GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 12 (Spring 2012)
 

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Before King Roderick Became Publican in Chapelizod

The origins of the origins of Finnegans Wake

 

Robbert-Jan Henkes

 

Let me take you down to before the beginning of what would become, in the end, Finnegans Wake, that dark and wordheavy raincloud, and how it grew from an unlikely drop of water vapour. To the very conception and the first shaky words of that living nightmare. What Rose and O’Hanlon call ‘the Ulysses-Finnegans Wake interface,’ and which Joyce refers to in the final Wake as ‘the beginning of all thisorder’ (FW 540.19)

 

1922. Ulysses was shining Greekflagblue in the window of Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach’s bookshop with lending library in the Rue de l’Odéon in Paris. I say was shining, because now a sign “Ulysses by James Joyce is sold out” is shining, pasted on Greek­flagblueandwhite graph paper in her window.

 

[In: James Joyce’s Letters to Sylvia Beach, ed. Banta & Silverman, Plantin 1987, p.106]

 

All 750 copies of the first edition are gone. After seven years of toils and troubles, trials and tribulations, it was finally published, the novel that would be voted Novel of the Twentieth Century. Joyce calculated that the book, weighing 1550 grams and astrono­mically priced at 150 francs, was written at 21 addresses and that it had taken him 20.000 hours of work. Readers and critics agree that this is the limit, or even shockingly sur­passing any limit, whether it is of speeding, indecency, incomprehensibility or sheer volume. The word cannot become any more book nor any more flesh. Never before had all sides of life been caught more completely in the fishing nets of language. Never before did every word appeal to all five or six senses at the same time. Ulysses had changed the smiling happy simple storybook face of the novel for good. Overnight, the modern novel had become the premodern novel.

 

What could Joyce do, having written the novel of the century, and having reached on his lonely own the outer limits of lonely planet literature? Was there anything left to do? Maybe he would call it a day? Maybe write a pulpy novelette to scare the critics and to earn some easy money? Maybe he would write a children’s book that will sell more than 750 copies?

 

In August 1922, Joyce was in London. His eyes were suffering from a sudden attack of con­junctivitis, making him unable to visit the seaside resort of Bognor, a trip he had to postpone to the next year. In London, for the first time he met his financial guardian angel, the good fairy Harriet Shaw Weaver, who would support him till the end of his mortal days with the equivalent of more than a couple of million modern Euros, enough to live lavishly, like a world famous writer should. When she asked him about his new plans, he casually announced: “I think I will write a history of the world.”

 

It is always good to take Joyce at his word. In this case too, because what else is Fin­ne­gans Wake but a highly condensed history of the world, which took sixteen years of simmering to boil down? The question is: how do you go about writing a history of the world? Where do you start? Nietzsche most likely wrote the shortest one ever: “Once, in a faroff corner of a universe bestrewn with solar systems, there was a planet, which became moulded over by a thinking fungus and died and that was the end.” But this deep philosophical sort of thing obviously was not what Joyce had in mind. After his announcement, it took three months before he jotted down his first post-Ulysses note and another three before, on 11 March 1923, he could tell Harriet Weaver that he had just written his first words after the final ‘yes’ of Ulysses.

 

The very first instalment of his projected universal history is a small skit in which a barkeeper is conflated with the last elected king of all Ireland, Roderick O’Conor, who was deposed when the English king Henry II (‘Enwreak us wrecks’ – FW 545.23) and his band of Anglo-Norman robbers annexed the island in 1172, and gave the city of Dublin to the inhabitants of Bristol. The king-pubkeeper stumbles about his premises after closing time and drinks the dregs from the glasses of his customers, after which he falls over. Joyce appropriately starts his sketch with ‘So anyhow’ – as if the whole of Ulysses was no more than an interlude, an interruption, ‘a small prelude to Work in Progress,’ as he would confide to Jacques Mer­canton years later. The language is still a long way from the sleepwakean as we now know it, but there is an undoubtedly nightly, vague, shadowy, dreamheavy and doom-laden exuding from it, despite its comic quality, or maybe because of it. In a letter accompanying the sketch, Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver that the ‘passage is towards the end of the book,’ which implies that he was already far enough in his pondering of the imponderable that he could even more or less foresee whereabouts this sketch would wind up in the finished work. The very first draft of the skit, without the additions and changes Joyce made on the fly, currente calamo, as he was writing, split nano-seconds later, so just his first inklings, runs as follows:

 

So anyhow to wind up after the whole beanfest was all over poor old King Roderick O’Conor the last King of all Ireland who was anything you like between fiftyfour and fiftyfive years of age at the time after the socalled last supper he gave or at least he wasn’t actually the last King of all Ireland for the time being because he was still such as he was the King of all Ireland after the last King of all Ireland Art MacMurrough Kavanagh who was King of all Ireland before he was anyhow what did he too King Roderick O’Conor the respected King of all Ireland at the time after they were all of them when he was all by himself but he just went heeltapping round his own right royal round rollicking table and faith he sucked 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 happened to be left in the different bottoms of the various drinking utensils left there behind them by the departed honourable guests such as it was either Guiness’s or Phoenix Brewery Stout or John Jameson and Sons or for that matter O’Connell’s Dublin ale as a fallback of several different quantities amounting in all to I should say considerably more than the better part of a gill or naggin of imperial dry and liquid measure.

[JJA 54:446(a)-(b), BM 47480-267, FDV 203-204 (simplified)]

 

So this is the form his history would take – an anarchic, anachronistic, anarchronistic mixup in which the protagonists are archetypes and prototypes with a plethora of historical antecedents, fusing into one another. If Leopold Bloom was Ulysses, he could have walked with his bow through Dublin and taken a trolley, and if Joyce had wanted to write another Ulysses, he could have called it Roderick O’Conor.

 

In Ulysses, all space was condensed into the timespan of one day. In Finnegans Wake, all time would be condensed into the tiny spacespan of Howth Castle and Environs. Time and Space would change places, as if the trees and buildings were moving and we were standing still.

