On this day…6 February

On 6 February 1907 Joyce wrote that his ‘Ulysses’ never got any further than the title.

Joyce and his family arrived in Rome at the end of July 1906. Joyce had quit his job at the Berlitz School in Trieste and took a job as a clerk at the Nast-Kolb & Schumacher bank on the via S Claudio in Rome. Despite a hopeful start, Joyce soon found himself without money and his tolerance of Romans and Roman life quickly dissipated.

Over the next six months, until he quit his job at the bank, he wrote frequent letters to his brother Stanislaus in Trieste complaining of working twelve hours a day, and yet almost all the letters were also begging letters, setting out how little money he had and how little he and his family were eating.

By September 1906, Grant Richards had decided not to publish Dubliners and Joyce sent the manuscript to other publishers without success. Even so, he was having new ideas for stories for Dubliners, and in one of his letters to Stanislaus on 30 September 1906 he says that he has in mind a new story for Dubliners about Mr Hunter (an early model for Leopold Bloom). By November the story is called ‘Ulysses’ and he asks Stanislaus what he thinks of the name, but he adds that he has too many cares at the present to make a start on writing it.

In December Joyce asks Stanislaus to write to him about Alfred Hunter, but then on 6 February 1907 he writes to say that his ‘Ulysses’ “never got any forrader than the title.” There seems to be no mention of ‘Ulysses’ again until 10 November 1907 when Stanislaus notes in his diary that Joyce has been discussing his plan for turning ‘Ulysses’ into a short book, and to “make a Dublin ‘Peer Gynt’ of it.” He also notes that the action is to take place on one day. It seems, therefore, that this ‘Ulysses,’ conceived in Rome in September 1906, was the germ for the book Joyce started writing in March 1914.

While in Rome, Joyce also had ideas for others stories that seem to have got no further than the titles. In one letter he lists four such stories: ‘The Last Supper’ (the idea for which was based on Joe McKernan, son of Joyce’s landlady at 60 Shelbourne Road during the summer of 1904), ‘The Street,’ ‘Vengeance,’ and ‘At Bay.’ Another story he mentions, ‘The Dead,’ did get written when Joyce returned to Trieste in 1907.



Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.