On 1 March 1914 Joyce started writing Ulysses.
At the end of 1921 Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver about a coincidence of birthdays connected with Ulysses. He claimed that he had finished writing the book on 30 October, Ezra Pound’s birthday, and that he had started writing it on 1 March, Frank Budgen’s birthday.
If Joyce actually started writing Ulysses on 1 March 1914, he didn’t work on it for very long. On his birthday, 2 February 1914, the Egoist had started serialising A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, giving Joyce the impetus he needed to finish the novel. He was also negotiating terms with Grant Richards for the publication of Dubliners, which was to be published in June 1914. And Joyce wanted to continue work on his play Exiles, the first act of which he had written late in 1913. It was in order to write Exiles that he put aside work on Ulysses almost as soon as he’d started it.
Ulysses seems to have started life as an idea for another story for Dubliners. In September 1906, writing to his brother Stanislaus from Rome, Joyce said he had an idea for a story about a Mr Hunter. By November 1906, the story is called ‘Ulysses,’ but he writes to Stanislaus again early in February 1907 to say that his story hadn’t gone any further than the title.
In November 1907, Stanislaus recorded in his diary a conversation in which Joyce said he was making Ulysses into a short book, and that it was to be like Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, set in Dublin. Originally, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was to end with the episode of Stephen Dedalus at the Martello Tower in Sandycove, but Joyce later abandoned that idea and decided instead to open Ulysses at the Tower.
After setting aside Ulysses in March 1914 to finish Exiles, Joyce returned to it again in 1915. On 16 June that year he told Stanislaus that the first episode of Ulysses was finished, and he outlined the structure of the novel which at that stage was to have three parts and twenty-two episodes. In December 1915 he told Harriet Weaver that he wanted to get other work out of the way so that he could concentrate on Ulysses. But by October 1916, he still hadn’t completed the first part of the book, and it’s not until a visit to Locarno for three weeks in October 1917 that the first part of Ulysses was actually finished.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1965.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.