 

In quick succession Joyce wrote some more small sketches, one about Saint Kevin in a (hip)bathtub, one with Tristan and Isolde as a butch football player and his darling, one about the four evangelists as doddering old men, an aborted sketch about Saint Dymphna burning a copy of the Irish Times in the chimney to clean it, and a sketch about Saint Patrick being converted by the arch-druid Berkeley. The sixth sketch took up the innkeeper again, who by now found his final name, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, from which Work in Progress really started.

 

The Textual Diaries

 

But how did Joyce hit upon the idea of King Roderick as a pubkeeper? What was he thinking these six months between his offhand announcement to Harriet Shaw Weaver and the writing of his first sketch? What made him finally take up his pen and begin his universal history? Is it possible to find out what led him to the first sketch? Can we look inside Joyce’s head? Yes we can, as a matter of fact. To a certain extent at any rate. Through the miracle of transcription of the notebooks that he kept, what Danis Rose calls his ‘textual diaries’, which have been published by Brepols, twelve of the projected fiftyfive up to now.

 

The preamble to the Roderick O’Conor sketch, the lull between two storms, spans the entire first post-Ulysses Note­book, mistakenly numbered B.10, and just as mistakenly known as Buttle, after the first word on what was for a long time thought to be the first page, but is in fact the second, because the leaf became detached and was turned when it was photographed for the mighty heap great big James Joyce Archive in the late 1970s.

 

After a halfhearted attempt to correct typos of the first edition of Ulysses, Joyce started to take notes for his new work while on holiday in Nice, at the beginning of November 1922; the last notes in this notebook date from the middle of February 1923. Between the end of this notebook VI.B.10 and the beginning of the next notebook, numbered VI.B.3, Joyce wrote the Roderick O’Conor piece. The question now is, do these Buttle notes hint in any way at what was to come?

 

The notes almost exclusively derive from newspaper sources. Vincent Deane has identi­fied some 9 newspapers that Joyce read in the relevant months, most of them English. He read the Irish Times, the Daily Mail, The Leader, the Sunday Pictorial, the Daily Sketch and Daily News, the Times, the Evening Standard, the Illustrated Sunday Herald and the Sunday Pictorial, and probably some other newspapers too, that still have to be uncovered. Some of them at least were sent to him on a daily basis by Michael Healy, Nora’s uncle, to others he probably subscribed. Of the 1277 notes in this notebook, 391 have been located in newspapers, that is almost one in four. But, as the Notebook updates in the Genetic Joyce Studies show, new newspaper sources are still being discovered by Mikio Fuse, who is diligently scanning the online media archives.

 

And what kind of notes did Joyce take from this flurry? History itself conspired against Joyce: when Ulysses was published, civil war was raging in Ireland, and when Finnegans Wake was published, the Germans occupied Poland and the Russians invaded Finland: in quieter times, Joyce was sure, the world would have gladly resigned and wholeheartedly surrendered to reading his novels – Joyce took notes from the cooking sections for making apple pies and syllabubs, he made a list of London churches, took down quite a few golf terms scattered throughout the notebook, he noted words and phrases from ‘Our Ladies Letter’ section, facts about bats, expressions like ‘search me’, ‘pon my Sam’, ‘I bet you,’ and ‘holybones’, he took words from advertisements for per­sonnel (‘Youth wanted’), advertisements for Bird’s Egg Substitute cake-meal (‘a tin with a purpose’), for Hustler soap, for the Colgate Shaving Stick, for the Schoolgirl’s Weekly Magazine; one of his favourite pastimes is finding out of the way surnames from the births, marriages and deaths sections, possibly for his future characters. We have seen Buttle (taken from an In Memoriam for Lieutenant Albert Edward Buttle of the Royal Irish Rifles), but his attention was also drawn to such names as Beasly, Le Toler, Loftus Cliffe, Gordon Bottomley, Jerry Perry, Peebles, Frank Cinnamond, Rennix, Mannix, Ormsby, Bullwinkle, Sheila Harnett, Sigesmund Moss, a Mr. Johnjack, Phelan, Dame Alice Bar­bara Esmonde (this would in fact become, half a year onwards, Anna Livia Plurabelle’s shortlived original name), and names as Shee, Crinion, Colthurst, William Dakin Water­house, and of course the inevi­table Shufflebotham.

 

[Left: the advertisement that yielded three notebook entries on VI.B.10.113 (cut & come again / one apiece } cakes, rock buns, a tin with a purpose) as well as two appearances in Finnegans Wake,[1] as published in the Strand Magazine, March 1922. Right: the adver­tisement that yielded three notebook entries on VI.B.10.085, (unscrew stub, a refill, threaded) but no FW appearances, as published in the Popular Science magazine, March 1919. These particular instances are not Joyce’s ultimate sources, though.]

 

There are only two notes that could be seen as conceptual. ‘Polyfemous is Ul’s shadow,’ the very first note, the one which made him stop correcting Ulysses, is an odd premonition of the Night Book of the Giant Finn, and it shows that for Joyce all his works were interconnected sequels or prequels.[2] The other seems to point to Joyce’s cyclical view of history. On B.10.040, Joyce notes ‘cycles of hist. W. Tone Childers’: Joyce here connects, or takes over the connection made in an unidenti­fied newspaper report, between the prison suicide of Theobald Wolfe Tone in 1798 (forestalling execution) and the arrest of the IRA revolutionary Erskine Childers on 11 November 1922 and his execution two weeks later.

 

This is an interesting note, because Erskine Childers was a cousin of Hugh Culling Eardly (or HCE) Childers, the British politician whose generous girth earned him the nickname Here Comes Everybody, and who is by this grace one of the avatars of our own Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker himself. Another interesting link, lurking under the surface, connects this note with the execution of three other Irish revolutionaries in retaliation of the retaliation of Childers’ execution, one of them being a certain Rory O’Connor, a name­sake, or a postfiguration, a repeat as it were of the last elected King, the main charac­­ter of the imminent first pre-Wakean sketch.

