A NASA publicist, a Dublin letterpress printer, a crowd-funding website and a lusty fictional character have all conspired to extract a new book from James Joyce's novel Ulysses, just in time for Bloomsday, June 16. The Works of Master Poldy selectively gathers the words and thoughts of the novel's central character, Leopold Bloom, using an archaic handmade printing process and the latest trend in grassroots fundraising.
The idea for the book came from Ulysses's famous closing chapter, a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which Bloom's wife Molly says of her husband: "I declare somebody ought to put him in the budget if I only could remember the one half of the things and write a book out of it the works of Master Poldy yes." That seemed like an invitation to Steve Cole, a Joyce fan and science writer at NASA headquarters in Washington who initiated a mass tweeting of the entire Ulysses in 2011. Cole enlisted Jamie Murphy, who runs the tiny Salvage Press in Dublin, and got 95 like-minded patrons to donate $10,000 through Indiegogo.com. Then came the hard part: figuring out what to include in the book, and how to present it.
"It was actually very difficult to gather words from Leopold Bloom," Cole said in an interview via e-mail. "He doesn't have as many spoken words as other characters, even though he is the main character, but has a large range of unspoken thoughts and observations."
Cole mixed dialogue quotations with fragments from Bloom's stream-of-consciousness musings, "trying to give an impression of Bloom's outlook on life that is true to how he is presented in the novel."
Bloom's words, however, won't look at all as they do in any edition of Ulysses. Murphy's bold graphic design runs blocks of type in different colours, sizes and orientations on the pages, with what the book's Indiegogo page calls "a mix of traditional monotype methods and handset antique wooden type." The 120-copy edition will also be hand-bound.
"It's an 'artist's book,' which is to say it's intended to be a work of artistic craftsmanship in itself," Cole said. "Each group of Bloom's fragments is arranged in a poem-like stream on one page while facing it on the other page is that evocative phrase set in a very experimental typographic design. I wanted to see how typography could be used to communicate something extra about Bloom's words and his world, something we don't expect from books in general – and something e-books and Kindle can't hope to deliver."
All that ingenuity and craft comes at a steep price: $310 per copy for the limited edition. But Cole said that a mass-market edition at much lower cost will follow.
The Works of Master Poldy is one of a number of adaptations of Joyce's works made newly possible or performable after his writings passed out of copyright in most places at the start of 2012. Prior to that, stage versions, scholarly books and even public readings were routinely quashed by the author's litigious grandson Stephen, trustee of Joyce's literary estate. Ulysses has recently been the subject of a graphic novel treatment, a two-handed play, and a mashup film version. The Irish premiere of a stage adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man overlaps with this year's Bloomsday events in Dublin.
The Works of Master Poldy is also being feted in Dublin, with an exhibition at Christ Church Cathedral. The opening reception in the church crypt on June 6 may have prompted some Joyceans to recall a passage from Ulysses's "Hades" chapter, in which Bloom mulls over the fate of his dead friend Paddy Dignam, while drifting in and out of Joyce's third-person description: "He looked down intently into a stone crypt. Some animal. Wait. There he goes. An obese grey rat toddled along the side of the crypt, moving the pebbles."
Some book. Wait. Here comes Master Poldy.