On this day…3 June

On 3 June 1930 Stuart Gilbert’s book James Joyce’s Ulysses – A Study was published.

The book was the first full-length study of Ulysses and still today provides interesting insights into the structure of the book and its parallels with Homer’s Odyssey.

Gilbert had read Ulysses while he was in Burma where he was a judge in the colonial service. After taking early retirement, he moved to Paris in the 1920s where he got to know Joyce. He helped with corrections to the French translation of Ulysses, and in the process became very familiar with Ulysses.

With encouragement from Joyce, Gilbert decided to write a study of Ulysses. The book was mainly an act of ventriloquism, since much of the information was supplied directly by Joyce himself. Joyce steered Gilbert to certain sources and books that he had used, and let him know if he disagreed with Gilbert’s ideas.

In particular, the book was the first general publication of the so-called schema which Joyce had used in writing Ulysses. A version of the schema had been given to Carlo Linati in September 1920, and Joyce had shown it to Jacques Benoîst-Méchin who translated parts of Ulysses for Valery Larbaud in 1921. The version Joyce now gave to Gilbert was somewhat different.

The schema indicated the title for each episode, based on Homer’s Odyssey; a scene or setting for each episode; and the hour when the episode takes place. The schema designates an organ of the body for each episode of the book except the first three episodes, and each episode is also associated with a particular art or science, except for the final episode. Each episode is also given a symbol; a ‘technic’ or particular style of writing specific to that episode; and a few of the episodes are given particular colours.

The schema in Gilbert’s book also dealt extensively with the parallel’s with Homer’s Odyssey, partly to indicate correspondences of characters and action, but also to link Joyce’s Ulysses directly to Homer’s Odyssey. At a time when the book was still banned as obscene in America, the link with one of the greatest works of European literature would be useful. Gilbert also used lengthy quotations to get around the American ban and give readers a taste of what Ulysses was like.

Later on, Joyce placed less emphasis on the Homeric parallels, and even told Vladimir Nabokov that the collaboration with Gilbert had only been an advertisement for Ulysses and had been a terrible mistake. Perhaps what Joyce meant was that over-reliance on the schema would blind readers to a great deal else going on in the book.


Sources & Further Reading:

Gilbert, Stuart: James Joyce’s Ulysses – A Study, New York: Vintage Books, 1955.

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