 

But these two compositional notes aside, the Buttle collection is a curiously unfocused bunch, very unlike later notebooks, where Joyce was also reading newspapers, but books too, specifically chosen for the episodes on which he was working at the time. Here he is clearly not working yet on any set theme. The impression is that he reads so many newspapers mainly to see if the publication of Ulysses had left any ripples, whether there were references to it, be it ever so obliquely, or reviews in the press. The newspaper notes don’t show any indication thatJoyce was about to start writing again,let alone what about. As a lexical magpie, a lexical sponge, he was continuously adding to his word-hoard, sucking up words for later use. In the end he hit upon a scheme in which he could use all his notes from newspapers as the Tagesreste (remains of the day) of a World dreaming, so that all his work was not for nothing. But that scheme was still in the unforseeable future.

 

All this has been known for the most part. But! Thanks to a magical new device that was only gathering momentum at the time this Notebook was published in 2001, the internet, we now know that Joyce not only read newspapers, but some real hardcovered books as well. With the help of Google Books and other digital resources, such as the wayback machine of Archive.org, I have been able to locate some six or seven clusters of notes in various books – and I think I may have found the final trigger for Joyce to kick­start him into writing his Roderick O’Conor sketch.

 

More Books at the Wake! Let us look at these new sources. Everything Joyce read ultimately also belongs to his biography and is already worth researching in that respect alone, but these books also provide clues for our understanding of how Joyce conceived Finnegans Wake,  what his first ideas looked like and how his planned history of the world was gestating. They won’t really help us understand Finnegans Wake any better, but they will give us insight into Joyce’s working methods and give us a sneak preview into his brainpan at the start of his new work. As A. Walton Litz perceptively intimated in 1961: ‘the process of composition parallels the process which we follow as readers’, and to ‘trace the evolution of an episode is to re-enact our own gradual apprehension of the work’ (The Art of James Joyce 32). In this respect the beginning is a good a place to start for reader and writer alike. An understanding of its compositional history, its genetics, its growth and proliferation, will render Finnegans Wake a little more intelligibly unintelligible, more clearly unclear: in short a more potently and deeply darkened sticky stew.

 

In a certain sense, there are no important or unimportant books at the Wake. Joyce read ’pataphysically: everything he read could be used to cull words and phrases or to spark off his imagination. All books are thus equally unimportant: he used everything he could lay his hands on. Even the Scienza Nuova of Giambattista Vico, often quoted as a fundamental work, which provided the trellis for Joyce’s cyclical history, was plun­dered for words only when Joyce reread it in April-May 1925, as witnessed in notebooks VI.B.7 and VI.D.2.

 

The nice thing about our computerized age is that everybody can start hunting sources from his ergonomic comfy chair behind his desk. With a National or University Library at hand you can immediately check suspects – and with Abe­books.com the source books will come flying to you from all over the world with one click of the button. No more romantic genetic outings to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris or to Nice, where Joyce started taking notes. And now all this internet research, churning data, yielded these seven books that Joyce read at the inception of his new work. Here’s a picture of the books, copies of which he actually held in his hands, and touched with his eyes, that were present in his thought, in the no-man’s land between Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, between November 1922 and January 1923:

 

 

Let’s take a closer look at these newfound source books and see if they tell us something about what Joyce was thinking, what he was doing, what he was planning, what he had in mind. How purposeful or how random was this his reading? Joyce had a kind of homeopathic way of writing – thinking that the merest word from a book, even if he forgot which book it was, or what the word meant, contained all the book’s power in a nutshell – and that quoting one word of, say Huckleberry Finn, was enough to impart the strength of everything that was in it. That is one reason why I will only occasionally go into the question which entries finally made it into Finnegans Wake: more often than not Joyce inserts the words without regard to the original context. Plus, there was no Finnegans Wake yet.3)[3] It would take months before Joyce started to harvest his notes and use them in his new sketches. Some of them even lay waiting for years. The B.10 Notebook Joyce would revert to until his very writ’s end, 1933-1936, and even the last Notesheets, in the Jahnke-bequest in the Zürich James Joyce Foundation, com­piled for the finalization of II.3, show him still culling Buttle notes, albeit from the transcription by Mme Raphael in the so-called C.5 Notebook, when the rest of the book had already been typeset, deep into 1938. And anyway, we are looking at the beginning, not the end.

 

Mill, Balfour, Bennett

 

On page 23 and 24 of the Buttle Notebook, for the first time we see Joyce delving into Irish history: he is reading John Stuart Mill’s short 1868 essay England and Ireland, in which Mill eminently reasonably argues that what is good for England may not be good for Ireland. From the forty-five page pamphlet Joyce distills seven notes, historical, but hardly universal: the words ‘disaffection,’ ‘unredressed’ (both from the first page, see reproduction), ‘Whiteboy & Rockite,’ ‘respite,’ ‘carry fire and sword,’ ‘cottier,’ and the fine phrase ‘This representation does not accord with my experience,’ being a polite and academically correct way of telling your opponent that he is talking a load of bloody nonsense. This is also why I will rarely refer to the ultimate location in Fin­negans Wake, because Joyce only incorporated this phrase, lock, stock and barrel very late, between 1933 and 1936 (at FW 509.01-2), by which time the semantic connection with the original Millian context of the Irish Question, tenuous as it no doubt already was, must have been so thin as to be almost non-existent.

