Finnegans Wake – A Prescriptive Guide – 8

in literature •  2 years ago 

~ Part 1 ~ Part 2 ~ Part 3 ~ Part 4 ~ Part 5 ~ Part 6 ~ Part 7 ~

James Joyce: Time 8 May 1939

the book of Doublends Jined

In this series of articles, we have been gently coming to grips with James Joyce’s final masterpiece Finnegans Wake. Some of you are probably thinking that it is high time we cracked open the book and got on with it. We are almost there, but there are a few more things I would like to say about the genesis of Finnegans Wake before we actually dive in.

In its final form, Finnegans Wake comprised seventeen chapters, which were distributed into four parts, or books. Book I had eight chapters, Books II and III had four chapters each, and Book IV consisted of only a single chapter. These chapters are usually referred to as:

  • I.1, I.2, I.3, I.4, I.5, I.6, I.7, I.8
  • II.1, II.2, II.3, II.4
  • III.1, III.2, III.3, III.4
  • IV.1

IV.1 is often referred to simply as IV, but I prefer the more precise designation. In The Restored Finnegans Wake, Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon went so far as to divide Book IV into four mini-chapters. This actually makes sense. Joyce himself pointed out in a number of his letters that Book III balances Book I (Hart 67). Adaline Glasheen believed that a similar relationship held between Books II and IV:

I, too, am clear that Book II is balanced by Book IV and Book I by Book III. What does it mean? When we say “balanced by” do we mean opposite ends of a balance. Identity of opposites? (McHugh 65)

As Book II comprises four chapters, it would be fitting if Book IV had four sections: this is possibly the rationale behind Rose and O’Hanlon’s decision to split IV.1 into four sections. Nevertheless, these sections are not chapters, so IV.1 will always designate the whole of Book IV.

Unlike the eighteen episodes of Ulysses, the seventeen chapters of Finnegans Wake never acquired official titles. Joyce did devise unofficial nicknames for some of them, which he used in his correspondence, and some Wakean scholars have suggested provisional titles for others, but there has never been any consensus on the matter. Isolated episodes in some chapters have also acquired unofficial titles over the years. There follows a list of chapter titles I am adopting, the meanings of which will become clear in the reading of the book:

I.2The Humphriad I
I.3The Humphriad II
I.4The Humphriad III
I.5The Mamafesta
I.6The Quiz
I.7Shem the Penman
I.8Anna Livia Plurabelle
II.1Twilight Games
II.2Night Studies
II.3The Scene in the Public
II.4Lights Out in the Village
III.1The First Watch of Shaun, or Shaun the Post
III.2The Second Watch of Shaun, or Jaun the Boast
III.3The Third Watch of Shaun, or Yawn the Host
III.4The Fourth Watch of Shaun, or Dawn the Ghost

he scrabbled and scratched and scriobbled and skrevened

I mentioned before that Joyce did not write Finnegans Wake in sequence from beginning to end: he constructed the book from numerous fragments of text that were drafted and reworked out of sequence before being integrated into the whole.

The following table summarizes what we know—or what we think we know—of this complicated sequence of events. My two sources were not always in agreement, and some educated guesswork was required in compiling this table. FW gives the pagination in the original edition of 1939, while RFW gives the pagination in The Restored Finnegans Wake of 2010, which is my preferred edition of the book. Month and Year give the approximate dates when Joyce first drafted the various sections of the book. Where appropriate, I have included unofficial titles for the sections:

