, a man who has his literary alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, assign himself a mission ”to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” This opinion was widely shared during his lifetime. 

Throughout his writing life, especially the period between the writing of Ulysses and his death in 1941, Joyce had a wide circle of supporters, a network well-represented in the Morgan exhibit. They range from Edith Rockefeller McCormick and the ever generous Ezra Pound to Sylvia Beach, who took on the publication of Ulysses when others, including Virginia Woolf and her Hogarth Press, wouldn’t take the risk.

At the Morgan, I had been struck by a letter Ezra Pound had written to Joyce in 1913 offering advice in getting his poetry published. Pound admitted ignorance of Joyce’s work: “[a]s I don’t in the least know what your present stuff is like, I can only offer to read what you send,” but he still suggested outlets Joyce could aim for. In the end, before Joyce could even follow up on Pound’s suggestions, Pound himself included Joyce in his anthology, Des Imagistes.

Generosity to those considered superior writers was an important part of literary modernism a hundred years ago. This was brought home to me after I left the Morgan. 

On the way home, I stopped at an auction house, Swann Galleries, to examine some autograph items that would be on auction the next day. Among them was a 1923 letter from Ezra Pound to a schoolteacher in Cleveland requesting a contribution to Bel Esprit, a fund intended to free T. S. Eliot from any need to continue working as a clerk at Lloyd’s so he could concentrate on his poetry. 

Modernist writers often offered each other mutual aid, both monetary and intellectual. Pound’s work editing and revising T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is the most famous example of this.

Here is something that sharply distinguishes the literary circles of a hundred years ago from those of today. In 1922, there was no Master of Fine Arts (MFA) creative writing programs or academic literary conferences, so writers either lived by their pens or had day jobs. To meet another writer required actually making an effort. This mutual aid was a multi-lingual and multi-cultural affair. The world was not expected to speak English yet, and there was much literature to be explored in tongues other than a writer’s own. Joyce, we should remember, studied Norwegian so he could read Henrik Ibsen in the original. 

Idaho-born Pound was living in London in 1913 when he made his offer to help the Irish exile Joyce publish his poems while he was living in Trieste, Italy. 

A decade later, Pound was writing to Cleveland, Ohio from Paris to solicit funds for the St. Louisan Eliot living and working in London. Even if we stay within the circles touched by Joyce, matters continue to ramify into literary infinity. 

Joyce, while living in Trieste, tutored the businessman Ettore Schmitz in English, who wrote novels under the name Italo Svevo. Joyce encouraged Svevo’s literary ambitions and introduced the French poet Valery Larbaud to Svevo’s third novel, the modernist classic Zeno’s Conscience. Larbaud then ensured its publication in French, where he was also responsible for what remains the standard French translation of Ulysses

Connections also touch on matters of literary style. Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, which ends Ulysses, is the most celebrated example of stream of consciousness in English. The first significant practitioner of this mode was the French writer Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949). The show at the Morgan includes the program for and a photograph from a 1929 “dejeuner Joyce.” Sitting next to Joyce is Dujardin.

This dizzying array of writers from different countries, living in different cities, all managed to communicate in a variety of languages. All this was symptomatic of the cross-fertilization made possible by the expatriation of polyglot polymaths. Modernism was, after all, a big tent.

Mitchell Abidor is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.