Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Joyce's first 'biografiend'

'Life, he himself said once, (his biografiend, in fact, kills him verysoon, if yet not, after) is a wake.' 55.06

'Joyce (was) an essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognised.'
Tom Stoppard, Travesties

Not many people today read Gorman's 1939 James Joyce: The Definitive Biography.  I picked up a 1941 copy in a second-hand bookshop many years ago, and I've never seen another. It includes some great surreal Max Ernst-style photo-montages (left), by G.R.Morris, who designed many book jackets for the Bodley Head.

Herbert Sherman Gorman (1893-1954) was an American in Paris, befriended by Joyce, who chose him to be his official biographer. Joyce wanted a biography as part of his bigger campaign, which included the books by Gilbert, Budgen and the Exagmination, to shape the reception of his work. 

'Gorman's work had been chiefly in the historical novel, but Joyce thought that this training might help him. Without saying so to Gorman directly, he made clear that he was to be treated as a saint with an unusually protracted martyrdom.'
Richard Ellmann, James Joyce

The main difficulty in writing the book was that Joyce wanted to hide so many aspects of his life. For example, Gorman was expected to go along with Joyce's pretence that he had married Nora Barnacle in 1904 - in fact, they did not marry until 1931. Gorman was also not allowed to mention the real crises that dominated Joyce's life in the later 20s and 30s - his daughter's illness; the rejection of Work in Progress by almost all the supporters of Ulysses; and his own crisis of confidence, writing block, and plan to get James Stephens to finish the book. Instead, Joyce is presented as a supremely confident Olympian genius, marching 'on an undeviated road of his own art, undisturbed by explosions, no matter how world-shaking.'

Joyce went through Gorman's manuscript, making many corrections, and adding new material. Here's how Gorman originally explained the reason for the family's many changes of Dublin address, which were due to John Stanislaus Joyce's refusal ever to pay rent:

'Either John Stanislaus Joyce was restless or he neglected to find out why rent bills were sent.'

According to Ellmann, Joyce rewrote that as 'Either John Stanislaus was restless or his growing family required larger quarters.' 

Some passages in the book can be read as a corrective to Robert McAlmon's 1938 memoir, which often presents Joyce as an undignified drunken buffoon:

'Joyce wanted to climb up the lamppost. He fancied himself various kinds of dancers, tap, Russian, and belly. Nora was there however, and protest as Mr Joyce might, she got him into a taxi, and, despite his bitter wailings and protestations, drove him home.' McAlmon

Joyce's favourite cigars
This is how Joyce preferred to be seen:

'Joyce was never a flâneur in any sense of the word....He maintained rigorously his self-imposed regime of never drinking alcoholic beverages during the day. It was only when night fell sprawling on the roofs of Paris and the late dinner hour was at hand that his thoughts (released from the day's discipline of labour) turned to the pleasant bottle or carafe of white wine (he never drank red). He was quiet, self-contained, always a little formal in manner, willing to listen while he smoked his cigarettes (jaunes) and small cigars (Voltigeurs) or lifted in a beringed hand (the one exotic touch about him) his goblet of Reisling or Swiss Neufchâtel. It was only very late in the evening and in the company of extremely close friends that his wit, dry or ironic, came into play and a joyous desire to dance agitated him.'

As well as trying to control his public image, Joyce used the biography to hit back at critics and perceived betrayers - while at the same time declaring himself to be above such things!

'Even attack, and he has never ceased to be attacked in certain quarters, moved him not at all. He might bleakly wonder sometimes why he should be the butt of so many scurrilous onslaughts but his idea of striking back in the same poisonous manner never enters his mind. He cannot dissipate his intelligence in such a meaningless way.'

This is immediately followed by an attack on Sir Edmund Gosse's 'senseless and unforgivable judgement' on Ulysses!  Joyce thought he could get away with this by using Gorman as his mouthpiece but clearly here it is Joyce speaking. 

The paragraph above reminds me of the 1948 official Soviet biography of Joseph Stalin, which Stalin himself edited, shamelessly inserting the following sentence:

'Although he performed his task as leader of the party and the people with consummate skill and enjoyed the unreserved support of the entire Soviet people, Stalin never allowed his work to be marred by the slightest hint of vanity, conceit or adulation.'

Quoted by Nikita Krushchev, in his speech to the Twentieth Congress.

