He Was on a Quest to Perfect Ulysses, Then Vanished

Inside the search for James Joyce scholar John Kidd
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2018 10:20 AM CDT
He Was on the Ultimate Scholarly Quest. Then He Vanished
A bust of James Joyce is shown in this stock photo.   (Getty Images)

Scholars have dedicated their lives to poring over the "enigmas and puzzles" of James Joyce's Ulysses. In the New York Times Magazine, Jack Hitt describes years preoccupied with the search for one of those scholars—arguably the preeminent one, and a brash, brilliant, and eccentric one at that—who vanished. John Kidd became a "self-directed ... uber-Joycean" in graduate school, studying every edition he could find with ferocity. To understand his emergence into the public eye, you need to understand how Ulysses was written and then published, and Hitt's explanation is a riveting one: Written in a scattershot way and continually revised over seven years, the book's 1922 publication featured a "chaos [that] was botched into print by French typesetters, most of whom spoke no English."

The result was "an odyssey of errors," and the holy grail of Joyce scholars was the idea of publishing a definitive corrected copy. And then one came in the late 1980s: Ulysses: The Corrected Text, with Hans Walter Gabler as chief editor. The then-unknown Kidd picked it to pieces, pointing out errors that had been introduced in a biting essay for the New York Review of Books in 1988 (Hitt's explanation of two of the particularly contentious changes Gabler made, involving a period and the word "love," is fascinating). Kidd was snapped up by Boston University, which established the James Joyce Research Center, put Kidd at its helm, and started moving on a big goal: publishing a "perfect" edition. And then, in the early 2000s, Kidd vanished. Old colleagues said they heard he was dead. Hitt ultimately found him—a continent away. Read his full story here. (More Longform stories.)

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