IN what relation does the compositional history of a text stand to the interpretative critical debates that text generates? From the outset Luca Crispi states that his aim is to show how the ‘specialist work’ of textual scholars fundamentally intersects ‘with more general critical and interpretive readings’ of the text (4). Through his analysis of the many manuscripts of Ulysses, some of which only came to light through their acquisition by the National Library of Ireland in 2000–06, he maps the genesis of the characters of Leopold and Molly Bloom. He suggests that acquiring an understanding of Joyce’s compositional methodologies can in turn explicate both how Joyce’s conception of the Blooms, and of Ulysses overall, evolved. Crispi succeeds in making this work of genetic criticism accessible to all Joyce scholars, not only through the comprehensible way he presents the insights gained through his meticulous research, but also by way of the detailed appendices. In addition to providing a glossary of the terminology used, these also explain the different forms the manuscripts take, and present a census of the extant manuscripts by episodes. With the formation of character being at the core of this book, the point is made throughout that other minor characters within Ulysses serve to elaborate and add complexity to the representations of Leopold and Molly Bloom. Crispi illustrates how such depth is sometimes achieved through the gossip of the minor characters, for example in the case of Molly’s sexual prowess, or alternatively through showing how their actions affect the lives of the Blooms. Thus, following the first chapter, where Crispi introduces his aims and theoretical approach, he dedicates a chapter to Blazes Boylan. Here he argues that both Boylan and his affair with Molly ‘are significant only in so far as they impact the Blooms as a couple and individually’ (28). He describes how the manuscripts show that Joyce conceived a central role for Boylan from 1918 at least. Similarly, in the following chapter where he discusses the genesis of Leopold Bloom, he points out how Joyce had decided on the death of Leopold’s father, Virag, in 1917. This was before he had decided on the details of his birth and therefore indicates that it was the effect of his death on his son that was to provide the major thematic role between them (68 and 74). When going on to discuss the married life of the Blooms in Chapter 6, he also suggests that when creating the stories about Milly, Joyce was focused on revealing more about her parents than developing her as an individual character (198). Although Crispi illustrates how many of the key fundamental components of Ulysses were in place early on in the book’s conception, he also explains how Joyce was still amending the manuscripts until very close to its publication. Much of the material that was added at a late stage, for example the details of Leopold’s schooldays written in 1921 and those pertaining to Molly’s mother written later still in January 1922. But these details are important to the reader’s interpretation of the Blooms, and such material should not be seen as insignificant. This is a point Crispi certainly makes with regards to the information on Molly’s mother, which he describes as ‘fundamental and transformative’ to the reader (111). With the provision of evidence that the characters were still evolving up to the point of publication on 2 February 1922, Crispi tacitly raises the question as to whether the reader can ever view them as wholly complete. As he points out, we are told Molly’s exact birthdate but not Bloom’s (84). Similarly, due to the late addition of the details regarding her mother, Molly’s thoughts about her often provide more questions than answers, whilst Bloom makes no comment about her mother at all (110–11). At times undue significance does appear to be given to material that Joyce chose to remove from the final 1922 printed version when making critical interpretations. For example, quoting from the ‘Ithaca protodraft’, where Bloom makes reference to the possibility of an afterlife, Crispi concludes that this ‘reveals a more spiritual side to Bloom that is mostly elided from Ulysses’ (p.78). I find myself questioning whether a characteristic of Bloom that does not appear in the final printed version should be interpreted as part of his make up, especially given Bloom’s thoughts on the finality of death, his general scepticism towards religion and his broad interest in science. However, Crispi does make the point that genetic readings tend to ‘destabilize’ ‘interpretative accounts’ that rely ‘solely on the evidence of a seemingly singular, unitary, published work’ and perhaps this is a case in point (26). Of course there are many other examples where the genetic evidence makes possible insightful interpretations of the character traits of the Blooms that are far less ambiguous, such as the discussion relating to Leopold’s judgemental reaction to Boylan (267–8). This book unquestionably demonstrates how genetic scholarship can elucidate critical interpretation of Joyce’s Ulysses and as such it provides essential information to any Joyce scholar. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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