“Deciphering Ulysses” Now Open

put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors
busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of
insuring one’s immortality.” 

Jame’s Joyce’s famous quip about Ulysses is a challenge which exhibition curator Beth Blum takes up in this year’s Bloomsday exhibition: Deciphering Ulysses: A Playful Introduction to Joyce’s Novel. The exhibition opened this week and will run through Labor Day weekend.

The whole structure of the novel can be seen as a puzzle, and fittingly the exhibition starts with an elaborate, three-foot-long reader schema that tackles the different episodes and their many correspondences.

Gorman-Gilbert schema for Ulysses: typescript. Joyce ephemera. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

More specifically on the topic of ciphers, do you know who the real life inhabitant was of 7 Eccles Street, home to the Blooms in the novel? 

Philip Phillips, photograph of
7 Eccles Street. Dublin, 1950. Gift of Sayre P.
Sheldon and Lady Richard Davies.
2006.0004.099. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

 It was the cryptographer John Byrne, a good friend of Joyce’s. In the exhibit you can find out more about codes in Ulysses, about Byrne’s chaocipher machine (thanks to facsimiles from the National Cryptological Museum), and even try your hand at doing your own code-making and code-breaking. 

Can you figure out this text? You can if you come to Deciphering Ulysses!

The exhibit includes first editions, photographs, documents from United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses, and of course, selections from the manuscript. This section from the penultimate “Ithaca” episode (one of two episodes written in notebooks rather than on loose sheets) documents the contents of Leopold Bloom’s drawer…

James Joyce, Ulysses: autograph manuscript, “Ithaca” episode. Paris, [August–October 1921]
EL4 .J89ul 922 MS.

The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

…which you can then explore for yourself (with a puzzle twist, of course).

So come on over and enjoy our “playful introduction to Joyce’s novel.” There are puzzles aplenty to revel in and learn from, unless, of course, you’re a famous Russian-American author.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog