On this day…29 October

On 29 October 1921 Joyce finished writing Ulysses.

Joyce had already finished writing the ‘Penelope’ episode of Ulysses in September 1921 and on 29 October he finished the ‘Ithaca’ episode, thus completing Ulysses.

Joyce had written ‘Penelope’ quickly during August 1921. Apparently he had the idea for the first and last word of the episode on a trip out of Paris in July, and work on the episode progressed quickly. By the middle of August he had given the first five sentences of ‘Penelope’ to Robert McAlmon to type out, and by the end of September he had sent the entire episode to Maurice Darantiere to be set.

One reason for finishing ‘Penelope’ before ‘Ithaca’ had to do with Valery Larbaud, the French literary critic, who had been enthusiastic about Ulysses from the time he first read it in February 1921. Larbaud wanted to bring Joyce’s work to public attention by giving a séance about it, but in order to prepare his lecture he would need to see how the book ended. Joyce sent ‘Penelope’ to Larbaud in October, and Larbaud finally gave his séance on 7 December 1921.

In the meantime, Joyce continued the work on ‘Ithaca’ and finally finished it on 29 October. The same day, he communicated the good news to  McAlmon, adding a ‘O, Deo gratias!’ and three cheers for Leopold Bloom. The following day he wrote to Larbaud, and at the end of the letter he announced that the night before he had finished ‘Ithaca’ and therefore Ulysses. Of course, Joyce realised he still had a lot of work to do correcting the printer’s proofs, and a great deal more material was added to the book before it was published in February 1922, but effectively Joyce had reached the end of a project that he had started in 1914.

Joyce, however, liked coincidences, and when he wrote to his patron Harriet Weaver on 1 November, he announced to her also that he had finished writing ‘Ithaca’ and therefore Ulysses. But he points out a series of coincidences that he noticed: that the serialisation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man began in her magazine, the Egoist, on Joyce’s thirty-second birthday (2 February 1914), and finished on Weaver’s own birthday (1 September 1915). He then claims that he began writing Ulysses on Frank Budgen’s birthday (1 March 1914) and that he finished it on Ezra Pound’s birthday (30 October 1921), adding an extra day to the writing of the book so that the coincidence of birthdays is complete.

Joyce ended his letter to Weaver wondering on whose birthday the book might be published – a bit of a joke, since Joyce had already decided that it should be published on his fortieth birthday, 2 February 1922 (2-2-22).


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, 1966.