Spending Bloomsday Talking to Checkers, Wingtip, and Speckles: or, How to Understand the First Printings of James Joyce’s Ulysses

John Hessler

A 30-minute Zoom talk followed by 15 minutes for Q&A held on 16 June 2020, 4–5 p.m. ET

Led by RBS faculty member John Hessler, this event combined a talk and a reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses, followed by a Q&A session.

Checkers, Wingtip, and Speckles—they are the names of pigeons, long gone, but once the gleeful inhabitants of Marsh Plaza in Boston. During their lives they spent many a day in a one-sided conversation with John Kidd, who wandered the plaza in a black fedora and overcoat; he knew the ins and outs of the various editions of Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, better than almost anyone alive.

Ulysses is a difficult book. Reading it divides the world into two groups of people: those who adore it and those who have not made it through. The story of its publication history is complex, with the early editions famously riddled with errors that scholars have been battling over since. On Bloomsday, Hessler discussed those errors, the book’s complex publication history, and the scholars who have tried to unwind them.

This lecture looked closely at the Joyce Wars of the 1980s, when correcting the 1922 edition caused controversy and derision amongst fans of the book. The battles and skirmishes were played out in the New York Review of Books, in an exchange between John Kidd and Hans Walter Gabler, over what Joyce wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Gabler produced a “corrected” new edition that supposedly fixed more than 5000 errors in the original printed versions. Kidd argued, with the sympathy of many readers, that some of those so-called errors were Joyce’s actual intentions and that Gabler had massacred the original.

This webinar was presented live in June 2020. The session was recorded, and you are invited to watch the recording of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel.