Ulysses by James Joyce holds the prestigious position of being considered the one of the best, if not the best, English-language novels of the twentieth century. Countless scholars have spent the entirety of their lives devoted to analyzing and studying James Joyce’s references and writing conventions. The novel has not only been widely embraced by scholars, but by the general public as well. People over the world celebrate Bloomsday, a holiday named after the protagonist of Ulysses that takes place on June 16th, the same day that all the events in the novel take place. A novel that is so beloved by scholars and the public alike have led to countless editions of Ulysses being published over the nearly one hundred years of the novel’s existence. Logically one would think, as I have, that a novel that is considered one of the best English-language novels of the twentieth century and that is beloved by both scholars and the general public would have Ulysses on the forefront of digital publication. Publishers, scholars, and editors should be clamoring to publish the most extensive and thorough digital editions of Ulysses possible with the almost limitless possibilities of the digital medium. However, this logical assumption is not reality. Digital editions of many classic and canonical works, specifically Ulysses, are subpar and fall short of the expectations established by their print counterparts.
I came across this revelation concerning the digital editions of Ulysses when conducting research for my textual history essay. Due to Ulysses being a canonical work, I needed to find a fresh angle of textual criticism that had been virtually untouched by scholars thus far. Since I own a Kindle, I quickly determined that digital Ulysses would be my focus. Much to my delight, I thought I found my niche since I discovered that no scholarly work had been done on digital editions of Ulysses, but then I discovered why this was the case.
My original idea for the paper was to focus on the subtle word and grammatical changes that deviated from the first edition. I thought these changes would be much more numerous in digital editions because of ease to make changes in the electronic medium with very little oversight. However, my tentative thesis for my paper quickly altered when I discovered there was a consistent lack of an editor’s presence in the digital editions. Two out of the three editions I examined were free editions. One of these was entirely based upon the first edition of Ulysses: the statement claiming it was based on the first edition was the only editorial note within the entire edition.[i] The only editorial notes in the other free edition was that it was distributed by Project Gutenberg, then further information about Project Gutenberg and its goals were included in the back of the edition.[ii] Even the third edition that cost money and was referred to as an annotated edition lacked an editor’s presence.[iii] Only forty annotations were included for the entire novel, which is a stark contrast to a printed edition of Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses.[iv] Don Gifford’s companion edition is comprised only of annotations and notes for Ulysses[v]; despite the edition not including the text of the novel, the edition still manages to reach over seven hundred pages, which certainly makes the forty points seem insubstantial.
The lack of an editor’s presence in any of these digital editions is truly concerning. Not a single one of the editions has an editor’s name attached to it, let alone a provided editorial statement and reason why the format of the text within these digital edition differs so drastically from the format of the first edition. Without an editorial presence, the reader and text suffer. In his article “Electronic Scholarly Editions,” Kenneth M. Price discusses the duties of an editor: “Editors are shirking their duties if they do not offer guidance: they are and should be, after all, something more than blind, values-neutral deliverers of goods. The act of not overtly highlighting specific works is problematic in that it seems to assert that all works in a corpus are on the same footing, when they never are. Still, there are degrees of editorial intervention; some editions are thesis-ridden and others are more inviting of a multitude of interpretations.”[vi] In a novel like Ulysses that is filled with constant references to other works and literature, and even parodies other writing forms through the careful formatting of its text, absolutely requires guidance from an editor to enable the readers navigate the text and to understand this novel’s complexity.
Currently there are no editorial digital editions of Ulysses available to the public. However, there is hope on the horizon for digital versions of Ulysses. After more research, I have discovered that there is an online project called “Infinite Ulysses” led by Amanda Visconti. “Infinite Ulysses” will provide the whole text of Ulysses based upon the first edition published in 1922 free of charge. The site will allow readers to interact with the text by favoriting and bookmarking pages, adding comments and annotations as well as highlight sections of the text. Readers are also able to see the most popular pages and chapters of the day on the site’s main page. While this is the most interactive digital edition of Ulysses to date, Infinite Ulysses lacks any supplemental material beyond the text itself and the user added annotations. The site is set to officially launch on June 16th, 2015.
The possibilities of digital editions are virtually endless since they are capable of integrating pictures, music, videos, articles, and every other form of media within the text to immerse the reader fully into the text. While including other forms of media can be beneficial to the readers, Price discusses the negatives in his article: “The idea of including everything in an edition is suitable for writers of great significance. Yet such an approach has some negative consequences: it can be seen as damaging to a writer (and might be seen as counterproductive for readers and editors themselves). In fact, the decision to include everything is not as clear a goal or as “objective” an approach as one might think. Just what is “everything,” after all?”[vii] While digital editions should not be expected to require everything imaginable that has even the slightest relevance to the text, they should at the very least require the presence and name of the editor as print editions do. When concerning such an influential canonical text, like Ulysses, where even the slightest change can vastly alter the meaning of the novel, readers deserve to know who it was that made those changes and why. Without the presence and guiding hand of an editor in digital editions, the readers of these editions are lost within the digital void.
[i] Joyce, James. ULYSSES (illustrated, Complete, and Unabridged) (plus Dubliners) Edited by Erik Empson and Jasper Joffe.
[ii] Joyce, James. Ulysses. Project Gutenberg.
[iii] Joyce, James. Ulysses (Annotated). Edited by Joseph Collins.
[iv] Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses.
[v] A site containing a marked up version of Ulysses featuring Don Gifford’s notes is available on Columbia.edu. However the site is not user friendly because it looks terrible and the links to the annotations do not work particularly well.
[vi] Price, Kenneth M. “Electronic Scholarly Editions : A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.”
Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988.
Joyce, James. ULYSSES (illustrated, Complete, and Unabridged) (plus Dubliners). Edited by Erik Empson and Jasper Joffe. London: Not So Noble Books, 2013.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Project Gutenberg, 2014.
Joyce, James. Ulysses (Annotated). Edited by Joseph Collins. Amazon Digital Services, 2014
Price, Kenneth M. “Electronic Scholarly Editions : A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.” Blackwell Reference Online. 2007. Accessed April 15, 2015. http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/tocnode?id=g9781405148641_chunk_g978140514864126.