 

 

Joyce’s interest in scholarly and unwittingly ridiculous phrasings was constant, because from the next book he read, the notes almost exclusively focused on the author’s professorial mannerisms. Arthur Balfour, the later writer of the founding document for the state of Israel, wrote some voluminous and futile attempts to reconcile philosophy and religion, and from one of these, modestly called The Foundations of Belief Being Introductory to the Study of Philosophy, Joyce on Notebook page 39 and 40, culled some fine phrases: ‘far from being the least important’, ‘To begin with’, ‘Are they? We shall see.’ and a phrase which sounds like the purest Irish bull found in real-life non-fiction: ‘the data, did we possess them, are too complex’ – in which the nicety of course is, that it is a major feat to see the over-complexity in data that manage to be non-existent, even. Later we find the same reasoning in Earwicker’s self-defence to his detractors: ‘I did not do it, and everybody in my place would have done the same.’ The Balfourian non-sequitur would, within a year, be incorporated into Work in Progress and end up in Finnegans Wake as, ‘Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude’ (FW 057.16).

 

 

The Balfour book yielded only six notes, and so far they don’t give us a clue about any projected history of the world, except perhaps the last traceable note (040e), which can be interpreted as an early attempt at Joyce’s later Irishstewisation of history. The note jumbles together a number of historical figures, and seems to be inspired by a passage in Balfour which also gave Joyce the ‘far from being the least important’ phrase. Balfour is trying to prove God’s existence by saying most things are uncertain and beyond our control, a logical fallacy also called the argumentum ad ignorantiam, or appeal to ignorance, and he writes about the digestive processes: ‘Of all the complex causes which co-operate for the healthy nourishment of the body, no doubt the conscious choice of the most wholesome rather than the less wholesome forms of ordinary food is far from being the least important. Yet, as it is within our immediate competence, we attend to it, moralise about it, and generally make much of it. But no man can by taking thought directly regulate his digestive secretions. We never, therefore, think of them at all until they go wrong, and then, unfortunately, to very little purpose.’

 

 

Joyce’s imagination runs off with Balfour’s suggestion that thought can be taken directly to guide the digestive secretions and he pictures himself how it is done: ‘[he] Balfour cum Livingstone / plus John Sebastian Bach / super Marie Antoinette / arsefuttered her.’ The figures haven’t fused yet, but their common denominator should be their arsefuttering. Not so much the feeding through the backside however, the contra-peristaltic way of ‘taking thought’ is of prime importance here, but the concatenation of names from history, which seem a premonition of the later all-inclusiveness of the Wakean name gallery.

 

After The Foundations of Belief, Joyce turned to Lilian, by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931). Lilian is one of Bennett’s innumerable novels, and not one that he will be remembered for, unless it is by the roundabout way of having contributed a couple of entries in a Finnegans Wake notebook. The story: a dreamy silly flapper of a girl in an all night open typist’s office attracts the attention of her old, unmarried boss, who falls in love with her. His sister, who runs the office, fires her, but they meet again, he takes her to the French Rivièra and the casino, he falls fatally ill, but they marry just in time, and she inherits the office in London. The novel ends with her, pregnant, entering the big London house of her late husband and his sister, who is just packing her bags.

 

Joyce apparently read this thirteen in a dozen novel to check out the competition, to see if Ulysses had left any telltale marks in new novels. Arnold Bennet had just published a guarded and cautiously unfavourable review of Ulysses in the April 1922 issue of the London Outlook magazine (partly reprinted in Deming, James Joyce: The Critical Heritage). In his review, Bennett commended Joyce’s occasional ‘dazzling originality’ but disapproved of his ‘mean, hostile, and uncharitable’ ‘vision of the world and its inhabitants’ (a phrase worthy of Shaun, ‘the world and its inhabitants’) and the book’s ‘pervading difficult dullness’ and ‘staggering indecency.’ Completely unlike Bennett’s own novel Lilian, we may safely conclude.

 

 

The scanty four or so notes Joyce took from Lilian show him still looking around for a place to start. One of them, ‘Write story about Riviera’ (060a) gives the impression of a mental note to self: maybe he should write a story about the Riviera after Ulysses? And then, as the next notes imply, with ‘snow, hail’ and ‘sentences without “I”’ – as is the case in two short passages in Lilian.

 

The major claim to fame of Lilian however is the last note Joyce took down, which would yield the exemplary Wakean time notion of ‘then thirsty p.m.’ (FW 100.17), deriving from page 197 of Bennett’s novel: ‘The next morning when Lilian entered his room the nurse was not there. § “I’ve sent her off,” Felix explained. “I much prefer to have you with me than any nurse on earth.” He was dressed before ten-thirty. “Now put your things on,” said he.’

 

 

In fact, Joyce wrote down ‘ten thirty’ but later, nobody knows (as yet) when exactly, he added, in ink, the ‘s’ for thirsty. Apparently Joyce was unfamiliar with this way of time notion: in Ireland and England the usual phrase would be ‘half ten’ – so this could be an early example of an Americanism in Joyce’s note taking, like ‘lunch edition’ on p.33 – possibly because he was only familiar with the Anglo-English regiolect ‘luncheon’ for a déjeuner à la fourchette.

 

These vital things you have to know as a Wakeologist, and I sincerely hope that in the future there will be television quizzes presented by Anne Robinson, The Wakest Link, and Quadrivial Pursuit games and maybe even World Championships solely about Wake source subjects, with many glittering prizes, like weekend trips to Bognor or lifetime subscriptions to specialized periodicals which inspired Joyce and were present in his personal library in Paris, such as The British Baker, The Modern Boy, The Schoolgirl’s Own, Fur and Feather, Rabbits & Rabbit­keeping or The Hairdressers’ Weekly Journal, or a weekends-only subscription to the indispensable Connacht Tribune.

 

In these months, neologisms, malapropisms, examples of faulty usage and portmanteaus are much on Joyce’s mind. Besides ‘ten thirsty’, we encounter ‘Cotelette (Colette)’ ‘re(ci)pro­cate’, ‘prejuice’ etcetera. Possibly these words are the first kindergarten signs of the full­grown mishmash mumblejumble to come.

