Great comma row splits 'Ulysses' fans

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The Independent Online
The grandson of James Joyce has fallen out with the publishers of a new, "reader-friendly" version of the Irish writer's masterpiece, Ulysses, in a dispute over copyright fees.

Stephen Joyce is threatening to injunct the editors to stop publication, which is scheduled to coincide with Bloomsday - the name which Joyce devotees give to 16 June, because all the action of Ulysses, featuring Leopold Bloom, takes place in Dublin on that day.

The row between Stephen Joyce and the publishers - Picador in London and Lilliput in Dublin - has arisen because of the complexities of copyright legislation. Joyce, who first had Ulysses published in 1922, died 19 years later. Under English law, an author's work used to go out of copyright 50 years after his death, but in 1993 copyright law was brought into line with European rules - with the result that Joyce's work, after being out of copyright for two years, became copyright again, with payments due to his estate.

Confusingly, the rules also say that if an editor was working on a text during the period between being out and being back in copyright, he can hold on to the copyright for his own work.

According to Anthony Farrell, who runs the Lilliput Press, Danis Rose, the editor of this latest edition, took out copyright during the interregnum and secured affidavits proving it.

The new edition attempts to clarify some of the grammatical solecisms for which its predecessors are noted and make the text more readable by updating the punctuation. "Aside from the legal question, this edition will raise some scholarly eyebrows through, for example, the new hyphenation of the word 'snot-green'," said Mr Farrell.

Despite the arrival of trenchant letters from Stephen Joyce's solicitors, Mr Farrell believes publication should still go ahead. "We hired some very expensive lawyers, which we could not have done without the help of our English co-publishers at Picador," he said.

This is not the first time the validity of an edition of the modernist masterpiece has been in dispute. The original 1922 edition, brought out by Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Co, was riddled with errors and contradictions, partly the result of the disjointed history of its creation and partly because it had been typeset in Dijon by a team who spoke little or no English.

Yet when a new, "corrected" version was put together by Hans Walter Gabler in 1984 it attracted almost as many critics, some saying it had made fresh and unconscionable errors.

Jeri Johnson, a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, who in 1993 annotated a student's edition of the text, sees the constant battles over punctuation and sense as some proof of Joyce's greatness. "In one sense any editing process is one of valuation. Books that we care about will inevitably be edited again and again," she said.

What will always make any judgement on Joyce's Ulysees manuscripts particularly tortuous is the fact that the author tended to add to his text rather than taking away whenever he was given a proof to correct.