James Joyce and Ulysses at the National Library of Ireland

15 June 2004 - 10 March 2006
Main Building, Kildare Street

The National Library began a new chapter of its history on June 15 2004 when a newly refurbished and enlarged exhibition facility opened on Kildare Street. The inaugral exhibition, James Joyce and Ulysses at the National Library of Ireland, occupied this new space until 10 May 2006 and attracted some 58,000 visitors from all over the world.

'James Joyce & Ulysses at the NLI''James Joyce & Ulysses at the NLI'

As well as showing many of the Library’s Joyce manuscripts and books, the exhibition exploited digital technology to make accessible on touchscreen installations many aspects of Joyce and of his works – his life, his writings, the people he knew, and the contents and characters of Ulysses.

The physical layout of the exhibition followed a modular design which allowed visitors to move around freely between installations, with no set path. The following descriptions are thematic groupings of what the physical exhibition contained:

Joyce's Life and Works

Life and Works

NLI Reference: CLAR 12NLI Reference: CLAR 12

A touchscreen biography station in this part of the exhibition allowed visitors to explore an interactive timeline of Joyce's life. The interactive was complemented by a display of biographical materials including letters, photographs, ephemera, and his British passport and two walking canes. Also on display were Joyce family portraits - paintings of Joyce himself, his wife Nora Barnacle, and his father John Stanisalus Joyce. These paintings, together with some other material in the exhibition, were generously loaned by the University at Buffalo.

Joyce’s Paris–Pola Commonplace Book
James Joyce did not keep a diary in any traditional sense. Apart from his voluminous letters, a little notebook called the “commonplace book” is one of the most revealing memoirs of any period in his life. It chronicles several crucial transitions in Joyce’s personal and artistic development. In the exhibition, visitors were able to see the original manuscript and explore it in detail with a “turning the pages” interactive.

Joyce's Dublin

Music in Joyce's UlyssesMusic in Joyce's Ulysses

Music in Dublin and Ulysses
is filled with musical references and snatches of song. A specially designed room in the exhibition drew on the National Library’s rich collections to bring Dublin's musical world to life in a collage of sound and vision. A touchscreen interactive in this room allowed the visitor to explore the music of Ulysses and featured a special extended section on the musical episode of Ulysses, called "Sirens"

Joyce and the National Library of Ireland
James Joyce and his work have many connections with the National Library. Scenes from his novels are set here and the young Joyce was a frequent reader at the NLI around the turn of the last century. The relationship between the writer and the Library was explored in the exhibition in a short film by Yellow Asylum Productions.

Confrontations 1882–1922

Joyce Exhibition, Confrontations 1882–1922Joyce Exhibition, Confrontations 1882–1922

From the year in which Joyce was born, 1882, to 1922, when Ulysses was published, Ireland experienced repeated political controversy and conflict. Political events provoked a broad range of responses, often expressed through political cartoons, leaflets and propaganda. The National Library’s collections include a wealth of such items, which were often arresting, effective and humorous, but also disturbing and divisive. A range of this material was displayed in the exhibition as a collage of the competing opinions and ideologies of the period.

In Medias Res: the city and the book
A set of pictorial maps of Dublin in drypoint, watercolour and chine collé by artist David Lilburn was specially commissioned for the exhibition. In Ulysses, various Dubliners make their way around the city over the course of 16 June, 1904 and their routes were tracable on these exuberant and entertaining maps.

Writing Ulysses

Ullyses Manuscripts on Display 
At the heart of the exhibition were the National Library's Ulysses manuscripts. Three cases contained examples of the different kinds of manuscripts used in the process of writing Ulysses - drafts, faircopies, typescripts, serial publications, and proofs. Four other cases highlighted exceptional manuscripts in the National Library’s Joyce Collection. These included the “Quinn Circe” manuscript, acquired by the National Library in 2000 in addition to 16 new Ulysses manuscripts that are part of the National Library’s extraordinary “Joyce Papers 2002”.

Ulysses Manuscripts: "Turning the Pages"
Visitors were able explore four of the Ulysses notebooks in intimate detail with the help of technology. Using touchscreens, they could digitally turn the pages of the manuscripts, magnify Joyce’s writing, and even read transcriptions of his sometimes difficult handwriting.

The Writer at Work

Joyce Exhibition, The Writer at WorkJoyce Exhibition, The Writer at Work

James Joyce did not write Ulysses, or any of his works, hidden away from the world in a private study. He worked wherever he could find space – at a kitchen table, in the living room, or sometimes even propped up in bed in the noisy, lively, domestic environment of the apartments he shared with his wife Nora and their two children. A room in the exhibition, designed by Monica Frawley, sought to evoke these working conditions.

Publishing Ulysses

Shakespeare & Company 
The young American Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookshop Shakespeare & Company in Paris, agreed to bring out an edition of Joyce's controversial new work after other publishers had refused. On 2 February 1922, she published the first edition of Ulysses. In the exhibition, material illustrating the publishing and marketing of Ulysses, as well as copy "No 1" of the first edition were on display.

Ulysses in Print: an interactive family tree

Ulysses in PrintUlysses in Print

The textual and publishing history of Ulysses is a drama spanning eight decades. Every edition of Ulysses is a unique union of language and material: each joins a version of the text to a special combination of ink, type, paper and fabric. A wall graphic in the exhibition traced the publishing history of the novel while the story of each edition could be explored in greater detail using a touchscreen. Nearby cases displayed many of the original editions. 

Ulysses: Controversy & Censorship
From first publication, Joyce’s masterpiece proved a book that would provoke strong and antagonistic feelings and opinions, a catalyst for debate and controversy. A short film in the exhibition highlighted the chequered history of reactions to Ulysses. Displayed adjacent to the film were objects associated with the controversy, including the famous poster for the Sporting Times, proclaiming “The Scandal of Ulysses”, and correspondence concerning the US ban on the novel.

Reading Ulysses

Ulysses: the virtual book

Ulysses, copy 'No 1', first editionUlysses, copy 'No 1', first edition

Ten days after Ulysses was published, Joyce inscribed copy “No. 1” “in token of gratitude” to his patron and friend Harriet Weaver. On St Patrick’s Day 1952 she presented this copy to the National Library. Using “turning the pages” computer technology visitors were able to spin the 740-page book in three dimensions, flip from episode to episode, magnify the text, and avail of audio and textual commentary.

Ulysses: contents & characters
Ulysses is a long and sometimes challenging book, with a vast cast of vivid characters. To enhance visitors' experience, two interactives in the exhibition focused in depth on the contents and characters of Ulysses. The "Contents" touchscreen allowed visitors to explore the novel episode-by-episode, showing many images of different locations in Dublin. 

Joyce's Contemporary Legacy
Though James Joyce died in 1941, he remains a figure of immense cultural and literary importance. In the exhibition, a short film explored Joyce’s legacy.

James Joyce and Ulysses at the NLIJames Joyce and Ulysses at the NLI
Back to Previous Exhibitions.