GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 4 (Spring 2004)



Notes Toward a Timeline of Work in Progress  


Katrin Van Herbruggen


Few modern authors have been so aware as Joyce was of the importance of criticism for the reception of his later and more difficult novels. (Lernout 21) Joyce carefully read almost all the major studies that were published on Ulysses, corrected them and advised his critics. He drew up two schemes of the novel's structure and sent one to Herbert Gorman and the other to Carlo Linati. Joyce talked about the book's themes and Homeric references with Valery Larbaud and other critics and he supervised the writing of Gorman's biography and Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's "Ulysses". That the author was also very conscious about the value of his novel is evidenced by this quote from a letter to his aunt Josephine (Mrs. Murray). When it turned out that the latter did not seem to take much interest in the signed first edition of Ulysses that Joyce had sent her, he called her to account:


I presented it [=Ulysses] to you seven months ago but I never heard anything more about it beyond a few words acknowledging receipt and an allusion in your last letter. The market price of the book now in London is £40 and copies signed are worth more. I mention this because Alice [Mrs. Murray's daughter] told me you had lent it (or given?) and people in Dublin have a way of not returning books. In a few years copies of the first edition will probably be worth £100 each, so book expert say, and hence my remark. This of course has nothing to do with the contents of the book which it seems you have not read. [...] There is a difference between a present of a pound of chops and a present of a book like Ulysses. You can acknowledge receipt of the present of a pound of chops by simply nodding gratefully, supposing, that is, that you have your mouth full of as much of the chops as it will conveniently hold, but you cannot do so with a large book on account of the difficulty of fitting it into the mouth.  (LI 190; 23 Oct. 1922)


So, thanks to the help of the author himself Ulysses has revealed a lot of its secrets.


Things are different for Joyce's last work Finnegans Wake. When the book finally appeared on May 4th, 1939, after sixteen years of composition, critics who were not familiar with the publication of early parts in booklets and periodicals like transition and Criterion were amazed at the book's complexity. Many of them were disappointed in Joyce's skills and called the novel illegible. When the author suddenly died some twenty months later, it looked as if Finnegans Wake was doomed to be a book of the dark forever and could "look forward only to an undusted career as a piece of literary curiosa." (Campbell and Robinson 7)  Still the same critics had a premonition about the Wake being the artistic climax of Joyce's poetics, the ultimate goal he had consciously or unconsciously aimed at since he had started his literary career with his very first attempt at poetry in Chamber Music.  


Since many Ulysses readers who feel ready to tackle Finnegans Wake are unable to rely on any explanations of its author, the question of how to read the Wake often comes up. This is where genetic literary studies may be helpful. Although it would be pretentious to assert that  genetic criticism is able to decipher all the secrets of Joyce's magnum opus, I believe that the genetic way is the most appropriate method to deal with the maze of meanings and explore the richness of the Wake in a scientifically sound manner. Before I illustrate what I mean by this, I need to sketch a brief outline of what research has been done in Finnegans Wake notebook studies so far.


In his article The "Finnegans Wake" notebooks and radical philology, Geert Lernout pleads for a radical philology in notebook studies and claims that what happens before and outside of every semio-linguistic communication belongs to the domain of things we cannot speak of. Therefore, a radical philology limits the inquiry to the original desire-to-say of any form of writing and to its participation in a saturable and constraining context (Lernout 1995, 47). Lernout is aware of the unpopularity of this approach, though, and adds that very few academics can afford to invest a couple of years' work in a project that may only yield a twenty-page article.


The consequence of this radical philology is that genetic studies themselves play a more significant role than genetic criticism.  Jed Deppman explores one aspect of genetic studies in his article "Hallow'd Chronickles and Exploytes of King Rodericke O' Conor from Joyce's earliest drafts to the end of causal historie". He claims that one may distinguish between a practical and a theoretical geneticism. The former seeks to uncover the source material for notebook entries, or to demonstrate that certain notebook material has been incorporated into the Wake. Theoretical geneticism is an attempt to give another dimension to the finished literary text by interrogating the documents that make up the work in progress. It aims to evaluate in theoretical terms both the components and the composition of the evolving text. (Deppman 180) Although a practical and theoretical geneticism are complementary, my research covers the field of practical geneticism.


