Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Finnegans Wake 'can satisfy more readers than any other book'!

Joyce's biggest delusion about Finnegans Wake was that he was writing it for a mass audience. In 1930, he told Adolf Hoffmeister:

All Wakeans should read this book!
I don't think that the difficulties in reading it are so insurmountable.  Certainly any intelligent reader can read and understand it, if he returns to the text again and again. He is setting out on an adventure with words. 'Work in Progress' can satisfy more readers than any other book because it gives them the opportunity to use their own ideas in the reading. Some readers will be interested in the exploration of words, the play of technique, the philological experiment in each poetic unit. Each word has the charm of a living thing and each living thing is plastic.

Adolf Hoffmeister, 'Portrait of Joyce', in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts)

Joyce thought that by packing as much stuff as possible into the book he was widening its appeal:

'You are not Irish', he said, ' and the meaning of some passages will perhaps escape you. But you are Catholic, so you will recognize this or that allusion. You don't play cricket; this word may mean nothing to you. But you are a musician, so you will feel at ease in this passage. When my Irish friends come to visit me in Paris, it is not the philosophical subtleties of the book that amuse them, but my memories of O'Connell's top hat.'

Jacques Mercanton, 'The Hours of James Joyce', in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Potts)

This is one reason for filling the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter, published as a little booklet, with hundreds of river names. Joyce told Max Eastman that he 'liked to think how some far day, way off in Tibet or Somaliland, some lad or lass in reading that little book would be pleased to come upon the name of his or her home river.' (Max Eastman,The Literary Mind, 1931)

So Joyce thought his future readership included Tibetan and Somali children!


1 comment:

  1. I recently started a personal real-time review of Finnegans Wake and have so far reached page 159: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/finnegans-wake-james-joyce/