Alistair McCleery

The 1969 Edition of Ulysses

The 1969 Edition of Ulysses: the making of a Penguin Classic

The more a novel like Joyce’s Ulysses is proclaimed as a great book, the more it will be prescribed for the captive educational audience (and the less it will be read for pleasure). Academic validation, above all other factors, is essential for the status of a classic. A classic appears on syllabuses in universities and colleges; it is read by lecturers and occasionally by students. Publishers are complicit in that academic validation through provision of a hierarchy of attendant tools from scholarly monographs on arcane aspects of the novel, constantly making it new, through line-by-line guides and summaries, consistently engaged in reductionism, to specific student editions of the work, carefully poised as bookends to the secondary material.The establishment of Ulysses in the academy in the UK, this paper will argue, was a deliberate result of the marketing of the 1969 paperback edition, Penguin number 3000. The date is significant. It falls at the close of the decade that saw what Geert Lernout termed ‘the institutionalisation of Joyce studies’, that is, the ghettoisation of Joyce within the academy, particularly but not exclusively the US academy. It also falls at the close of ten years of rapid expansion, and the striving for a distinctive modern and progressive identity, within UK higher education.

The paper examines, in particular, the publishing decisions that influenced the reception of Ulysses in the United Kingdom through the 1969 edition.Penguin 3000 was the fourth major UK incarnation of Joyce’s novel. The first three, the Bodley Head editions of 1936 and 1937 and the Bodley Head edition of 1960, as expensive hardbacks with a clear emphasis upon design, were more clearly targeted at the members or aspirant members of the avant-garde club. Penguin in the UK deliberately transformed Ulysses into a classic institutionalised within higher education; its status was underpinned by the nature of the material book – its binding, cover, size, price, series, pagination guide, afterword, its promotion and publicity. In other words, the physical books themselves, and the circumstances of their publication, illustrate the movement from avant-garde work, and collectable art object, to classic deriving its status from the academy. Before Penguin 3000, Ulysses was perceived in the UK as an avant-garde work, with a minority readership found chiefly amongst the literati, or as a select art object suitable for collection, or as a notorious work celebrated for its pornographic passages or as any combination of these three perspectives; after the Penguin paperback edition, and its volume sales, Ulysses was regarded as a ‘safe’ classic of modern literature taking its place as canon-fodder for the expanding number of students in a burgeoning UK higher education system.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.

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