The Irish National Library has very quietly taken advantage of the entry this year into the public domain of the works of Irish novelist James Joyce by posting its horde of rare Joyce manuscripts on its online archive.
The files include a marked-up manuscript of the “Circe” chapter of Ulysses, early proofs of Finnegans Wake (dubbed soon after its publication “the greatest novel that nobody’s read”) and a vast collection of what the INL calls “the Joyce Papers 2002, c. 1903–1928.” According to The Irish Times:
A very important part of Irish heritage is now easily accessible. There is no need for special visits to the library, and no need to obtain a reader’s ticket. Instead, the documents are there for all to see online….
There are two initial points to bear in mind: due to the rushed nature of the library’s action (in response to a pre-emptive strike by the Joyce scholar Danis Rose) the photographs of the manuscripts are in low-resolution PDF form. The quality, it must be said, is not great, so that Joyce’s hand, especially in the Ulysses manuscripts, is difficult to decipher (not to mention that, in the case of the notes, they are often crossed through in thick crayon).
The library has promised that the manuscripts will be available in “very high-resolution formats” from June 16th next, and has also declared that it is “developing new image-viewing software which will ensure that online images of the James Joyce manuscripts can be researched in minute detail by NLI website visitors”.
The other issue is that the manuscripts have been placed online in a very raw state, without any real context or annotation, let alone transcription. There is no reason why all this should not follow in due course.
For the past thirty years, academic access to Joyce’s work has been problematic. Joyce’s grandson, Stephen, set himself up as the gatekeeper of his grandfather’s and of his family’s legacy. He sued academics who wished to publish versions of Joyce’s letters and either refused to grant permission to quote from James Joyce’s work, or charged fees that have been termed “extortionate.”
However, on January 1 of this year, the seventieth anniversary of Joyce’s death, his copyright passed into the public domain in the European Union.
I’m not a Joycean scholar, certainly, nor am I a master of textual forensics. But having loved Joyce’s work since I first dove into his short-story collection Dubliners when I was a college freshman, the opportunity to see the working papers of one of the English language’s greatest writers is more than a little exciting. And as someone who’s edited two books on Joyce’s novels and is in the middle of editing a video series on the subject, I’m thrilled that this rich legacy is now available for anyone to peruse.