The irony is that the most scathing portraits of Joyce are those in his own fictions. For Joyce could be self-revealing in his art, and even refers to the biography at one point in Finnegans Wake, as 'the great belt, band and bucklings of the Martyrology of Gorman' 349.23

'I will never write another biography of a living man. It is too difficult and thankless a task.'

Gorman, letter to John Farrar, 14 September 1937, quoted by Ellmann. 



Joyce's total control over the book makes it a bad biography, but the first place to turn to to find his intentions in writing Finnegans Wake. This description of Joyce's aims must come from the horse's mouth:

'The revolutionary conception had for its modus operandi a merging of time and space and race and characters. It would be written in a language that would telescope many meanings into single words by newly-minting those words from the vast slag-heaps of language. An attempt would be made to break the bounds of formal speech and achieve that plane where the word, no longer a much-handled and partially-defaced token to arouse in the reader's mind an approximation of the thing meant, became the thing meant itself. It would be the sort of language that must be seen and heard as well as read. It would sparkle and flow like a river and it would sink heavily into the grey fogs of sleep.  A unity that out-Aristotled Aristotle's unities, a unity, as it were, that unified all time, all history and all language, would control and shape the new work. It would have the gigantic dimensions of a Myth and yet it would be contained within the fleeting instants of a dream. It would be a Myth of sleeping life as Ulysses had been a Myth of waking life....Naturally the new work would be Irish in texture although at the same time its warp and woof would imprison the universal. Dublin would be all cities, the Anna Liffey all rivers and Howth all mountains.'

'the word...became the thing meant itself' reminds me of Beckett's description of Work in Progress in the Exagmination: 'His writing is not about something. It is the thing itself.'

And now we get the most interesting section, on the overall design of Finnegans Wake and how it is based on the Viconian cycles:

'As the idea possessed Joyce he began to see it as a work that fell into various parts, each of them loosely based on Vico's theory leavened with the metaphysics of Bruno.  Part one would be curdling with the intertwining shadows and phantoms of the past and so corresponding to the Neapolitan's first institution of Religion or Birth; part two, the love games of the children, Marriage or Maturity; part three, the four levels of sleep, Burial or Corruption; and part four, the beginning of the day, Vico's Providence.'

The source for this is likely to be Joyce, because 'shadows and phantoms of the past' echoes cryptic comments he made elsewhere. He told E.R.Curtius that the '1st 8 episodes are a kind of immense shadow.' (Curtius's notes from a 1936 conversation with Joyce published by Breon Mitchell in A Wake Digest, 1968, 80-81.)

And here's Cyril Connolly:

'… the whole first [part of Wip] is … the prehistory of Dublin… the first is a kind of air photograph of Irish history, a celebration of the dim past of Dublin, as was Ulysses of its grimy present…'

Cyril Connolly, 'The Position of Joyce',  Life and Letters, 1929

This was reprinted in Connolly's 1946 book, The Condemned Playground, with a footnote ‘The first English account of Finnegans Wake was told to me by him.’ (quoted by Adaline Glasheen in A Wake Newslitter, August 1982).

It's possible that Gorman took his account from Samuel Beckett rather than Joyce. Beckett's description of the Viconian structure in the Exagmination is very close to Gorman's:

'Part 1. is a mass of past shadow, corresponding therefore to Vico's first institution, Religion, or to his Theocratic age, or simply to an abstraction – Birth. Part 2 is the lovegame of the children, corresponding to the second institution, Marriage, or to the Heroic age, or to an abstraction – Maturity. Part 3 is passed in sleep, corresponding to the third institution, Burial, or to the Human age, or to an abstraction – Corruption. Part 4 is the day beginning again, and corresponds to Vico's Providence, or to the transition from the Human to the Theocratic, or to an abstraction - Generation.'

Gorman's description of the plan of the Wake is interesting also for what it doesn't say.  There is no mention of the book being the dream of a sleeping publican, H.C.Earwicker, or any other character for that matter. That was an idea invented by Edmund Wilson in his 1939 review of the Wake, 'The Dream of Earwicker.'