As Geert Lernout pointed out, a radical philology of the notebooks is time consuming, but the result is worthwhile. The number of scholars that studied the Finnegans Wake notebooks is not large. The pioneer was David Hayman. He used manuscript and notebook material in his study on the relationship between Joyce and Stéphane Mallarmé in 1956 and in 1963 he published A First Draft Version of "Finnegans Wake", which contains the first drafts of every section of the Wake. Finn Fordham discerns three stages in Joyce manuscript studies so far (Fordham 173). The first stage begins with the publication of A First Draft Version. The most important works that belong to this stage are Fred Higginson's  Anna Livia Plurabelle: The Making of a Chapter, Thomas Conolly's  James Joyce's Scribbledehobble and A. Walton Litz's The Art of James Joyce.  


The second stage starts with the publication of the James Joyce Archive, the complete facsimile edition of the manuscripts, which finishes with the discomfort of travelling up and down between the British Library, where most of the drafts are, and Buffalo in New York, where the notebooks are kept. The great merit of the editors is that they brought together, organized and dated all the manuscripts.


The Brepols publication of the edition by Vincent Deane, Daniel Ferrer and Geert Lernout, according to Fordham, of three of the forty-nine notebooks marks the third stage in Joyce manuscript studies, according to Fordham (Fordham 173). The editors not only transcribe Joyce's notes, but also annotate them as completely as possible and quote from the sources Joyce used, insofar as they were able to trace them. Furthermore, they provide all references to the place of the entries in the drafts, the Archive and the Wake itself. All of this is illustrated by means of facsimile copies of the corresponding notebook pages, some even in colour on the last pages. So far, nine of these notebooks have been published and the editors intend to finish the complete set within ten years. In his review of these editions, Fordham hints at the merits of an electronic edition of the notebooks in the near future, which could lead to a fourth stage in manuscript studies: "The Brepols edition inadvertently introduces the utopian ideal of a digitized version of the notebooks that is integrated with the drafts. Perhaps this could be a fourth landmark of manuscript research." (Fordham 175)


Although this edition seems utopian, I intend to contribute to this fourth landmark with an electronic timeline of the notebooks. This timeline is an attempt to chart the genesis of Finnegans Wake chronologically. By selecting the relevant passages in the letters and the sources Joyce took his notes from, and connecting them to the corresponding notes in the notebooks on the one hand, and the drafts on the other, it should be possible to date these documents more precisely and if necessary to adapt the dating in the prefaces of the Archive.


The most important aspect of the timeline is the 'key-date', or the date that modifies the structure of the timeline. It is the date on which Joyce took a note or a cluster of notes in his notebook. The editors of "The Finnegans Wake notebooks at Buffalo" divide Joyce's notebook entries editorially into units. A unit may be defined as a word, a line, part of a line or several consecutive lines that are construed to constitute a distinct and discrete item of meaning (Deane, Ferrer, Lernout: A Reader's Guide to the Edition 4). All units from one cluster (i.e. notes taken from the same source in one sitting) have the same key-date. In order to determine this key-date, I try to approach the date of note-taking as closely as possible. Different factors play a part in this decision. First of all you have the time period in which Joyce used the notebook. Several critics, such as Peter Spielberg, Roland McHugh, Michael Groden, Hans Walter Gabler, A. Walton Litz, Danis Rose and others have already tried to determine the exact period of notetaking. On average, Joyce took notes in one notebook for about four or five months. For instance, the period of notetaking of VI.B.3, as Hayman suggests in the preface of the Archive, runs from March to August 1923. Rose is not certain about August as the final date and suggests July (Rose 1995, 25). We can be quite certain about the starting date of VI.B.3 being the beginning of March. On March 11, Joyce announced to Miss Weaver that he had drafted the first sketch of his new work the day before:


"Yesterday I wrote two pages – the first I have ever 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." (SL 296)


Here Joyce refers to the "Roderick O' Conor" sketch, for which he used the notes on early Irish history on the first pages of VI.B.3. If we may assume that Joyce took these notes shortly before drafting the first pages of the "Roderick O'Conor" sketch, the starting date could even be March 10. The key-date for the first notes of VI.B.3 will therefore be situated somewhere in early March.


