Woolf’s Reading of Joyce’s Ulysses

324px-Woolf_3aJames Heffernan at The Modernist Lab:

In early October 1922, more than four years after her first exposure to Joyce's Ulysses, Woolf wrote the following to the art critic and philosopher Roger Fry:

My great adventure is really Proust. Well– what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped–and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical–like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses; to which I bind myself like a martyr to a stake, and have thank God, now finished– My martyrdom is over. I hope to sell it for £4.10.[3]

This passage clearly suggests that Woolf not only read all ofUlysses but loathed it quite as much as she adored A La Recherche. But the truth is much more complicated– and just about as fascinating as any episode of literary history can be.

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