The biography ends with a description of one of Joyce's birthday parties, an idyllic scene of good cheer which could have come straight out of the Pickwick Papers:

'Presently Joyce himself is singing, his fine tenor clouded, perhaps, by the years, but his artistry and his obvious enjoyment making up for the inevitable inroads of time. He sings the old songs that he loves and is not allowed to rest until he has rendered 'Molly Bloom'. That accomplished to the hilarious satisfaction of all, Joyce must have another glass of wine. He evidences some restlessness and his friends know what is imminent. It is the time for dancing.
  No one who has not seen Joyce dance can have any idea from a brief description what his terpsichorean talents are like. To enlivening music he breaks into a high fantastic dance all by himself, a dance that is full of quaint antics, high kicks, and astonishing figures. He dances with all his body, head, hands and feet and the evolutions through which he goes, eccentric but never losing the beat of the music, are calculated to arouse suspicion in the beholder that he has no bones at all. Others join in the dances and he weaves wild and original patterns with them. When the music stops he sinks contentedly into a chair. The festival has been a success.
  It is after midnight when the moment for parting (delayed as long as possible) comes. Joyce stands by his door bidding good night to his guests, and as they depart down the stairs and into the night they glance back and see standing above them the tall lean figure of a great gentleman and a great writer.'

Wouldn't it be great to go back in time to one of Joyce's birthday parties? Apart from having lots of questions for him about the Wake, I'd love to hear him sing, and see his famous dancing.

Joyce dancing, by the British painter, poet and publisher, Desmond Harmsworth

It's a shame that, with all the statues there are of Joyce, not one shows him dancing!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The sentence it took Joyce twelve years to write

'The Suspended Sentence' 106.13

On 8 November 1926, Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver.

'The book really has no beginning or end. (Trade secret, registered at Stationers Hall.) It ends in the middle of a sentence and begins in the middle of the same sentence.'  Letters 1, 246

'Many indications aside from the fact that the book begins in the middle of a sentence point out that its design is circular, without the beginning, middle and ending prescribed for chronological narratives.'

Elliot Paul, 'Mr Joyce's Treatment of Plot', transition 9, December 1927 

Although Joyce came up with this idea in 1926, when he wrote the book's opening, it wasn't until twelve years later that he completed the sentence with the ending.

Here's the end, which is the beginning of the sentence. It's spoken by Anna Livia Plurabelle, the River Liffey dying as she merges with the sea: 'A way a lone a last a loved a long the...'  With the repeated 'a' and 'l' we expect a 'p' to follow, to complete the initials of Anna Livia Plurabelle. And there it is, at the bottom of the page! 

I learned from Dirk Van Hulle's article, 'The Lost Word' (in How Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake p455) that Joyce originally wrote 'A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the', but, when the book was published, the words 'a lost' got lost!

Joyce wrote this in the winter of 1938, and it was his own farewell to writing

In 1942, Joyce's assistant, Paul Leon, recalled the day that Joyce wrote the book's ending:

'Among the innumerable critical reviews that I have gone through, I recall no mention of a point which, it seems to me, should strike us immediately: and that is the fact that the amazing postscript which concludes the work ends on an unfinished sentence, with the article 'the'; and the noun that follows this article is the first word of the book, that is to say 'riverrun'....This postscript had probably been carried in its completed form for many years in the prodigious brain that engendered it. The first version, which was only about two a half pages long, was written in one afternoon, in December 1938. It was a veritable deliverance. Joyce brought it with him when we met that evening for his usual half-past eight rendez-vous in Madame Lapeyre's pleasant bistrot, on the corner of the Rue de Grenelle and the Rue de Bourgogne...'

'In Memory of Joyce', Poésie No V (1942), reprinted in James Joyce Volume 2: The Critical Heritage, (ed Robert Deming)

In fact, one critic, Harry Levin, did notice that the book was circular, in his 1939 review.

Madame Lepeyre's bistro is now the Cafe Resto au Coin de La Rue
We know what Joyce read to Léon thanks to Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon's magnificent James Joyce Digital Archive, which gives all the drafts - read the first one here. The first version of the final sentence began as this:

'A bit beside the bush and then a walk along the'

On the third typescript, Joyce crossed out 'A bit beside the bush...' (moving it back to become 'We pass through grass behush the bush.') and replaced it with 'A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the'

The last words were prefigured in Joyce's great short story 'The Dead':

'How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park!'  

Joyce talked about his final 'the' with Louis Gillet:

'In Ulysses, to depict the babbling of a woman going to sleep, I had sought to end with the least forceful word I could possibly find. I had found the word 'yes', which is barely pronounced, which denotes acquiescence, self-abandon, relaxation, the end of all resistance. In Work in Progress, I've tried to do better if I could.  This time, I have found the word which is most slippery, the least accented, the weakest word in English, a word which is not even a word, which is scarcely sounded between the teeth, a breath, a nothing, the article the.'

