Joyce in 100 Objects: Notebooks for Drafting

In 2001, a notebook, not functionally unlike the spiral notebooks that children need when shopping for the first days of school, was sold at auction for £861,250 sterling, over a million USD. It was a “lost” notebook once used by James Joyce to draft the “Eumaeus” episode of Ulysses. This notebook, and many others just like it, were used by Joyce to meticulously draft and re-draft Ulysses through several versions, a process now rigorously studied by scholars who conduct genetic Joyce criticism, poring over the drafts to detail how the work gradually took shape.

Derek Attridge describes Joyce’s note-taking when he describes how Joyce worked in the Municipal Library of St. Malo while he was supposed to be resting after an eye operation: “He took with him into the library a small notebook, with a black cloth cover and stitched binding, and as he read he jotted down notes, usually of only a few words at a time” (571). After three library visits, “his St Malo studies had filled eighty-one pages of his 232-page notebook, and by the time he returned to Paris from the Brittany holiday he had filled another seventy. So much for doctor’s orders” (571).

It’s hard to say how many notebooks Joyce went through, but they have been published and edited into shelf-dwarfing, 70+ volume collections. The University at Buffalo alone contains “more than 10,000 pages of the author’s working papers, notebooks, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, portraits, publishing records, important memorabilia and ephemeral material.”

Like the “Eumaeus” drafts, more notebooks are discovered from time to time, making a huge splash for communities of Joyceans. Daniel Ferrer published an article for JJQ in 2001, describing two undiscovered copybooks acquired by the National Library of Ireland, indicating that what is revealed by their perusal is nothing less than a deeper look at “the transition between Joyce’s early manner and his mature mode…the decisive step towards the formal complexity that made his work the paradigm of modernism” (319).

In 2002, the National Library of Ireland announced that they had acquired much more. Upon working with the documents, Michael Groden, the general editor of the aforementioned 70+ volume JJA collection, reported that “the newly acquired Ulysses manuscripts” in particular “will immediately be seen as ‘the most important collection of early drafts for Ulysses in the world and will instantly catapult the National Library, and Ireland, into a major center for the study of James Joyce’”

The notebooks themselves are fascinating aesthetic objects, as separate diagonal columns are differentiated by multiple colors of crayon as Joyce layered his text with additions. For Attridge the editorializing of these documents results in a more nuanced and complicated understanding of Joyce’s body of work: “Ulysses and Finnegans Wake…have become more complex, more fluid, more like palimpsestic cultural archives than products of a single artistic genius” (572). As more of the notebooks are discovered, scholars and readers will continually have to revise their perspectives on Joyce’s body of work, as they prove Joyce’s prophetic hunch that his work would “keep the professors busy for centuries” (Ellmann, 521).

Post by Layne Farmen.

Attridge, Derek. Review of James Joyce: The Finnegans Wake Notebooks at Buffalo. Modernism/modernity, vol. 10 no. 3, 2003, p. 571-573. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mod.2003.0049.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: Oxford UP, 1959. Print.

Ferrer, Daniel. “What Song the Sirens Sang … Is No Longer Beyond All Conjecture: A Preliminary Description of the New “Proteus” and “Sirens” Manuscripts.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 50 no. 1, 2012, p. 319-333. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jjq.2012.0104.