An example illustrates that a more precise dating is not as straightforward as it seems. In fact, finding an absolute date for a note or a cluster of notes is very rare. Three important aspects can help us date the notes: the identified sources, the drafts and Joyce's letters. These items will therefore be the main constituents of the timeline.



A. The Identified Sources

Tracing the sources of the notes is of the utmost importance, since in many cases a source provides the only absolute evidence for the date on which Joyce took a specific note. An important source for VI.B.3, traced by Vincent Deane, is J.M. Flood's Ireland: Its Saints and Scholars, a book that was published in 1917. On page 12 of VI.B.3 Joyce stops noting down Flood material when he reaches page 118. He now takes notes from other sources. Pages 19 to 27 contain Flood notes again (from 43 to 72 in Flood). After excerpting from Flood this second time, he stops again and takes notes from other sources until page 89 of VI.B.3. Here he takes excerpts from Flood a third time, but from the first page onward. He goes on noting chronologically now, until page 96 of VI.B.3, which contains notes from page 103 in Flood. One cancelled note from the first cluster of Flood notes made it into the first draft of "Roderick O'Conor", dated March 10 ("hospitable" on VI.B.3.004[c]), which indicates that the note must have been in the notebook before this date. None of the notes from the second and third Flood clusters have made it to the earliest "Roderick O'Conor" draft, which suggests that Joyce took them later on.


All these facts indicate how Joyce took notes in VI.B.3. He started writing on page 1 and continued chronologically. He then put Flood aside and took notes from a different source. Probably he hadn't written down enough information from Flood the first time, so he opened the book a second time and started noting a second series of notes. Having finished, he takes excerpts from different sources and finally decides that he needs Flood for a third time, starting again from the beginning (the first page of Flood's book). The gap between the second and the third series of Flood notes may be due to the fact that Joyce had to quit taking notes because of a severe eye-attack that he suffered from mid-March. In Joyce's biography, we read that he had an attack of conjunctivitis in March (Ellmann 543). The next two weeks he was not able to read or write. On March 28, Joyce writes to Miss Weaver: "In spite of my eye attack I got on with another passage by using a charcoil pencil (fusain) which broke every three minutes and a large sheet of paper. I have now covered various large sheets in a handwriting resembling that of the late Napoleon Bonaparte when irritated by reverses." (LIII 73)


These large sheets of paper cannot be notebook pages. The latter were rather small, most of them about 8 x 5 inches. The sheets he refers to are the first draft of the 'Tristan and Isolde' episode, which is lost (Hayman, preface of  JJA II.4). From another letter to Miss Weaver dated March 18, which is quoted in the introduction of the new edition of VI.B.3 by Deane, Ferrer and Lernout, we know that Joyce had not given up working on his book during the two weeks after his eye-attack. He dictated letters to Nora and to his son Giorgio, who was not very good at spelling: "I spent several sleepless nights partly in fier and partly wrighting which I dictated the next morning. The page you (?) histories will be of course yous with the manuscript when and if ever completed. The passage is towards the end of the book, but only the brieff draft written without nots." (British Library Add. MS 57347, fols. 76-81, quoted in "The Finnegans Wake Notebooks at Buffalo", VI.B.3)


