Which edition of Ulysses is best?

Hello. Let me introduce myself: my name is Judd, and I’ll be joining the group in some sort of “coordinator” capacity for the upcoming read of Ulysses. Daryl gave me a very nice introduction in his introductory post last week, but I feel I should make one thing very clear from the outset: I am not an expert. I am a student, and a lover of all things Joyce, but I don’t want to present myself as anything more. I’ve read Ulysses a few times, and the rest of Joyce’s work (although I resist using the past tense of the verb “read” in reference to the Wake; but I’ll save that discussion for the end of this whole project), and a fair amount of Joyce criticism (much of which I am certain to be ripping off throughout my discussion of this book, mostly unconsciously: I will do my best to acknowledge my sources when I can remember/find them, but as many great Joyceans have acknowledged, reading Joyce is a collaborative process)– but I’m sure there will be plenty of people here who know more than me, or catch me on mistakes, or just really disagree with me. And I welcome that– it’s what this is all about, right?

So anyway, this is my first post, and we’re a little over two weeks away from our start date, but I wanted to address one question that every new reader of Ulysses faces: what are all these different editions, and which one should I read?  A great overview of the different editions is available here (scroll down to “Which Edition?”): I’ll be basing my commentary largely on what they’ve already said, just throwing in my own two cents. Also, for anyone who is interested in the whole history of the text and its history of censorship, pirating, copyright disputes, and academic squabbles, the book to read is Bruce Arnold’s The Scandal of Ulysses: The Life and Afterlife of a Twentieth-Century Masterpiece, which will give you more information than you could possibly ask for, and is a hell of a read.

Essentially, there are three major versions of the Ulysses text, and then one very strange fourth version. First, there is the 1922 first edition text, which went out of copyright in the 1990s, spawning a host of “facsimile” editions. This version is rife with typos and printing errors: the first edition was rushed to the printers amidst all sorts of difficulties and, needless to say, with a complex book like Ulysses it’s pretty easy for mistakes to seep in. (Another book recommendation: there’s a great study by Tim Conley on the role of error in Joyce’s writing and in Joyce scholarship: Joyces Mistakes [title punctuation sic].) If you do a basic Amazon search for Ulysses, these facsimiles are the first things that pop up. I’d avoid them.

The next edition is the 1934 text, published after the ban on Ulysses in America was lifted, and reset in 1961. This was the standard edition for several decades, and any Joyce criticism written in the mid-century heyday of Joyce-studies will refer to it. There are two versions of this available: a Vintage paperback, and a Modern Library hardcover.  I have the Modern Library edition for a “reading” (as opposed to “studying”) copy, and that’s the version I’d recommend for someone reading the book for pleasure: it’s got a great binding, it’s easy to hold, it lies flat, it has nice quality paper. It’s just a nice book.

But then there’s the third version of the text: Hans Walter Gabler’s famous/infamous “Corrected” edition. Published in 1984, Gabler’s edition reflects over a decade of close, careful work with various manuscripts and notes from the Joyce archives, introducing thousands of changes, most small but some very significant. It was met with initial enthusiasm from Joyce scholars: here is a positive review (spoiler alert, though, insofar as any review of something like this is going to talk about stuff that happens late in the book) from no less a “name” than Richard Ellmann, author of the definitive Joyce biography.  However, several years later, once the Gabler edition had basically become the only one on the market, all hell broke loose. It all started with a lengthy essay by John Kidd exploring all of the problems with Gabler’s editorial process, and claiming that he introduced more errors into the text, rather than correcting it. However, rather than get into the details of the whole “scandal,” I’d just refer you to Bruce Arnold’s excellent book (cited above), which documents the whole affair. Suffice it to say that the Gabler edition remains the standard edition used by Joyce scholars and academics, so if you think you might want to publish an article in the James Joyce Quarterly some day, you should probably be working with this edition. But it is an unwieldy, ugly book, as an object, and the paperback version has a binding that comes apart. Just so you know.

And then there’s this crazy-ass “Reader’s Edition” edited by Danis Rose, which seeks to simplify the text and about which probably the less said the better. (I’ll simply refer you back the Modern Word, and let their comments on it stand here.)

One area in which I am woefully unable to comment is regarding the e-book versions available, so I’d like to invite anyone who has any experience in that area to chime in, in the comments section below. There are some reviews on Amazon here, and there are free versions on Project Gutenberg here, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. A friend asked me about an iPad version, and I was like: “Huh?” So, please, if you have any knowledge of this area, help me understand this technological stuff.

