Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Joyce begins writing Finnegans Wake

On this day in 1923, Joyce wrote a letter to his patroness, Harriet Shaw Weaver, announcing that he had started writing a new book.

Yesterday I wrote two pages – the first I have written since the final Yes of Ulysses. Having found a pen, with some difficulty I copied them out in a large handwriting on a double sheet of foolscap so that I could read them. Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio, the Italians say. The wolf may lose his skin but not his vice or the leopard cannot change his spots.

Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 11 March 1923, Letters I p 202 

What Joyce wrote was a comic sketch about King Roderick O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland before the Norman invasion. The king, who has been holding a farewell feast, a last supper, is left alone after the guests have departed. He then goes around the table, drinking all the dregs left behind.

The piece Joyce wrote on 10 March is lost, but you can read the second draft of it here. He continued to expand it until, by July, it looked like this:

So anyhow after that to wind up that long to be chronicled get together day, the anniversary of his first holy communion, after that same barbecue beanfeast was all over poor old hospitable King Roderick O'Conor, the paramount chief polemarch and last preelectric king of all Ireland who was anything you say yourself between fiftyfour and fiftyfive years of age at the time after the socalled last supper he greatly gave in his umbrageous house of the hundred bottles or at least he wasn't actually the then last king of all Ireland for the time being for the jolly good reason that he was still such as he was the eminent king of all Ireland himself after the last preeminent king of all Ireland, the whilom joky old top that went before him King Art MacMurrough Kavanagh of the leather leggings, now of parts unknown, God guard his generous soul that put a poached fowl in the poor man's pot before he took to his pallyass with the weeping eczema for better and worse until he went and died nevertheless the year the sugar was scarce and himself down to three cows that was meat and drink and dogs and washing to him 'tis good cause we have to remember it anyhow wait till I tell you what did he do poor old Roderick O'Conor Rex the auspicious waterproof monarch of all Ireland when he found himself all alone by himself in his grand old historic pile after all of them had all gone off with themselves as best they could on footback in extended order a tree's length from the longest way out down the switchbackward road, the unimportant Parthalonians with the mouldy Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Danaan googs and all the rest of the notmuchers that he didn't care the royal spit out of his ostensible mouth about well what do you think he did, sir, but faix he just went heeltapping through the winespilth and weevily popcorks that were kneedeep round his own right royal round rollicking topers' table with his old Roderick Random pullon hat at a cant on him, the body, you'd pity him, the way the world is, poor he, the heart of Midleinster and the supereminent lord of them all, overwhelmed as he was with black ruin like a sponge out of water and singing all to himself through his old tears starkened by the most regal belches I've a terrible errible lot todo today todo toderribleday well what did he go and do at all His Most Exuberant Majesty King Roderick O'Conor but arrah bedamnbut he finalised by lowering his woolly throat with the wonderful midnight thirst was on him as keen as mustard and leave it if he didn't suck up sure enough like a Trojan in some particular cases with the assistance of his venerated tongue [one after the other in strict order of rotation] whatever surplus rotgut sorra much was left by the lazy lousers of maltknights and beerchurls in the different bottoms of the various different replenquished drinking utensils left there behind them on the premises, by the departed honourable homegoers and other slygrogging suburbanites such as it was no matter whether it was chateaubottled Guinness's or Phoenix brewery stout it was or John Jameson and Sons or Roob Coccola or for the matter of that O'Connell's famous old Dublin ale that he wanted like hell as a fallback of several different quantities and qualities amounting in all to I should say considerably more than the better part of a gill or noggin of imperial dry or liquid measure.
 
Joyce had already told Harriet Shaw Weaver that he was planning to write a 'history of the world.' As this sketch shows, it wouldn't be a history in any conventional sense. For one thing, it would look very Irish! 

PUBLICAN AND POLEMARCH

In Finnegans Wake, all the events of history are happening simultaneously. Roderic is called a 'polemarch', which was the title of an Ancient Greek general, from 'polemos' (war) and 'archon' (ruler). The king's guests are the mythical first inhabitants of Ireland, Firbolgs, Tuatha de Danaan and Parthalonians, whose coming was recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters But Roderic's medieval hall has a curious resemblance to a Dublin pub, 'the house of the 100 bottles'. The drinks on offer include John Jameson Irish Whiskey, Guinness stout, and O'Connell Dublin ale, which was brewed at the Phoenix Brewery in James's Street. The king is a Dublin publican, who gets drunk on the dregs because he doesn't want to drink his own profits. This reminds me of Larry O'Rourke, the canny publican in Ulysses, 'rinsing empties and old man in the cellar' ('old man' - beer slops sold to unsuspecting customers).


The king is also a great man who has fallen from high position, like Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, whose ale he serves.  In 1843, campaigning for repeal of the Union, O'Connell held his greatest mass meeting at Tara, the seat of the Irish High Kings. Soon after, he was arrested, tried for ‘conspiring to change the constitution by illegal methods’, and imprisoned. O'Connell died shortly after from 'softening of the brain'.