Louis Gillet, Stèle pour James Joyce, Marseille 1941, pp.164-65, quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce 

John Bishop has suggested that the final word indicates the 'imminent appearance of the definite – the definite 'article 'the' –the solid and defined word of conscious waking reality.' (Introduction to the 1999 Penguin). That's a brilliant idea, but it seems to me to be contradicted by Joyce's own reading of 'the' as 'the word which is most slippery'.

Jim Le Blanc has written a whole essay on that final 'the', which he describes as 'a finger pointing at nothing...Our attention is misdirected away from the finger itself... However, we are also led to regard the 'the' itself, as a cat, say, or an infant might stare at an extended index finger without seeking anything further in the space beyond its semiotically suggestive tip.'  

'The Closing Word of Finnegans Wake' Hypermedia Joyce Studies

Edmund Lloyd Epstein has a nice reading of the end.

'The last phrase in the Wake is the most perfect iambic pentameter line ever penned....The whole phrase may mean: 'Away, alone at last – and loved! – along the river ran'. Like Coleridge's Alph the sacred river. ALP runs 'through caverns measureless to man', through the pathways of death and resurrection, back to Howth Castle and Environs, at the beginning of the book.  
  Then with the phrase, 'a loved', the tide turns, the river begins to flow backward. TIME stops and SPACE commences, as the great act of love begins again.' 
                                                                                        A Guide through Finnegans Wake

I'm not sure what some of that means. Why does the tide turn specifically at 'a loved'? How does TIME stop and SPACE start? But I think he's captured the feeling of the end.


This sentence is completed by the book's opening, which Joyce came up with in late 1926 (though some of the phrases were added ten years later):

So we begin, with the river bringing us back to HCE, the male protagonist of the book who is also the city of Dublin. We've also switched from ALP's voice to a guidebook narrator, who uses formal words like 'commodious' and 'environs'.

'riverrun' is a great and suggestive opening word. Here's what Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson had to say about it:

''Riverrun' is more than a clue to the circling plan of Finnegans Wake; it characterizes the essence of the book itself. For, in this work, both space and time are fluid; meanings, characters, and vocabulary deliquesce in constant fluxion.'   

The Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake.

People have also read into the word the Italian 'riverranno': (they will come again); the French 'rêverons' (we will dream) and 'reverrons': (we will see again, we will meet again); and the German 'erinnerung' (remembrance). It's also an echo of Coleridge's 'Where Alph, the sacred river, ran' and 'Reverend' (615.12), the opening of Anna Livia's letter which is delivered at the very end of the book. 

In his Latin translation of the Wake, Adam Roberts came up with the imperative 'flumenflue', ('river flow'): 'In this opening line Joyce is ordering his river to flow (ordering in more than one sense).'  The title Finnegans Wake can similarly be read as a command. 

The river flows past our first parents, Adam and Eve, which is also a real church on the south bank of the Liffey. The church is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception - 'Adam and Eve's' is the popular name, because it was built on the site of the Adam and Eve Tavern, where the Franciscans secretly said mass in penal days. So it can also stand as the tavern, a central location in Finnegans Wake.

Joyce has reversed the names, making 'Eve and Adam's', perhaps because we are going backwards - we are brought back from the sea at the end to the river in Dublin, and we are moving from Anna Livia to HCE.

'a commodious vicus of recirculation' suggests 'vicious circle', the cyclical theory of history of Giambattista Vico, and Dublin's Vico Road which runs beside the sea on the south side of Dublin bay.

'The Vico road goes round and round to meet where terms begin.' 452.21 

Joyce's old headmaster, Father John Conmee, uses the words 'commodious' to describe roads in his Old Times in the Barony (remembered in Ulysses):


'The Book of Doublends Jined' 20.13


That's a description of Finnegans Wake as the book of double ends joined, and Dublin's giant - the fallen Finn McCool who crashes to the ground to become the city of Dublin, with his head at Howth (which means 'head') and his feet in the Phoenix Park.

