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The list of new email messages on that day in late September 2001 seemed unremarkable: the usual barrage of promises of better porn and lower debt, plus a few items of real correspondence. Those did not appear to be particularly important. Among them was one from Noel Kissane, someone whom I didn't know, who identified himself as the Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland. He asked if he could call me to talk about the manuscript of the "Circe" episode of Ulysses that the National Library had purchased the previous December and also about "recent associated developments." I knew a little about the "Circe" acquisition--it was a draft that Joyce had sent "as a curiosity" (1) in April 1921 to John Quinn, who was purchasing the entire Ulysses manuscript in episode sections as Joyce finished each one; the Library had bought it for one and a half million dollars at a Christie's New York auction. I hadn't seen the manuscript when it was exhibited in London, Dublin, or New York before the auction, however, and I had only skimmed the Christie's sale catalogue, (2) so I knew very little about it. I couldn't imagine what I could tell Mr. Kissane that he didn't already know or couldn't learn from someone else in much greater detail.
He didn't want to talk about "Circe" at all, it turned out, but about the associated developments. Some other Joyce manuscripts had surfaced, he told me in confidence, and the owner had given the National Library an exclusive opportunity to buy them. Would I consider coming to London in the next month or so to look at these manuscripts and report on them to the Library? My first reaction was to balk--this was two weeks after September 11; I had just canceled an end-of-October commitment to talk on a panel at the Modernist Studies Association conference in Houston because I didn't want to fly there; and I had moved from London, Ontario, to Toronto four months earlier and was only a few weeks into my new routine of commuting for three days each week to teach my classes at the University of Western Ontario. The thought of flying at all, and of leaving home for London, Ontario, from Monday to Wednesday, then for London, England, from Thursday to Sunday, and then for London, Ontario, again the next Monday to Wednesday was distinctly unappealing. As I hesitated, Noel Kissane said that he had prepared a short checklist of the documents and asked if he could at least email it to me so I could see what he was talking about. To that request, it was easy to say yes.
I wondered what these documents might be, of course. Two manuscripts for Ulysses had surfaced in the past two years, and both were sold at auction for huge sums. One was the "Circe" draft, the National Library's new acquisition; people were surprised when this manuscript surfaced, but we quickly realized that we had been aware of its existence all along because of Joyce's reference to it in his letter. The second manuscript, on the other hand, was completely unexpected. It was a draft of "Eumaeus" (its cover says "Eumeo"), one that, unlike the "Circe" draft, hardly anyone inside or outside Joyce studies knew had ever existed. Its provenance was less clear than that of the "Circe" draft. A French diplomat and writer named Henri Hoppenot possessed the document--he knew Adrienne Monnier and perhaps bought the manuscript from, or maybe was given it by, either her or Sylvia Beach--and after his death a French book dealer acquired it. Sotheby's in London auctioned it for that dealer in July 2001. An anonymous private collector bought it for over 850,000 [pound sterling] (more than $1.2 million), and its whereabouts are not currently known. People who have seen this manuscript have described it as unique among the documents for Ulysses: according to Sam Slote, there are additions in red and green ink as well as the familiar pencil additions (the base text is in black ink); before this draft came to light, we had "never seen a Ulysses episode in such a primitive configuration." (3) No new manuscripts for Ulysses had come to light between the 1960s and 2000, and, after the news about these two documents, like everybody else who paid attention to such matters, I wondered whether other materials might surface. The phone conversation suggested that there were indeed other manuscripts, but even so I wasn't expecting to hear about anything significant.
I couldn't have been more wrong. When I saw Noel Kissane's checklist, I nearly fell out of my chair. None of my wildest speculations about what other manuscripts might still be extant could have prepared me for what this list seemed to promise. Scholars who have worked with the manuscripts for Ulysses--and, in particular, with the extraordinary gathering at the Poetry/Rare Books Collection at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, which has been in place since the early 1950s--know that Buffalo possesses a wealth of materials: intermediate and late notes for Ulysses (the only larger and better-known set of Ulysses notes is at the British Library), early drafts for "Proteus" and for six of the last eight episodes ("Sirens," "Cyclops," "Nausicaa," "Oxen of the Sun," "Circe," and "Eumaeus," with two stages for "Oxen"), various typescripts, and many sets of proofs that fit between the first set of placards (galley proofs) at Harvard University and final page proofs at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. But the holdings contain many gaps. Joyce must have taken and used other notes; several of the drafts are incomplete (Buffalo's "Sirens" and "Cyclops" manuscripts are each only half of the episode, and both stages of its "Oxen" drafts are fragmentary). Scholars working with these materials have been familiar with both the gaps and the odd circumstance that resulted when parts of a single draft got separated as Joyce moved from apartment to apartment and city to city. For example, Buffalo possesses the first half of a draft of "Nausicaa," which, whether by design or accident, moved to Paris with Joyce, whereas Cornell University has the second half, which presumably remained behind in Trieste. (4)
What first caught my eye in the checklist was the group of items for "Oxen of the Sun." It said that the materials on offer included three copybooks for the episode with Roman numbers for 3, 5, and 9 on their covers. (I use the term "notebook" to designate a book in which Joyce wrote notes and "copybook" for a book in which he wrote drafts.) One of Buffalo's sets of "Oxen" drafts consists of six copybooks numbered 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8 (manuscripts V.A.13-18). The enormity of what I was looking at was obvious: these were long-lost documents that filled in some of the holes in the established collections. I was pretty certain about the identity of other documents on the checklist as well: a "Sirens" draft, identified as the first half of the episode, was probably the companion to Buffalo's second half (V.A.5), and a "Cyclops" draft might be the second half of Buffalo V.A.8. This was a pot of gold. I wondered about some of the other documents on the checklist: a copybook containing drafts of both "Proteus" and "Sirens" (how did those two episodes get together?); three copybooks with a continuous draft of "Scylla and Charybdis" (when Buffalo bought the first part of its collection from the Librairie La Hune in 1948, it thought it was getting a draft of "Scylla" along with the other materials, but that draft never reached Buffalo (5)--was this it?); and drafts for "Ithaca" and "Penelope" (Joyce said a few times, as in letters to Harriet Shaw Weaver from 10 October 1916 and 12 July 1920, that he had written out parts of the end of Ulysses very early in his work [Letters 1:143, 2:387], but we have never had any drafts for the last two episodes; were these the lost evidence of that early work?). And what were all the notes?
The outline of the checklist was clear: the collection contained a couple of early documents from 1903 and 1904 and a few elements for Finnegans Wake, but it dealt mainly with Ulysses and involved materials from the early stages of Joyce's work on the different episodes. It looked like an extraordinary collection.
By the time I finished reading the checklist, any reservations I had about flying to London or being inconvenienced by the trip were long gone. My main worry now was that I had been too ambivalent about taking on the assignment and that Noel Kissane might have turned to someone else. I couldn't call him back until the next day, but he hadn't looked elsewhere, and we started making plans for my inspection of the documents. It took a while to work out all of the details, but I finally …