The fall of great men, from Humpty Dumpty to the giant Finn MacCool, is a major theme in Finnegans Wake

After finishing it, Joyce put the sketch aside until 1938, when he expanded it further and included it as the end of his pub chapter. In the final version, the publican king, who is now HCE ('hospitable corn and eggfactor') collapses unconscious on his throne, while his pub is transformed into a ship, the Nancy Hans. This provides the setting for the Mamalujo section which follows.

Here's the earliest surviving draft, covered in Joyce's revisions, from David Hayman's A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake.
 
David Hayman has a wonderful description of the sketch on pages 295-6 of How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake:

'One wonders whether, when he drafted 'Roderick', Joyce had any inkling of the joys and torments that would fill the remainder of his creative life....Though at the time he could have only the vaguest sense how he would get there, it is possible that when he drafted this foundational skit Joyce really did know where he wanted his 'universal history' to go. From the start 'Roderick' was a tour de force, a breathless paragraph punctuated as a single sentence carrying the reader along by sheer verbal energy towards an inglorious anticlimax. Though we may think of him as the historic loser, Roderick was ready to become the Majesty of ALP's letter long before that missive was imagined. More surprisingly and long before the advent of HCE, he is a publican in his 'house of 100 bottles.'...As the host at a 'last supper', a lowly 'beanfeast' he is a Christ celebrating the anniversary of his 1st coming.' Already we have the carnival king as sacrificial victim and the pantomime event in the form of a truncated shaggy dog tale....Whether or not he had already imagined something like the situation of II.3, he had already written in 1923 the necessary conclusion to HCE's agony in the barroom. Or rather he had already set the bar for that chapter to leap.....'

Here's the final version published as pages 380-2 of Finnegans Wake:

So anyhow, melumps and mumpos of the hoose uncommons, after that to wind up that longtobechronickled gettogether thanksbetogiving day at Glenfinnisk-en-la-Valle, the anniversary of his finst homy commulion, after that same barbecue bean feast was all over poor old hospitable corn and eggfactor, King Roderick O’Conor, the paramount chief polemarch and last pre-electric king of Ireland, who was anything you say yourself between fiftyodd and fiftyeven years of age at the time after the socalled last supper he greatly gave in his umbrageous house of the hundred bottles with the radio beamer tower and its hangars, chimbneys and equilines or, at least, he was’nt actually the then last king of all Ireland for the time being for the jolly good reason that he was still such as he was the eminent king of all Ireland himself after the last preeminent king of all Ireland, the whilom joky old top that went before him in the Taharan dy-nasty, King Arth Mockmorrow Koughenough of the leathered leggions, now of parts unknown, (God guard his generous comicsongbook soul !) that put a poached fowl in the poor man’s pot before he took to his pallyass with the weeping eczema for better and worse until he went under the grass quilt on us, nevertheless, the year the sugar was scarce, and we to lather and shave and frizzle him, like a bald surging buoy and himself down to three cows that was meat and drink and dogs and washing to him, ’tis good cause we have to remember it, going through summersultryngs of snow and sleet witht the widow Nolan’s goats and the Brownes girls neats anyhow, wait till I tell you, what did he do, poor old Roderick O’Conor Rex, the auspicious waterproof monarch of all Ireland, when he found him- self all alone by himself in his grand old handwedown pile after all of them had all gone off with themselves to their castles of mud, as best they cud, on footback, owing to the leak of the McCarthy’s mare, in extended order, a tree’s length from the longest way out, down the switchbackward slidder of the land-sown route of Hauburnea’s liveliest vinnage on the brain, the unimportant Parthalonians with the mouldy Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Danaan googs and the ramblers from Clane and all the rest of the notmuchers that he did not care the royal spit out of his ostensible mouth about, well, what do you think he did, sir, but, faix, he just went heeltapping through the winespilth and weevily popcorks that were kneedeep round his own right royal round rollicking toper’s table, with his old Roderick Ran-dom pullon hat at a Lanty Leary cant on him and Mike Brady’s shirt and Greene’s linnet collarbow and his Ghenter’s gaunts and his Macclefield’s swash and his readymade Reillys and his pan-prestuberian poncho, the body you’d pity him, the way the world is, poor he, the heart of Midleinster and the supereminent lord of them all, overwhelmed as he was with black ruin like a sponge out of water, allocutioning in bellcantos to his own oliverian society MacGuiney’s Dreans of Ergen Adams and thruming through all to himself with diversed tonguesed through his old tears and his ould plaised drawl. starkened by the most regal of belches, like a blurney Cashelmagh crooner that lerking Clare air, the blackberd’s ballad I’ve a terrible errible lot todue todie todue tootorribleday, well, what did he go and do at all, His Most Exuberant Majesty King Roderick 0’Conor but, arrah bedamnbut, he finalised by lowering his woolly throat with the wonderful midnight thirst was on him, as keen as mustard, he could not tell what he did ale, that bothered he was from head to tail, and, wishawishawish, leave it, what the Irish, boys, can do, if he did’nt go, sliggymaglooral reemyround and suck up, sure enough, like a Trojan, in some particular cases with the assistance of his vene-rated tongue, whatever surplus rotgut, sorra much, was left by the lazy lousers of maltknights and beerchurls in the different bottoms of the various different replenquished drinking utensils left there behind them on the premisses by that whole hogsheaded firkin family, the departed honourable homegoers and other sly- grogging suburbanites, such as it was, fall and fall about, to the brindishing of his charmed life, as toastified by his cheeriubicundenances, no matter whether it was chateaubottled Guiness’s or Phoenix brewery stout it was or John Jameson and Sons or Roob Coccola or, for the matter of that, O’Connell’s famous old Dublin ale that he wanted like hell, more that halibut oil or jesuits tea, as a fall back, of several different quantities and quali-ties amounting in all to, I should say, considerably more than the better part of a gill or naggin of imperial dry and liquid measure till, welcome be from us here, till the rising of the morn, till that hen of Kaven’s shows her beaconegg, and Chapwellswendows stain our horyhistoricold and Father MacMichael stamps for aitch o’clerk mess and the Litvian Newestlatter is seen, sold and delivered and all’s set for restart after the silence, like his ancestors to this day after him (that the blazings of their ouldmouldy gods may attend to them we pray!), overopposides the cowery lad in the corner and forenenst the staregaze of the cathering candled, that adornment of his album and folkenfather of familyans, he came acrash a crupper sort of a sate on accomondation and the very boxst in all his composs, whereuponce, behome the fore for cove and trawlers, heave hone, leave lone, Larry’s on the focse and Faugh MacHugh O’Bawlar at the wheel, one to do and one to dare, par by par, a peerless pair, ever here and over there, with his fol the dee oll the doo on the flure of his feats and the feels of the fumes in the wakes of his ears our wineman from Barleyhome he just slumped to throne.
So sailed the stout ship Nansy Hans. From Liff away. For Nattenlaender. As who has come returns. Farvel, farerne! Good-bark, goodbye!
Now follow we out by Starloe! 


