“It was a nun they say invented barbed wire.”

Line 154 of episode 8 of James Joyce’s Ulysses in the Gabler Edition serves as the epigraph for Lyn’s and my book The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire.

The afterword to our 1986 edition (added by Michael Groden in 1993—go figure) explains the theoretical assumptions that guided Hans Walter Gabler and his team of experts as they produced their authoritative edition. Near the end of the afterword, Groden notes that “Gabler’s loudest and most persistent critic, John Kidd, has since 1988 steadily and relentlessly attacked the edition.”


This morning, reading a piece posted today for the Sunday Magazine of the New York Times, I came across “The Strange Case of the Missing Joyce Scholar,” Jack Hitt’s fascinating account of the eccentric brilliance of John Kidd. Long assumed dead, Hitt discovers Kidd living in Rio de Janeiro where he is working on an impossibly complex and idiosyncratic translation of the nineteenth-century novel The Slave Isaura.

Hitt asks Kidd about his work in Boston to produce his own perfect edition of Ulysses, a project that never came to fruition. Kidd explains that “gaucho” scholars like himself are always trumped by “gauleiter” scholars like Gabler to whom the victory always goes “because of their peevish concern for ‘administrative efficiency.'”

Hitt didn’t know what a “Gauleiter” (yes, Mr. Hitt, it should be capitalized) was, but writes that he learned about their local role in Nazi Germany. And because it is a new word to him and because it is a German word, he helps us understand how it is pronounced:

“(pronounced gow-lieders).”

Hitt’s pronunciation guide looks a lot like “cow-songs” to me. If I had been his editor, I would have explained, as I have to thousands of students over the years devoted to teaching German, that you pronounce an “ie” as a long “e” and an “ei” as a long “i.” Additionally, the “t” in “Gauleiter” sounds like a “t” and not a “d.”

And, as I correct the author of the fascinating story about a man obsessed with producing a perfect Ulysses, I see myself obsessing over spelling and pronunciation and have to note, finally, in the context of Hitt’s suggestion that Joyce waited till 1922 to publish the novel because the numbers in 1921 added up to 13, that the names John Kidd and Jack Hitt share an initial “J,” double letters at the end, and 4 letters for both first and last names.

Here is a link to the NYT piece and, because the error will surely be corrected quickly, a screen shot of the “gow-lieder” paragraph:


gau short





About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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