 

Lawrence, Townley

 

Onwards, Wakean scholars. Surprisingly, the next book Joyce read was D.H. Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod, just published in 1922. It has always been a moot point among Joyceans and Lawrentians alike how much these two fierce and uncompromising modernists actually read of each other’s work. Lawrence reports how he tried to read a borrowed copy of Ulysses in November 1922, but couldn’t, in a letter from New Mexico to a certain S.S. Koteliansky, who had lent him the novel. Lawrence returned the book after eight days and wrote: ‘I am sorry, but I am one of the people who can’t read Ulysses. Only bits. But I am glad I have seen the book, since in Europe they usually mention us together—James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence—and I feel I ought to know in what company I creep to immortality.’ And to his wife Frieda he confided: ‘The last part of it is the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written. Yes it is, Frieda. ... It is filthy.’[4]

 

 

Up till now, the only book of Lawrence that Joyce was known to have read, was Lady Chat­terley’s Lover. In 1931 Joyce asked Stuart Gilbert to pick some passages and read them to him, after which Joyce commented with a single word: ‘Lush’. To Harriet Weaver he wrote of ‘Lady Chatterbox’s Lover’: ‘I read the first 2 pages of the usual sloppy English and S. G. read me a lyrical bit about nudism in a wood and the end which is a piece of propaganda in favour of something which, outside of D. H. L.’s country at any rate, makes all the propaganda for itself.’ Joyce knew what he was talking about when he mentioned ‘the usual sloppy English’ because, as we now know, he was acquain­­ted with Lawrence’s style from his reading of Aaron’s Rod in 1922.

 

Again, Joyce’s notes are few and casual; they do not point to any purpose other than seeing what his colleague was up to and in the meanwhile collecting possibly useful lexical elements for later. His notes include words like ‘chestnut burr’, ‘beef olives,’ ‘granite setts,’ ‘luggage stool,’ ‘cheep (chicks),’ ‘persimmon (cacci),’ and ‘spelch.’ It clearly didn’t provide him with a compositional breakthrough for his next work.

 

But there is one passage in Aaron’s Rod that Joyce must have read with more than his usual attention. It occurs on page 250, the same page that yielded ‘luggage stool’ in the Notebook, while the next page features the ‘cheeps’ that made it into Finnegans Wake, at FW 200.08. So Joyce must have noticed it. The main character of the book, Aaron Sisson, a flautist, gets the urge and leaves his wife and children. In Florence he visits Rawdon Lilly, a writer, at the loggia of a certain Argyle high above the street. Lilly and Aaron are talking, but are interrupted by Argyle, who puts his head through one of the windows. He is still shaving and has flecks of lather on his reddened face. Below them they see an acquaintance approaching, Mr. Del Torre, and then the shaving Argyle comes forward:

 

“Argyle stood at the parapet of the balcony and waved his arm. “Yes, come up,” he said, “come up, you little mistkäfer—what the Americans call a bug. Come up and be damned.”

 

 

This may well be a sly dig at the opening scene of Ulysses, with Argyle as the shaving Buck Mulligan. The ‘mistkäfer’ or dung beetle sounds like a wry, envious comment of Lawrence to show that he was just as capable of using foreign and out-of-the-way words as Joyce. Because Lawrence, by his own account, only leafed through his copy of Ulysses after Aaron’s Rod was published, he must have read the first fragment somewhere else, and this can only be when the Little Review started serializing Ulysses in March 1918. In that case, Lawrence knew more of Joyce and Ulysses than he later cared to admit.

 

It would make a nice subject for a paper or even an academy award winning study, the impact of Ulysses on Joyce’s contemporaries, not judging from newspaper reviews, but looking at contemporary novels, the ways in which his stylistic novelties and inventions were copied, abused or lamely, limply, impotently parodied. Virginia Woolf, for instance, could called Joyce a pimplesqueezing adolescent, but she wasn’t above using the monologue intérieur in her 1925 Mrs. Dalloway. And in John Middleton Murry’s 1924 novel The Voyage, there is one chapter written in the interior monologue-style – ‘rather feeble’, as Joyce acknowledged, but still.

 

 

During his reading of Aaron’s Rod, Joyce also took notes, on Buttle p.85-6, from the gossipaceous recollections of Susan Townley, née Keppel, of her years travelling the world in the service of her husband, himself in the service of Her Majesty as an ambassador in the years 1898-1918. In the ‘Indiscretions’ of Lady Susan, she offers us peeks into the high life in Lisbon, Berlin, Rome, Peking, Constantinople, The Holy Land, Argentine, Persia, the USA, Belgium and Holland. Although these were diplomatically feverish times, lady Townley’s ‘indiscretions’ focus on the personal haps and mishaps of the ruling families and the witty repartees of the diplomats among each other. But occasionally we are afforded a glimpse of the actual country she is living in.

 

From the chapter about Lisbon, in a story of the Italian Minister who ‘once returned from leave in a cab, on the top of which figured a shining new hip-bath,’ Joyce takes down ‘hip bath’ with the Italian translation ‘(semicupio)’ – which would have become an unforgettable attribute of St. Kevin in Book IV, if the ‘hipbathtub’ along the way hadn’t been accidentally corrupted into ‘handbathtub’ of FW 606.07, never to be restored (see JJA 63:38f, 63:63).

 

 

The seven remaining notes are taken from the chapter about Peking. The first one, ‘my belly no belong sick’ derives from Lady Townley’s being utterly shocked at having a Chinese servant apparently alluding in this way to his stomach troubles, in front of guests. But it turns out that dear Chang San is referring to a bell, as the Chinese liked to add either ‘e’ or ‘kin’ to every English word. This entry is followed by a cluster of notes that can also be found in Lady Townley’s 1904 account of her Peking adventures, My Chinese Notebook,[5] although in 1904 she gave this as a general observation, while in 1922 she purports to have experienced it herself. It is a passage in which she explains the Chinese way of circumphrastic peripherization in polite exchanges (the words Joyce jotted down are underlined):

 

The ceremonial form of Chinese conversation always amused me. It abounded in flowery compliments and quaint self-depreciatory remarks, as shown by the following questions and answers which invariably passed between us, through the intermediary, of course, of the interpreter:

I: “Distinguished and aged Wu, what is your honourable age?”