ChapterSectionFWRFWSection TitleMonthYear
II.3§7.B380.08-382.31294.09-296-09Roderick O’ConorMarch1923
IV.I§2604.27-607.22472.07-474.17St Kevin’s OrisonsMarch1923
II.4§1--Tristan and IsoldeMarch1923
IV.1§3607.23-614.18475.01-480.28St Patrick and the DruidJuly1923
I.2§1030.01-034.29024.01-027.32Here Comes EverybodyAug1923
I.2§2034.30-044.21027.33-035.17The Cad KernelOct1923
I.2§3044.22-047.29035.18-038.21The Ballad of Persse O’ReillyOct1923
I.3§1048.01-061.27039.01-049.29The PlebisciteNov1923
I.5§2--The Revered LetterDec1923
I.5§3--The Delivery of the LetterDec1923
I.7§2187.24-195.06148.08-153.38Justius and MerciusFeb1924
I.8§1196.01-216.05154.01-169.21Anna Livia PlurabelleFeb1924
III.3§B532.06-554.09413.34-431.13Haveth Childers EverywhereNov1924
III.4§§A-T555.01-590.30432.01-459.40The Fourth Watch of ShaunOct1925
III.2§B461.33-468.19358.19-363.21Dave the DancekerlNov1925
II.2§8282.05-304.04218.27-233.04The TriangleJuly1926
I.6§3152.04-159.23121.12-126.30The Mookse and the GripesJuly1927
III.1§C414.22-419.10322.05-325.26The Ondt and the GracehoperFeb1928
II.1§5244.13-246.35192.36-194.38A Phoenix Park NocturneJan1931
II.2§1260.01-263.30205.01-207.20Storiella as She Is Syung I1934
II.2§2264.01-266.19207.21-209.09Storiella as She Is Syung II1934
II.2§3266.20-275.02209.10-214.11Storiella as She Is Syung III1934
II.2§6279F01-279.F37216.F15-217.F30The Letter Footnote1934
II.2§9304.05-308.25233.05-237.08Storiella as She Is Syung IV1934
II.3§1309.01-331.36238.01-256.03The Norwegian CaptainEarly1935
II.3§4338.04-354.06260.32-273.39Butt and Taff IDec1936
II.3§6355.08-370.29274.34-286.40Butt and Taff IIIDec1936
II.3§5354.07-355.07274.01-274.33Butt and Taff IIJan1938
IV.1§5619.20-628.16486.01-493.07Soft Morning, CityFall1938

Sources: Crispi & Slote 485-489, Hayman 286-330

  • The Tristan and Isolde sketch of late March 1923 was merged in a complex manner with the Mamalujo sketch of the same year to create II.4 §2, so there is no II.4 §1 in the final book. This took place in 1938.

  • I.3 §2 and I.3 §3 were probably drafted as alternative versions of the one passage : but rather than use one and discard the other, Joyce conflated the two into one continuous passage.

  • I.5 §2, The Revered Letter, was subsequently removed from I.5 and inserted in 1938 into the final chapter as IV.1 §4.

  • I.5 §3, The Delivery of the Letter, was subsequently removed from I.5 and became the node from which Book III ramified.

  • II.2 §4 was the original version of Scribbledehobbles, which Joyce abandoned in 1934. He replaced it with a new version, II.2 §5, in the winter of 1937-38.

Some Points of Interest

On 16 August 1924, Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver:

I am sorry my cyclopeyed face has that worried look. Really I have got some rest and a good deal of sea air. But it is true that I have been thinking and thinking how and how and how can I and can it—all about the fusion of two parts of the book—while my one bedazzled eye searched the sea like Cain-Shem-Tristan-Patrick from his lighthouse in Boulogne. I hope the solution will presently appear. At least I have never found anything in any other way than sitting with my mouth open picturesquely. (Letters 16 August 1924)

At this time, he had written most of Book I and some of Book III. When he wrote of the fusion of two parts of the book he must have been referring to the linking of Book I to Book III. Presumably the idea of an interconnecting Book II was beginning to take shape in his mind, but he would not draft the first fragment—The Triangle— of Book II until July 1926, and he would not begin to work on Book II in earnest until October 1930.

On 21 May 1926, when most of Books I and III had been drafted, Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver about his future plans for the book:

I have the book now fairly well planned out in my head. I am as yet uncertain whether I shall start [work next] on the twilight games [II.1] ... which will follow immediately after [I.8 Anna Livia Plurabelle] or on to K’s orisons [IV.1], to follow [III.4]. (Letters 21 May 1926)

Note that he had not yet, properly speaking, begun Book II. At this stage, it seems, he only envisaged a single chapter between Books I and III. A few weeks later, however, he wrote again to Weaver:

Between the close of [I.8 Anna Livia Plurabelle] at nightfall and [III.1 The First Watch of Shaun] there are three or four other episodes, the children’s games [II.1], night studies [II.2], a scene in the ‘public’ [II.3] and a ‘lights out in the village’ [II.4]. (Letters 7 June 1926)

By the middle of 1926, then, Joyce had the book more or less mapped out in his head. It would take a dozen or more years to transform that abstract map into actual words on the page. Between May 1927 and May 1930 he struggled to make progress, and even considered giving up and deputizing another Irish writer, James Stephens, to take over and finish the book for him. This plan was no mere chimera: Joyce actually approached Stephens and asked him if he were willing to take on the task. Stephens tentatively accepted, and Joyce paved the way by explaining to him all about the book. In the end, nothing came of this bizarre episode. In May 1930 Joyce began Book II in earnest, and his enthusiasm for the projected revived. Stephens was not needed, and he took Joyce’s secrets to the grave.

During this time Joyce’s eyesight continued to deteriorate despite numerous operations, but such was his commitment to his art that he ignored his ophthalmologist’s advice to stop working. It is sometimes forgotten that Joyce was willing to risk blindness in order to finish a book that would mean so little to so many.

To summarize, then:

  • Joyce first drafted most of Book I Chapters 2-5, 7-8 in 1923-24.
  • He then drafted most of Book III in 1924-25 and in 1928.
  • He drafted the opening chapter of the book, Riverrun, in late 1926.
  • He drafted the sixth chapter of Book I, The Quiz, in the second half of 1927.
  • He drafted most of Book II between Autumn 1930 and Autumn 1938.
  • He drafted the final chapter of the book, Ricorso, in 1938.

The salient points to note are:

  • Book III originally followed Book I without a break.
  • Book I originally had only six chapters: Riverrun and The Quiz were afterthoughts.
  • Book II, another afterthought, was originally a single chapter, before ramifying into four chapters.
  • Although Book IV was not drafted until 1938, the idea for this chapter was in place by 1926.

Work in Progress

But that is not the whole story. There is another peculiarity about Finnegans Wake that should not be overlooked. In the course of the sixteen or more years that Joyce spent writing Finnegans Wake, about fifty extracts from the unfinished book appeared in various publications. Most of these excerpts were approved by Joyce, but a few were pirated from authorized editions.

The first of these fragments, an early draft of Mamalujo, was published in April 1924 by Ford Madox Ford in the fourth issue of his literary magazine the transatlantic review. As Joyce had not yet settled on a title for his new novel, Ford took the liberty of calling the extract From Work in Progress. Joyce liked the name and adopted it himself: variations of the self-referential phrase Work in Progress crop up all over Finnegans Wake.

transition 1

As Oscar Wilde once wrote: there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about (Wilde 8-9). Fearing irrelevance, Joyce was very much in favour of keeping both himself and his Work in Progress in the public consciousness during the book’s lengthy gestation. In September 1926, when ten or more fragments had been published, he wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver about his failure to get a fragment into the esteemed American magazine The Dial:

I am sorry the Dial has rejected the pieces as I wanted them to appear slowly and regularly in a prominent place. (_Letters 24 September 1926)

Just as Joyce was beginning to sense that many of those who had championed the author of Ulysses were losing interest in the author of Work in Progress, a new coterie of admirers materialized. Among these devotees were Eugene and Maria Jolas, Myron and Helen Nutting, and Elliot Paul. In January 1927, following a private reading by Joyce of the opening lines of Work in Progress, these new friends agreed to serialize Joyce’s novel from the beginning. Eugene Jolas was already in the process of founding a literary magazine, which was to be called transition. This magazine became the principal vehicle for the serialization of Work in Progress.

Twenty-seven numbers of transition appeared between April 1927 and May 1938. The first item in the table of contents for transition 1 read:

JAMES JOYCE Opening Pages of a Work in Progress.

