On this day…21 September

On 21 September 1920 Joyce sent a schema of Ulysses to Carlo Linati.

The schema was a plan of the basic structure of Joyce’s Ulysses episode by episode, and Linati seems to have been the first person to whom Joyce revealed it. Later Joyce circulated similar material to Valery Larbaud and Stuart Gilbert.

Linati was an Italian writer and translator who translated works by Yeats, Synge, RL Stevenson, and DH Lawrence among others. Joyce had been corresponding with him from October 1918, after Joyce had seen Linati’s translations of Yeats’ The Countess Cathleen and Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. Joyce thought Linati might consider translating A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but Linati preferred to translate Exiles instead. Joyce met him for the first time in Milan en route to Paris in July 1920.

In his letter of 21 September 1920 Joyce claimed he was sending the schema because of the bulk and complexity of his novel. The schema provided keywords indicating the parallels with Homer’s Odyssey, but Joyce explained to Linati that Ulysses was also about the human body, that it was the story of a day in the life, and also a kind of encyclopaedia. Joyce intended that the form of each episode would also reflect the content of that episode so that all the elements outlined in the schema were interconnected and interrelated.

The schema sets out the title of each episode, the hour of the day during which it takes place, a colour or colours, the corresponding characters from Homer’s Odyssey, the technic or style of writing, a science or art, a sense or meaning, an organ of the body, and a symbol.

This schema, together with the one later used by Stuart Gilbert in preparing his book about Joyce’s Ulysses, provides information that readers have since found very useful, but when he sent it to Linati in 1920 he intended it only for Linati’s personal use. When he gave it to others later, it was also intended to be kept secret. When Jacques Benoîst-Méchin wanted to see the schema at the end of 1921, Joyce told him he didn’t want to give out all the information immediately, that his intention was to keep the professors busy arguing over what he had intended, and that way he could ensure his own immortality.

Despite Joyce’s desire to keep it secret, the schema soon began to circulate among a small circle of friends, and eventually a version of it formed the basis of Stuart Gilbert’s book about Ulysses published in 1930.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vols II & III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

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