He: “Alas, honourable lady, I have wasted fifty years!”

I: “How many worthy young gentleman sons have you?”

He: “My Fate is beggarly; I have but one little bug.” [Joyce instead of little wrote ‘poor’]

I: “How is Your Excellency’s favoured wife?”

He: “Thank you, madam! The foolish one of the family is well.”

 

The last epithet, after lying fallow for sixteen years, eventually made it into Finnegans Wake, in the Phoenix Park Nocturne, when the great mother-river principle Anna Livia is invoked as the foolish one of the family who is within, at the moment when ‘It darkles, (tinct, tinct) all this our funnaminal world’ (FW 244.19). These notes fit in with Joyce’s general preoccupation with hoarding words and phrases, although the Chinese connection could point to a wish to extend his projected history of the world to other continents than old Yurp.

 

‘James Joyce of the Fens’: The Sad Case of Mr. Bernard Gilbert

 

Meanwhile, we are halfway January 1923. It has been almost five months since his offhand announcement to Harriet Weaver that he would write a universal history, and more than a year since the last ‘yes’ of Ulysses, and still there is no indication of any Work in Progress, no sign of Roderick O’Conor. Joyce is still harping on Ulysses and randomly jotting down items from newspapers and chance books, loitering with intent to work, suffering from rotten teeth and threatened by Homer’s blindness. Has he lost it? Has the inspiration evaporated into rarefied air?

 

No! Joyce is waiting for an opportunity to knock. And knock it did. In these years Joyce received many a call from readers and writers who wanted to pay their respects, bring him compliments and even do homage. But not all of them came to kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses. There were people who’d rather chop it off. One of them was a man named Bernard Gilbert, who must have visited Joyce somewhere somewhen in the middle of January 1923. (I’ll come back to my reasons for this wildly educated guess.) Gilbert was a Lincolnshire writer, now sunk into oblivion. The last that was heard of him, was in a 2007 internet survey conducted by the Guardian about undeservedly neglected and forgotten books in which he was remem­bered just in time by the 97th respondent in a list that closed at 110 comments to the original query. This Bernard Gilbert brought with him to His Master’s Appartment as a Greek gift two books he had written, two books that Joyce then read, took notes from, and that proved to be the final trigger to start writing what would become Finnegans Wake.

 

The first of these books was Old England, A God's Eye View of a Village, published in 1921, a novel in monologues. This book was Gilbert’s first instalment of what was planned to be a series of twelve full-length books, about one single moment in time in the imaginary village of Fletton in an imaginary countryside, resembling very much, at least in the dialect spoken, Gilbert’s native Northern English Lincolnshire. Imagine: twelve books about one moment in time. It uncannily resembles Joyce’s single day experience of Ulysses, though the scale is even grander than the minute of Perec’s La Vie mode d’emploi. Indeed, Gilbert’s inspiration for this megalo­maniac scheme apparently stemmed from that selfsame Ulysses.

 

 

Old England started to appear serially in the weekly review The New Age in October 1919 –the very first fragment under the title ‘Pastiche,’ a regularly returning item in the magazine, which shows that the editor wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Mr. Gilbert’s contribution. Only the fourth fragment, in the issue of June 20, 1920 was subtitled ‘The history of one day.’ The magazine The New Age was to a large extent devoted to Fabian/socialist politics, but it also published stories and articles by Ezra Pound, Katherine Mansfield, Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, Richard Aldington, Herbert Read, Percy Wyndham Lewis, H.G. Wells and many others. The editor-in-chief and driving force behind the enterprise was the aptly-named thunderstormy A.R. Orage, who would later follow Katherine Mansfield in retreat to the spiritual shelter of Gurdjieff. Orage wrote a great many reviews on a great many subjects, but always kept coming back to Nietzsche, who apparently was the biggest indigestible piece of hardware for this particular group of engaged intellectuals. (By the byway, Joyce had a book of Orage on the shelves of his Trieste library, left behind in 1920 when he moved to Paris, An Englishman Talks It Out with an Irishman, with a preface by John Eglinton, Dublin, The Talbot Press, London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1918.)

 

But what is interesting is that Orage had something to say, and something nasty to say, about the very first chapter of Ulysses when it first started to be published in the Little Review. It is sometimes thought that Ulysses was a literary bomb-shell that was dropped in 1922, and only from then on started to do its devastating work, but in fact it was a time-bomb that already surreptitiously started detonating four years earlier – as we could see from D.H. Lawrence’s little sneer in Aaron’s Rod. And Orage heard the ticking of the clock. He tried to stop the terrorist attack on June 6, 1918, just after the first installment of Ulysses had appeared in the March 1918 issue of the Little Review. In his article, which may well be the very first review of Ulysses to appear anywhere, Orage warned his readers that “the writers of the ‘Little Review’ are getting too clever even for coterie, and will soon be read only by each other ... or themselves.” With almost superhuman lack of foresight Orage singles out, as a characteristic example of what he wants to prove, the first words of the opening chapter of “Mr. James Joyce’s new novel.”

 

Stately, plump Buck Milligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing-gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned ... [Quoted with Orage’s inaccuracies, not in the Little Review version.]