One problem we will probably face is keeping our page references together across editions. This is one of that handy things about the Gabler edition: he provides episode and line numbers on every page, which makes referring back to the text very easy. Don Gifford, in Ulysses Annotated (I’m going to post next week on secondary sources, but this is the one book that is basically indispensible, if you want to order ahead), refers to the Gabler edition, but provides page references to the 1961 edition in parentheses, so that’s how I usually track references from edition to edition. I’ll see if I can find anything more useful before my next post.

Which brings me to my conclusion: next week I’ll be writing about secondary sources, websites, and background reading, but in the meantime you might want to order your copy of the book itself. Bottom-line: do you want “Joyce” to tell you the answer to the question “What is the word known to all men?”? Get the Gabler edition. Want to figure it out on your own? Get the 1961 edition.  But either way, you’ll be getting a great book, so don’t let the (fairly minor) differences weigh too much on your mind.

29 thoughts on “Which edition of Ulysses is best?

  1. Joseph June 25, 2010 / 8:53 pm

    I decided to read Ulysses after finishing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a couple of weeks ago and just stumbled upon this website. I wasn’t sure which version to get and I eventually settled on the Oxford World’s Classics version of the 1922 text because it features extensive notes in the back. So far I’ve been happy with it and the notes even point out places where there were mistakes made in the printing of the text.

  2. David June 25, 2010 / 10:07 pm

    Thanks for this information, I’ve had the Vintage version for a few years, just waiting for me to get around to it, this is a perfect time to mark this one off my list.

  3. Jeffrey Paris June 26, 2010 / 2:41 am

    This is REALLY helpful. I’ve dumped my Gutenberg and will be trading it in for the Gabler edition. Thanks for keeping me from a wrong turn out the gate.

    • Jeffrey Paris June 26, 2010 / 2:43 am

      Hmmm, or maybe the 1934 Vintage/Mod. Lib., since this is for pleasure.

  4. MT June 30, 2010 / 6:19 pm

    info much appreciated! i just purchased 2 gablers on amazon (for me and bf to read together of course), plus the annotated, and feel really good about my purchase based on your advice…i’m still working on MD, but am really looking forward to this one! they should arrive in time for me to get Kraken! i mean, crackin’!

    • Bob Decker January 31, 2017 / 7:34 am

      If I can get this posted and you ever read it I would like to know if you and\or BF finish Ulysses and hopefully it didn’t cause you breakup. This is for MT

  5. Hunter Felt July 4, 2010 / 8:21 pm

    I use the phrase “I’ve looked at every word in Finnegans Wake”.

    And it’s Gabler or nothing for me, but I learned from hardcore Joyceans.

    • Judd Staley July 6, 2010 / 10:08 am

      You borrowed that one from DFW, Hunter, right? I seem to recall seeing that in one of his letters, somewhere…

  6. Stevie July 12, 2010 / 3:53 pm

    i’ve always stuck to my gabler paperback from 20 years ago – & i can vouch for the caveat about the binding; i’ve used packing tape & duct tape but eventually i began keeping the whole thing in a zippered book-bag.
    as for ebooks, i know the iPhone app is annoying in that it’s broken into the 3 big sections rather than the 18 episodes, so those middle 12 are a bitch & a half to get around in. otherwise, i haven’t played around with e-versions. yet.

  7. Brendan July 20, 2012 / 11:42 am

    The Oxford World Classic ebook version is on Amazon but is on hold as customers have identified problems with it. Keen to get it as would be handy to switch from text to notes and back.

  8. Bryan Plank October 10, 2012 / 10:27 pm

    Did you read the 2011 edition of the novel and what are your thoughts?

  9. C November 5, 2012 / 10:49 am

    The Oxford World Classic version does have a good introduction and excellent notes. However, I suggest reading it through, and use a pencil to mark , make margin notes, as you’re never going to get all the references, but you’ll enjoy the experience more than constantly flicking back and forth through the book, or ebook. Then reread it…

  10. Sam Mod November 11, 2013 / 3:42 am

    The Gabler edition is just an ‘ideal text reconstruction’ with many errors but Joyce revised all editions until 1932, so had he wanted those changes he would have introduced them. The effort by Gabler and Joyce’s grandson is purely a money making effort, oriented to enlarge the copyright which is simply not acceptable because it wasn’t the authors intention to do an ‘ideal text reconstruction’. Its only recommended for gullible readers. It’s not really Joyce’s text, it’s Gablers version. I only follow the editions up to 1932 (including 1922, 1923, 1930 and 1932) the last one -Odyssey Press printed in Hamburg- was specially revised, at the authors request, by Stuart Gilbert and therefore approved by Joyce and it clearly says “may be regarded as the definitive standard edition”.

