The James Joyce Collection: Its History & Future
by: Dr. Michael Basinski, Curator of the Poetry Collection
Charles D. Abbott, the first Director of the University of Buffalo library, founded the Poetry Collection in 1937. He envisioned that it should become a monument to the human imagination; that it would evolve into a comprehensive poetry library designed to facilitate critical research and to advance the art of poetry. Rather than a museum of precious and obscure objects, Abbott imagined the Poetry Collection as an active workshop where the rarified in the world of poetry would be centralized for the purpose of critical research and for the greater advancement of the art of poetry. And so he set about collecting every first edition of poetry published in English from 1900 forward, as well as poetry magazines, broadsides, poem cards and anthologies. He commenced the process that would lead the Poetry Collection to become a dream library where scholars could investigate a poet’s complete works, the context and network wherein various poems were composed, the publishing history of a poem, the complete and accurate critical reception of poetry published after 1900, the poet’s voice and photographs and paintings of the poets. To study the creative or genetic evolution of a poem, he also began to collect the working papers, manuscripts and letters of 20th-century poets.
As a pioneer in the collecting of the manuscripts of living authors, Abbott wrote to practicing poets and requested the contents of their waste paper baskets. The poets complied and among many, many others, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Kenneth Fearing, Robinson Jeffers and even Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg sent draft copies and corrected proofs of their poems in progress. As a personal friend of W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams, both of whom summered at Charles and Theresa Abbott’s home in Pavilion, New York, Abbott was able to convince these poets to place their drafts in the collection. Therefore, the Poetry Collection was able to acquire Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror notebook and drafts of Dr. Williams’ plan for his poem Paterson written on his prescription pad slips; Abbott was also responsible for acquiring the manuscripts of Robert Graves, Wyndham Lewis, the notebooks of Dylan Thomas and more than three hundred of Ezra Pound’s letters. During a trip to Paris in the summer of 1949, Abbott heard about an exhibit of James Joyce’s books, letters and manuscripts at the Librairie La Hune. Realizing the research potential of the notebooks, letters and corrected proofs that were on exhibit, Abbott set about to acquire them for UB. The James Joyce Collection is now the crown jewel in the Poetry Collection.
Irish writer James Joyce is widely regarded as the single most important English language author of the 20th century. His short story collection Dubliners (1914), his novella A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and his magisterial novel Ulysses (1922) constitute a body of work that is unmatched for its psychological depth and stylistic innovation. If any single book could be described as the most important English language novel of the past century, it would be Ulysses. It is a book that revolutionized the concept of the novel itself: from its “interior monologues” to its prose renderings of music, cinema, the catechism and dreams; from its urban landscapes so precise that maps of Dublin can be drawn from them to its sexual daring; and from its psychological penetration into perverse and repressed human desires to its epic portrayal of the common man. Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, published in 1939, is a challenging masterwork of multilingual wordplay, written in a language of puns and double-triple-quadruple entendres. For almost seventy years it has kept scholars working overtime decoding its literary/cultural meanings and enigmas.
The James Joyce Collection evidences the crucial, chaotic and productive years of Joyce’s life with unmatched glimpses into his writing process and literary relationships. Comprising more than 10,000 pages of the author’s working papers, notebooks, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, portraits, publishing records, news clippings, important memorabilia and ephemeral material, as well as the complete body of significant Joyce criticism, it is by far the largest and most prestigious Joyce Collection in the world. And, as such, it distinguishes the Poetry Collection as the leading resource for Joyce scholarship. If a scholar wishes to research the evolution of Finnegans Wake, the Poetry Collection is the only destination because all sixty-six of the existing Wake notebooks in the world are at UB. Each year the collection supports dissertations, articles and books on James Joyce.
