On this day…25 November

On 25 November 1921 Joyce told Harriet Weaver that ‘Ithaca’ was probably his favourite episode of Ulysses.

In an unpublished letter to Harriet Weaver, Joyce describes ‘Ithaca’ as ‘the ugly duckling’ of Ulysses, ‘and therefore, I suppose, my favourite.’ With the completion of ‘Ithaca’ on 30 October, the writing of Ulysses had been completed.

By mid-February 1921 Joyce had sent the last parts of the ‘Eumaeus’ episode to his typist, clearing the way for the final two episodes, ‘Ithaca’ and ‘Penelope,’ but by 18 February he was telling Carlo Linati that the final two episodes were giving him a hard time.

In a letter to Frank Budgen at the end of February he describes ‘Ithaca’ as being written ‘in the form of a mathematical catechism’ designed to let the reader know everything in the ‘baldest and coldest way’ and thereby allowing Bloom and Stephen to become ‘heavenly bodies.’

At the beginning of January 1921 Joyce had written to Ettore Schmitz in Trieste asking about a briefcase of notes that he needed urgently for the last two episodes, and these notes were finally delivered in mid-March. Work was held up again in June as Joyce moved into Larbaud’s apartment on rue du Cardinal Lemoine, but Joyce felt so comfortable there that work on ‘Ithaca’ progressed rapidly. Later that month, however, ‘Ithaca’ was giving him ‘fearful trouble,’ as he told Frank Budgen, though he was determined to get through it.

By August Joyce’s attention had shifted to ‘Penelope,’ with the first sentence completed by 7 August, and the first five sentences ready to be typed by the middle of the month. He told Robert McAlmon at the beginning of September that he was going to write one more sentence of ‘Penelope’ and then would start putting ‘Ithaca’ into shape.

With the completion of ‘Penelope’ at the end of September, Joyce was hoping to be finished ‘Ithaca’ in three weeks, and he told Harriet Weaver that ‘Ithaca’ was really the end as ‘Penelope’ had no beginning, middle or end. On 29 October, writing the end of ‘Ithaca’ with its large final period, Joyce brought Ulysses to a close.


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, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

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