  11. Judd November 11, 2013 / 10:25 am

    Sam: I agree with what you are saying about the Gabler, and I prefer the “classic” Random House edition, personally (reissued as a nice Modern Library hardcover), but the sad fact is that the Gabler is now the standard edition for Joyce scholarship, so it looks like we are stuck with it.

    • Larry January 7, 2015 / 5:41 pm

      It is sad to me that you feel “stuck” with an edition that you understand to be less faithful to the author’s intent than the older one. Fortunately, I am reading this for my own enjoyment, having finally found the time at age 70 to pursue such pleasures. I will purchase a used copy of the Modern Library edition on ABE Books. Why are you “stuck.” Is this a concession to the community of Joyce scholars? If they are all “stuck” with an inferior text, is there any point in indulging them?

      –by Naive (I guess)

      • Judd January 11, 2015 / 4:11 pm

        I guess I mean “stuck” only if you plan to write and publish on Joyce, as the Gabler is the standard edition used in Joycean publications. If you are just a casual reader, then I suggest an earlier edition, as I believe I made clear above.

  12. Andrew August 30, 2014 / 7:19 pm

    How good is the Vintage international paperback edition?

    How’s the line spacing and font size?

    • Judd January 11, 2015 / 4:12 pm

      The Vintage uses the Random House text. Definitely a good reading edition.

  13. rainswept June 2, 2015 / 11:36 am

    The page linked for “A great overview of the different editions is available here (scroll down to “Which Edition?”)” has gone walkabout. Archived version here.

  14. mark April 27, 2017 / 12:37 am

    Interesting discussion about the different Ulysses texts. My own experience is that nothing beats the ’61 Random House paperback: the size, the weight, the paper, the ink, the font, and most importantly the beautiful, lovingly done, hand set type. (Also any facsimile of the 61 RH.)
    As a second choice I prefer the ’09 Dover Pub. reprint of the original Shakespeare & Co., Paris, 1922. Though it has numerous typographical errors, there is something quite pleasing about reading the first edition that the author was so intimately involved with. (It is interesting to remember that Joyce added some 250 pages of new text to the proof sheets as he actively corrected them.) As to the bizarro texts: Gabler may be the standard for scholars and professors, but the pathetic state of Joyce studies today hardly warrants paying them any heed at all. As to the Danis Rose non-sense nothing need be said.
    One last point: the Oxford World Press edition the the introduction and notes By Jeri Johnson is very suspect: the type set is poor and Ms Johnson introduction is mostly a re-hash of old tired ideas.

  15. Bill Kennedy June 13, 2017 / 9:23 pm

    Have read all editions, and the RH is the best we have, it is the basis for most of the scholarship of the mid twentieth century, so as good as Gabler, which is not even in print anymore, I don’t think. The only Joyceans who use it are lazy and maybe unaware of the problems with it. Anyone who would have the hubris to add a word to Joyce’s text is not to be taken seriously, anyone who adds five sentences, rewriting a core scene of the novel, who removes Joyce’s own puncutation and adds his own, who believes HE knows what Joyce meant to write and then writes it for him is a madman and a criminal. Gabler’s editions should all be gathered in a great pile and burned. Maybe a few copies saved as evidence of the crime for scholars.

  16. Wilson Varga (@wvarga7a1) June 14, 2017 / 9:59 am

    First time readers, reading as a group, are well served by an edition with line numbers. I have been advocating such readers: 1: follow the free, annotated & line-numbered Columbia University edition ( http://www.columbia.edu/~fms5/ulys.htm [based on Gabler]) as they 2: follow along with the free, 40+ hour radio dramatization ( https://archive.org/details/Ulysses-Audiobook ).
    Readers will want to search the text. The 1922-corrected text (made available by Tim Finnegan of the pJoyce Project) is a searchable HTML version ( from here: https://github.com/TimFinnegan/pJoyce ) and over the web the Ulysses Concordance ( http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~rac101/concord/texts/ulysses/ ) uses the Project Gutenberg edition.

    • Scott April 12, 2022 / 11:49 pm

      I have read that article. It shows how Kidd went off the rails about one minor error: the spelling of a name Thrift. He was then unable to produce his own promised “definitive” version and then disappeared to South America. I hope Mr. Kidd gets well. Most scholars have reportedly gone back to the “distorted” Gabler.

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