Ulysses was serialized by episode in The Egoist and The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920. Significantly, Virginia Woolf launched a number of short experimental efforts of her own while reading these episodes, with delight and some exasperation, as they appeared. She is famous, too, for noting well in a TLS article of April 1919, revised as “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader (first series of 1925), how James Joyce had departed from contemporary narratives by Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, and H. G. Wells. Joyce showed how to look at life in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was to look at the mind, and most notably she held that this was true in the “Hades” episode of Ulysses. Woolf made reading notes on the early episodes (“Hades” was number 6), as one reads Brenda Silver's brief descriptions of those notes (155–57), wherein Woolf went only as far as commenting on the first seven episodes of Ulysses (from “Telemachus” through “Aeolus”) as they appeared in the Little Review from March to October of 1918. In viewing the notes themselves, one finds that they often reflect the remarks that Woolf published in her TLS article. The notes are inscribed in Reading Notebook XXXI, labeled by Woolf “Modern Novels (Joyce),” Holograph M91 in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, and digital facsimiles are now available for viewing in Major Authors on CD-ROM: Virginia Woolf.
Because of this hard evidence, we may conclude that Woolf read carefully to that precise point in Ulysses for her essay. With this textual “fragment” before her, she “hazarded rather than affirmed” a “theory…as to Mr. Joyce's intention,” finding him “spiritual” (as opposed to the “materialists” just cited); as a writer, he was one
to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame that flashes its messages through the brain,…disregard[ing]…whatever seems to him adventitious, whether it be probability, or coherence, or any other of the signposts which for generations have served to support the imagination of a reader when called upon to imagine what he can neither touch nor see.(CR1 151)