Subsequent fragments were styled Continuation of A Work in Progress, or simply Work in Progress. They appeared in Numbers 2-8, 11-13, 15, 18, 22-23, 26-27. The first eight installments serialized the eight chapters of Book I. Book II was represented by a single fragment in Number 11 known as The Triangle from II.2, Night Studies (FW282.05-304.04, RFW218.27-233.04), as this was all Joyce had yet written of this Book. Numbers 12, 13, 15 and 18 serialized the four chapters of Book III. Number 22 included the first chapter of Book II (Twilight Games). Number 23 filled out most of II.2 with the opening and closing fragments that enclose The Triangle. Number 26 published the opening section of II.3, The Scene in the Public. Finally, Number 27 included a “Fragment from Work in Progress”, the Butt and Taff episode from II.3.

Taken together, the transition fragments represented a substantial chunk of the final text, although many passages would be heavily revised or reworked before final publication. For example, the opening words of the very first fragment read:

riverrun brings us back to Howth Castle and Environs. (Jolas & Paul 9)

That’s a bit of a damp squib compared to the final version:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Still, it’s better than Joyce’s first draft of the opening words of the book:

Howth Castle & Environs! (Hayman 46)

transition 1, Page 9

In addition to these magazine publications—some of which were quite substantial—several volumes of fragments also appeared in book form before the completion of the novel:

  • Anna Livia Plurabelle (New York: Crosby Gaige, 1928)
  • Tales Told of Shem and Shaun (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929)
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (Paris: Fountain Press, 1930)
  • Anna Livia Plurabelle (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (London: Faber & Faber, 1931)
  • Two Tales of Shem and Shaun (London: Faber & Faber, 1932)
  • The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies (The Hague: Servire Press, 1934)
  • Storiella as She Is Syung (London: Corvinus Press, 1937)

These volumes are interesting in recording how the text evolved as Joyce reworked each fragment from first draft to final publication. They are also sometimes helpful in elucidating obscure passages of the final text, as they generally record earlier, less obscure drafts.

Recently, Dirk Van Hulle of the University of Antwerp brought out a study of this important phase of the history of Finnegans Wake: James Joyce’s ‘Work in Progress’: Pre-Book Publications of Finnegans Wake Fragments. For those who are interested in such minutiae, Van Hulle’s work promises to provide the reader with a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding each of these various publications. With a current price tag of €96.38 for the ebook, I’ll pass.

Another volume dealing with the genesis and gestation of Finnegans Wake might also be mentioned here: How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake, edited by Luca Crispi and Sam Slote. This collection of essays might seem to be taking the genetic approach a little too far, but the contributors frequently share their own ideas about Finnegans Wake and what it means to them. I found this book surprisingly insightful and very helpful at a time when my own views on the book were taking shape. I recommend it.

How it ends?

By the close of 1938 Joyce’s final page proofs were in the hands of his printers, MacLehose of Glasgow. In mid-January 1939 he telegraphed some last minute changes, marking the end of a process that had begun in a hotel in Nice more than sixteen years before. On 30 January, three days before his fifty-seventh birthday, a printed copy of Finnegans Wake—still unpublished—was in the author’s hands. His telegram of gratitude to Faber & Faber in London read:


The book was formally published on 4 May 1939, appearing simultaneously in London (Faber & Faber) and New York (The Viking Press).


  • Luca Crispi & Sam Slote (editors), How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake: A Chapter-by-Chapter Genetic Guide, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI (2007)
  • Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1982)
  • Clive Hart, Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, Northwest University Press, Evanston IL (1962)
  • David Hayman (editor), A First-Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, University of Texas Press, Austin TX (1963)
  • Eugene Jolas & Elliot Paul (editors), transition, Number 1, April 1927, Shakespeare & Co, Paris (1927)
  • James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, Faber & Faber Limited, London (1939)
  • James Joyce, The Letters of James Joyce, Volumes I, II, III, Stuart Gilbert (editor), Richard Ellmann (editor), Viking Press, New York (1966)
  • Roland McHugh, The Finnegans Wake Experience, Irish Academic Press, Dublin (1981)
  • Danis Rose, John O’Hanlon, The Restored Finnegans Wake, Penguin Classics, London (2012)
  • Dirk Van Hulle, James Joyce’s ‘Work in Progress’: Pre-Book Publications of Finnegans Wake Fragments, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames (2016)
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grlay, Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co, Ltd, London (1913)

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