This idea, and the whole opening chapter, was inspired by photographs of a 'giants' grave' at Saint Andrew's Church, Penrith, sent to Joyce in 1926 by Harriet Shaw Weaver. Joyce had suggested to her that she 'might 'order' a piece' for his book. She wrote:

'Here followeth my 'order'...Kindly supply the undersigned with one full length grave account of his esteemed Rhaggrick O'Hoggnor's Hogg Tomb as per photos enclosed...there is a short monograph inside the church which says that the grave was reputed to be that of a hero king (of Scotland, or Northumbria) whose name I misremember, but it began with O...Such is my order for this book.'

Letter to Joyce , 1 October 1926

Danis Rose describes Joyce's excited reaction to the order:

'Joyce was electrified: here exactly was what he needed to give spin to his work in progress: the notion of HCE as a (sleeping) giant interred in the landscape and, beyond that, of a man assumed dead but sleeping. Even better, he now had the notion of resurrection of the old by the new and cyclicity (Fin, again)....Everything hung together on the fulcrum of one word: Finn. And with MacCool came the ballad-hall Tim Finnegan with his hod (who now makes his appearance for the first time) and with him, his half-erected wall (by extension the unfinished tower of Babel). With his fall off the wall came the first Fall, Adam and Eve and all their descendants down to Mr and Mrs Porter shagged out in their bed.  In a word, Miss Weaver's fortuitously brilliant idea gave Joyce the notion for a chapter, or prelude, that was destined to become the common picture of Finnegans Wake: a giant dreaming of falls and walls, a babble of tongues, a tale of howes and graves and burrows and biers.'   

Danis Rose, The Textual Diaries of James Joyce, p.95

We can follow the development of the opening thanks to the fact that Joyce sent all his manuscripts to Harriet Shaw Weaver, who gave them to the British Library.  They've been published as The James Joyce Archive, by Garland Publishing, and as online transcriptions by Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon in the James Joyce Digital Archive.

Here's Joyce's first pencil sketch of the opening, from October 1926.

At this stage, the opening is just 'Howth Castle and Environs!' and there's no indication that it's part of a bigger sentence. The exclamation mark reminds me of the opening of the Aeolus episode of Ulysses, where Dublin tram destinations are shouted out.

The hoarse Dublin United Tramways Company timekeeper bawled them off:
–Rathgar and Terenure!
–Come on, Sandymount Green!

Joyce then wrote a second pencil draft, in November, getting rid of the exclamation mark and adding 'brings us back to'. So, at this stage, he'd probably decided to end the book with the River Liffey.

On the page to the left of this in his notebook, Joyce drew a huge E, his symbol for HCE, lying on its back.

Joyce wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver that 'the sign in this form means HCE interred in the landscape' (Letters 1,254). It looks just like the 'giant's grave' in Penrith!

The sign also resembles the Chinese letter word 'shan' which stands for 'mountain' . HCE is a mountain as well as a city (Joyce told Eugene Jolas, 'Time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book'; HCE is 'a man that means a mountain' 309.04).  Joyce used this sign (which appears at 6.32) as his title for the chapter.

He shows it the other way up at 119.17, where he describes it as 'the meant to be baffling trilithon sign m' (a trilithon is a megalithic structure with three stones).  

In December, Joyce sent Harriet Shaw Weaver his version of the opening, with an explanatory key, which you can read here. He signed and dated it.

Joyce drew a little map of Dublin to explain his idea. It shows Dublin stretched out on the left and the Liffey on the right.

Here's yet another late 1926 fair copy where, for the first time, we get the word 'river', corrected to 'riverrun'.

When the opening was published in transition, in April 1927, it looked like this. 

Note how deeply indented the word 'riverrun' is on the line. It's almost in the middle of the page, giving a clear sense that we are in the middle of a sentence. It's a shame that this indentation was lost when the book was published. The ampersand of 'Howth Castle & Environs' was also changed to 'and', weakening the HCE initials.

The additions of 'by a commodious vicus of recirculation' and 'past Eve and Adam's', shown above, were made in 1936, for the printers of Finnegans Wake. Note Joyce's spelling of 'commodious', mistakenly changed to 'commodius' by the printer. With the loss of 'lost' and the ampersand, that means that there are three misprints in this sentence it took twelve years to write.

The very last part of the sentence 'from swerve of shore to bend of bay', was added, in Paul Leon's handwriting, to the page proofs on 20 November 1938.

A still from the 1982 RTE documentary The World of James Joyce.