The James Joyce Collection came to UB, in no small measure, because of the foresight and generosity of friends of the University at Buffalo. In 1950 a gift from Margaretta F. Wickser, made in memory of her husband Philip J. Wickser, brought the first Joyce materials to the Poetry Collection, including manuscripts, notebooks, letters and Joyce’s private library, which included books inscribed to Joyce from William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Nancy Cunard, Ernest Hemingway, James Stevens and T. S. Eliot. Among the fourteen paintings that arrived in this installment were portraits of James Joyce and Joyce’s father, John Stanislaus Joyce, by world-renowned Irish painter Patrick Tuohy, two portraits of Nora Joyce and five oils of Joyce’s distant relatives. Joyce’s famous walking sticks, glasses and passports were also part of this consignment. In 1959, thanks to Constance and Walter Stafford’s hands-on negotiations in Paris and their financial support, Joyce materials were purchased from Sylvia Beach, publisher of the first edition of Ulysses. The Sylvia Beach consignment included Joyce’s first Portrait of the Artist notebook, inscribed photographs, her extensive correspondence with Maurice Darantiere, whose printing firm typeset Ulysses, her correspondence with Joyce translators and publishers like Harry and Caresse Crosby of Black Sun Press and letters that James Joyce wrote to her before and after the publication of Ulysses. Sylvia Beach’s personal James Joyce book collection also came to UB. Among her treasures was her personally inscribed copy of Ulysses, in which Joyce’s poem “Who is Sylvia” is tipped in, as was a Ulysses schema that outlined some of the complexities Joyce included as he structured his novel. As such, Beach’s copy, number 2 of 100 printed on Dutch hand-made paper, is one of the most collectable books in the world. Among the other unique items in this consignment were lists of possible subscribers to Ulysses in Joyce’s hand, the final color proof of the Greek blue Ulysses paper cover and a stack of completed order forms from notables such as T. E. Lawrence, Samuel Roth, Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim. B. W. Huebsch, publisher and an associate of Joyce, donated further materials. Another installment arrived after the death of Sylvia Beach in 1962, again through the support of the Staffords, the generosity of Mrs. Spencer Kittinger and the Friends of the Lockwood Memorial Library. Finally, in 1968, an acquisition of Finnegans Wake uncut and heavily revised page proofs from Maria Jolas completed the manuscript collection. In the last decade, a collection of translations of Joyce’s novels, short stories and poems have been added. Ulysses, for example, can be read in twenty languages. To be inclusive, new critical and Joyce-related books are added to the collection as are new editions of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
The collection serves as the primary research resource for scholars from the U.S. and throughout the world. They come from Switzerland and from England, from Ireland and Belgium, from France and Greece, from universities in California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois just to have access to it. Faculty and students at UB and other area universities and colleges make extensive use of the collection.
The James Joyce Collection is irreplaceable. It is also extremely fragile. Some of the oldest papers in its archive, now nearly one hundred years old, are showing signs of deterioration. Some of Joyce’s first magazine appearances were published in newsprint magazines that are crumbling. For scholarly and historical reasons, these precious papers must be preserved in their original form. State funds are simply not available to underwrite the stewardship necessary to protect the collection’s physical integrity. Private philanthropy brought the Joyce Collection to UB, and generous philanthropy is needed now to secure its future.
So unique is the Joyce Collection that it is incumbent on UB to share it with a larger audience. To accomplish this, the Poetry Collection, the University Art Galleries and the School of Architecture and Planning are collaborating on an exhibition entitled Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection. It will display significant parts of the collection when it debuts at the UB Anderson Gallery during Eire on the Erie, the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference. Following the conference, plans are to tour the exhibit to selected cities throughout the country. This traveling exhibition will encourage appreciation of the genius of James Joyce, will advance scholarship of his literary contributions, will raise awareness of the accessible and rich archive that constitutes the James Joyce Collection at UB and will spread Western New York’s growing reputation as a cultural destination.
To call further attention to Joyce in Buffalo and at the Poetry Collection, the UB Department of English is seeking to establish a James Joyce Scholarship Chair. Attracting a distinguished senior scholar with an established reputation in Joyce studies to UB will draw international attention to the Joyce manuscripts and papers and will afford graduate students a unique and ideal opportunity to study Joyce through primary materials along with a top Joyce scholar. Through the endowed James Joyce Scholarship Chair, the University and the Department of English will not only enhance recruitment of high-quality graduate students interested in Modernism, early 20th-century fiction and Irish Studies, but it will also make the Department even more attractive to high-caliber potential faculty working in related fields.
The James Joyce Collection - The Discovering James Joyce Exhibition - The James Joyce Scholarship Chair - The Poetry Collection - The University at Buffalo. All are worthy of the generosity of friends and alumni who value the advancement of knowledge along with the conservation and enhancement of culture.
Last Update: November 2008