 

You’d think: what on earth can be wrong with those words? They’re genius! Well, here’s what’s wrong according to Orage:

 

Now it is clear that such a passage has not been written without a great deal of thought; and if thought were art, it might be called an artistic passage. But, on the contrary, thought is not only not art, but the aim of art is to conceal thought. In perfection, indeed, art is indistinguishable from nature. The obvious thoughtfulness of the passage I have quoted is, therefore, an objection to it; and the more so since it provokes an inspection it is unable to sustain. Challenged to “think” about what the writer is saying, the reader at once discovers that the passage will not bear thinking about. He asks, for instance, whence Buck Milligan came from the staircase; how he managed to balance a crossed mirror and razor on a bowl’s edge—and particularly, while bearing them aloft; and what mild air it was that sustained the tails of a man’s dressing-gown. To these questions deliberately provoked by the obvious case of the writer there is either no answer or none forthcoming without more thought than the detail is worth. The passage, in short, suffers from being aimed at a diminishing coterie; and it succeeds in satisfying, I imagine, only the writer of it who is alone in all its secrets. Mr. James Joyce had, I think, the makings of a great writer—not a popular writer but a classic writer. To become what he was he needed to be opened out, to be simplified, to conceal his cleverness, to write more and more for the world. In The New Age, I believe, he would have been set to writing reviews for a year or two—in other words, to trying to see things as the world will one day see them. But first in the “Egoist” and now in the “Little Review” he has been directed to cultivate his faults, his limitations, his swaddling clothes of genius, with the result I have described that he is in imminent danger of brilliant provincialism.

 

 

This turned out to be a less than accurate prediction, to put it mildly. Whatever is clear, is that Orage was a firm non-believer in Ulyssibus. He doesn’t want any of it. In fact, he hates it. So, just imagine his surprise, even his delight, when about a year later he receives, dropping on his doormat, a piece of even more brilliant provincialism, but this time with all the earmarks of a merciless satire and pastiche! A countryside Ulysses. Ha! This I’m going to publish! That’ll show ’m, these clever question-beggars! This is what’s called one-upmanship! Make fun of this Joyce, that’s the best!

 

But Bernard Gilbert wasn’t at all being funny or jocose, not even jocoserious, he was on the contrary very very deadly serious, as serious as a cupboard. You have to be, when you want to write a twelve volume history of one moment. He wanted to exalt the countryside at the expense of the cosmopolitan, depraved city (‘entartet,’ Nietzsche would say), as exemplified by the descriptions in Ulysses. In the country and only in the country could the divine spark of real life be found. He is very much like Mr Deasy, who fears that ‘Old England is dying, if not dead by now’ and blames the jew merchants. It could be that Gilbert is Mr Deasy, and Old England is the book Mr Deasy wrote. (There are many Tom Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like extensions to Ulysses to be invented. For instance one could try to write the story of “Bantam Lyons at the Races,” or what happened to The Man in the Mac, or the picaresque tale of Blazes Boylan’s day, maybe in the form of theatrical penis monologues.)

 

Gilbert’s style or method has little to do with the monologue intérieur, although the breaking off of the sentences into a kind of blank verse must be meant as an approximation of the natural flow of thought and language. But as all monologues are all thought out, what the writer thinks his characters should say in their station of life, the effect is one of intense boredom. And that is because he has no distance. He is not above his subject. He doesn’t write, he proves. There is in the whole of Old England not the tiniest speck, the flimsiest fleck of a joke – and this cannot be solely laid at the feet of the depicted Lincolnshire countrysiders, one hopes.

 

Gilbert hated city life and everything that it stood for, so much so that in a fairly late review of Ulysses, published in 1925 in Chesterton’s magazine G.K.’s Weekly, Gilbert actually, and as far as I can see earnestly, proposed to kill Joyce, and Bernard Shaw too, because they are ‘disruptive writers’ without roots in society. ‘The beastliness of Ulysses is the beastliness of the modern city.’ ‘With incredible artistry,’ Gilbert says about Joyce, ‘he laboured for seven years to exhibit a wonderful picture of—himself!’ Joyce doesn’t deserve pity, but he has to be put ‘painlessly to death’ (another misunderstood Nietzschean/Darwinian touch: let the weak perish, and we will lend a hand). The review is in the form of a dialogue, and Gilbert’s interlocutor at this point cries out: ‘Now, Gilbert! You wouldn’t put Shaw or Joyce to death!’ To which Gilbert replies, in all seriousness: ‘Indeed, I would; and actively assist, if called upon. The two evils of our age are sentimentality and tolerance. We ought to kill more.’

 

 

In an editorial, Chesterton – no friend of Joyce either – defended Gilbert: ‘Few but Mr. Bernard Gilbert have the moral courage to say “Let us burn this masterpiece.”’ It is in this review that Gilbert mentions that he once spoke to Joyce in Paris – hence my guess it was in January 1923 that Gilbert brought his two giftwrapped books. (Of which no trace is left in Joyce’s library. He may have brought them to the lending library of Sylvia Beach for recycling or put them to other, still unknown uses.)

 

Gilbert wrote one more review for G.K.’s Weekly, in a heavy antisemitic vein, again like Mr Deasy, before disappearing for good. The ‘James Joyce of the Fens’ never finished his series. Of the twelve books only six were published. The last was from 1924, the volu­minous Bly Market, subtitled Moving Pictures of a Market-Day. It was dedicated to a certain Christopher Turnor, ‘thanks to whose hospitality I have been able to continue the writing of Old England.’ These words convey a pool of untold miseries, destitution, and the pain of being ignored. We know very little about Gilbert, only that he died in 1927. In an obituary in the magazine Poetry, John Rodker concluded that the appreciation by his countryfolk in Lincolnshire was ‘perhaps the best proof of the measure of his success.’ And probably, we might add, the only measure. He is sadly almost forgotten. He’d better have been totally forgotten. Only then we will remember him and he will come back. (To misquote Nietzsche’s Zarathustra).

 

Some of the virulence of this outburst against Ulysses may be attributed to professional jealousy: why was Joyce hero-worshipped instead of him? Why did he have to suffer from undeserved lack of recognition? But there may be more: Gilbert must have wanted to write a countryside counterpart to the detestable picture of uprooted citylife. Much as he detested Ulysses for all that it stood for, it is very likely that these first installments of Ulysses in the Little Review gave Gilbert the divine spark of inspiration for his own work of a lifetime. He wanted to show that the country was much more interesting than the city, which, if it was, unfortunately doesn’t show in his books. To editor-in-chief Orage the ‘village Ulysses’ magnum opus may have started as a joke, but to Gilbert it wasn’t. In a meager lousy couple of years, he wrote six full-length books, two of which Joyce read, partially-impartially, and took notes from in Buttle B.10.