3 comments:

  1. This passage has always been a source of fascination. So much thought-for-food here, not least of which because it's the first brick in the FW edifice. That line about the "last pre-electric king of Ireland" always intrigues me.

    That draft page is astounding. All those winding lines attached to additions and revisions.

    Have you read George C. Gibson's book "Wake Rites"? It concerns the High Kings of Tara being a key theme of the Wake. I've had it for a while but haven't got to read it yet. Really eager to dig in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't heard of that PQ - you must have the biggest private Wake library going!

      http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org has an interesting article by Robbert-Jan Henkes 'Before King Roderick Became Publican in Chapelizod. The origins of the origins of Finnegans Wake' which looks at what Joyce was reading before writing the sketch.

      'Bernard Gilbert’s King Lear at Hordle and Other Rural Plays is the last thing Joyce read before starting out on his sixteen-year journey. Hordle is not a game, it is one of the villages in Gilbert’s mythical Bly district. The three-act play of the title is the tale of Jacob Toulson, an old farmer, gotten well-off by hard work and not spending his money. By now Toulson owns his own house, his land and another piece of fertile land, and he decides to give his earthly goods to his only child, his ‘darter’ Matilda, a woman combining the worst of King Lear’s two elder daughters. She is returning from a nine month’s failed emigration in Canada with her hen-pecked hubby Albert. As soon as she becomes the lady of the house, Jacob is sent to sleep in the attic and to spend his days in the draughty kitchen. Well, luckily there is also a neighbour, Mrs Parrott, and to cut a short story even shorter, she manages to make Jacob see the light and tear up the deed. All’s well that ends well. The latterday King Lear at Hordle makes a narrow escape.


      Yes! Joyce must have thought. This is exactly the way not to proceed. This is precisely the way not to do it! Why explain and explicate the parallels between King Lear and Farmer Toulson, when they can be one and the same person at the same time? Toulson is Lear and Lear is Toulson. Why stress the fact that you stole your motif from Shake­speare, when Shakespeare stole his from Holinshed, indeed from life itself? My universal history will have the same eternally recurring themes, but I will condense them into an all-time-encompassing frame. My king is a publican, and my publican a king. It is all the same anew. '

      Henkes also presents a reconstruction of the very first draft.

      See http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/GJS12/GJS12_Henkes.htm

      Delete
  2. I really enjoy Henkes writing style, great stuff.

    Here is an article discussing the "Wake Rites" book:
    http://www.flashpointmag.com/tara.htm

    ReplyDelete