 

He first read Old England (part 1), which is a series of soliloquies, a moment frozen in time, connected by an aeroplane seen by all, the equivalent of the Ulyssean crumpled throwaway floating down the Liffey, in which the actors step forward and tell their thoughts to nobody in particular, but in fact to the audience, if this audience be appreciative enough to listen or read. (Hence maybe Joyce’s first note ‘4th wall (stage)’.) He started taking notes from page 71 and he stopped on page 135, not even halfway. His note taking is almost mechanical, mainly aimed at regional or dialect words, like ‘caddis’ which is a kind of decoration in the tails and manes of horses, ‘wankling’ (unsteady), slaughtered ‘pigs on the cratches’ (a rack), ‘buy on agistment’ and words like ‘flum­muxed’, ‘spliced’ (married), ‘chunter’ (to grumble, complain), ‘fauce’, ‘pulk’, ‘whizz­ling’, ‘drilled peas’, ‘carry another drop,’ ‘chitting potatoes,’ ‘I lay’, ‘wild as wild’ and ‘drive me scranny’, all in all 28 notes. He never finished the book nor does he give the impression of being all too overenthusiastically impressed by this venture to top or overthe­top Ulysses in scope, size and frame.

 

Joyce continued jotting down dialect words in the same listless fashion from the second install­ment of the Bly cycle that Gilbert gave him. We find phrases such as ‘braunge (swagger),’ ‘rantanned’ and ‘fauce’ (for the second time), ‘to back down,’ ‘a dolch of debts,’ ‘hilling plow,’ ‘seed potatoes,’ ‘toss and tave,’ ‘a-that-how,’ ‘baggerment’ and ‘pedigree potatoes’ – all but inspiring material. And it never ripened: hardly any item found its way into the written text, which doesn’t happen very often with entire clusters of notes from spe­cific sources.

 

Still it is this book, the second book that Gilbert laid at his master’s feet, that in a sur­prising way proved to be the turning point for Joyce, because it is this book that kick­started him finally into beginning his History of the World.

 

 

 

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. (The notion that the story had to take the form of a dream, because it is only in dreams that Aristotle’s rockhard logic, according to which something cannot at the same time be and not be, doesn’t apply, would come later.)

 

Then Joyce dipped his pen in indelible ink and started the Roderick O’Conor skit, the first draft of which was probably written on the final, no longer extant pages of this Notebook B.10 or the equally missing pages of the next.[6]

 

And so King Roderick at Chapelizod was conceived, thanks to the terrible, avoidable, deterring example of Gilbert’s King Lear. There is some higher justice after all: Gil­bert was inspired by Ulysses to write his anti-Ulysses, and now Joyce strikes back by wringing the only available drop of life from Gilbert’s works and transforming it into the ultimate uni­versal history of Finnegans Wake. Gilbert is forgotten and not even read by a small coterie, while the coterie of Joyce’s readers has expanded beyond conceivable limits. Even Gilbert’s holy, healthy, homey countryside matches the parallel: some years ago the demographic point was reached that for the first time in history more people lived in cities than in villages, for better or for worse.

 

Joyce realised that his Roderick-sketch was only a small element and that he had to con­struct many more of them, so that they could fuse and become denser and denser. But that, as they say, is another story, to be found in another Notebook, and another tentative, careful exploratory probing of Joyce’s mind.

 



[1] VI.B.10.113(c) ra tin with a purpose: FW 179.04 an irregular revolver of the bulldog with a purpose pattern; VI.B.10.113(a) cut & come again / rone apiecer { cakes: FW 619.02 that urogynal pan of cakes one apiece ...

[2] Other notes which point to a projected sequel to Ulysses occur throughout the Note­book, though, e.g. on B.10.45(f) ‘had Ul stayed at home??? (demobbed)’ and 046(c) ‘Odyss = 12 predom passions’.

[3] A differently edited version of the present essay, published in the James Joyce Annual 2011, p.122-161, under the title of “On the Verge of the Wake, Joyce’s Reading in Notebook VI.B.10,” does list the further adventures of the notebook entries referred to in this essay. In issue 11 of the Genetic Joyce Studies, Spring 2011, the findings discussed here have been incorporated into the “Emendations to the Transcription of Finnegans Wake Notebook VI.B.10” (Mikio Fuse, Robbert-Jan Henkes, Katrin Van Herbruggen and Geert Lernout), on http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org

[4] quoted in Ellmann, James Joyce II, 615n, from Dorothy Brett, Lawrence and Brett, a Friendship, London, Secker, 1933, p.79 (81).

[5] I thank Mikio Fuse for correcting my initial, mistaken source identification, My Chinese Note­book, and finding the right source, ‘Indiscretions’ of Lady Susan.

[6] Danis Rose, in The Textual Diaries of James Joyce, 1995 (49), infers a (lost) notebook between B.10 and B.3 for the early months of 1923. In that case, Gilbert’s book cannot have been the take-off point for the King Roderick-sketch, but still it may have given Joyce a fresh, if deterrent idea for the interweaving of myth and reality. This non-extant notebook, moreover, may still be not extinct. Danis Rose mentions that one of two early Finnegans Wake notebooks whose existence he had predicted, turned up in 2004 at a Parisian rare book dealer, M. Jean-Claude Vrian, who sold it within months to an unknown buyer. Whether, however, it is this notebook or the one which Rose posits between B.11 and B.6, remains unknown (see The Restored Finnegans Wake, (2012, 2011) 519n1, and http://joycemanuscriptsdublin.wordpress.com/about)


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