Since VI.B.3 only has Joyce's handwriting, it is safe to assume, that neither Joyce nor anybody else used the notebook between mid March and March 28. Also, the handwriting in VI.B.3 is fairly neat, and certainly not "resembling that of the late Napoleon Bonaparte when irritated by reverses". Furthermore, it is unlikely that Joyce took notes the weeks after his eye-attack, since he also had some serious dental operations. From April 4 onward the dentist extracted seventeen teeth, the last one on April 26 (Ellmann 543). According to Ellmann, Joyce could only read and write again on June 10. Joyce's eye-troubles may have started just after he had taken the notes from other sources than Flood (just before the third series of Flood notes). When he was better, he took excerpts from Flood again. Because of his health troubles, it is unlikely that Joyce wrote down this third series of Flood notes before mid-June 1923, when he and his family left for Bognor. Possibly Joyce took the Flood book on his trip. The fact that he wrote down Flood entries three times, means that in this case we don't need one, but three key-dates for the timeline. The first cluster of Flood notes was taken down in early March, the second shortly afterwards, while the key-date of the third cluster is much later, toward the end of June.


Joyce usually preferred to maintain the normal order of his notebooks. Only when he lacked space, he used the blank space between older notes and filled it up with new notes, sometimes also moving backwards through the pages, as in VI.B.3, where he adds parts of Ireland and the Making of Britain in the opposite direction (p.19-164).


The main problem of the timeline will be the fact that a lot of notebook material cannot be dated. For a vast amount of notes, sources are not traced yet, or cannot be traced. The absence of a source makes the dating process even more complicated. If we cannot identify the source of a note or a cluster of notes, we miss one of the most significant parts of the puzzle that we need to reconstruct the key-date.



B The Drafts

Not only the source of a note, but also the date Joyce introduced it in the drafts may be a criterion to reconstruct the key date. First of all, the drafts are useful to date the notebooks more precisely, as in the case of the first series of Flood notes that are used in the "Roderick O'Conor" sketch (see above). Secondly, the draft reference indicates the date ante quem, or the terminus ad quem, of a certain unit in a notebook. Very often, though, the drafts do not provide evidence that is relevant to the dating of the notebooks. Some unidentified notes can be dated by means of the drafts, but in most cases, the best I can do is using the date ad quem as the key-date. However, this date cannot be related to the date of note-taking, since Joyce usually transferred the notebook material to the drafts at random. He flipped through his notebooks, back and forth, and used all suitable materials in the drafts. Once this was integrated in a new typescript, he would repeat the process. Sometimes ten years of time could pass between the time he took a note in a notebook and its use in a draft. For instance, the Flood note in VI.B.3.019(c) "Book of Life / Irish Thebaid" was integrated in II.2 in 1934.



C Joyce's Letters

A last source of helpful information to reconstruct the key-date of the notes is the whole of  Joyce's letters. Some letters reveal the exact date on which Joyce writes down a note in his notebook. On 8 November 1922 Joyce answered a letter of Harriet Weaver in which she wrote that she feared that her house was being watched by a plain clothes policeman. (The police rightly suspected her from smuggling forbidden books into England). Joyce replied: "That solitary detective is an interesting figure. Is he what the English call a King Beaver, that is an Irish  constabularyman with red whiskers, riding a red bicycle?" (LIII, 193)


On VI.B.10.001(r) Joyce wrote down: "King Beaver redwhiskered / policeman on a / green bicycle". The source for this note is a reader's response to an article in the Irish Times (October 20 1922), called "Beaveritis" which attacked a game that had become popular in England. It was the game of Beaver, which was played by two people using a scoring system borrowed from tennis. The player who first cried "Beaver!" as soon as a bearded person appeared, scored. The article in the Irish Times reads: "One need neither howl nor shout nor in any way offend the feelings of those who flaunt face-fungus in the form of either a "Walrus" or a "Beaver" [...] a "Royal Beaver" is a man afflicted with a full outfit of face-fittings – to wit, beard and moustache – while a "King Beaver" is a red-whiskered policeman riding a green bicycle." (Irish Times, 20 Oct. 1922)


In this case, we can reconstruct the date of notetaking very precisely. The key-date will be 8 November 1922, the day on which Joyce wrote his letter to Harriet Weaver. Of course this kind of evidence for one single note is highly exceptional. In order to date notes based on newspaper articles for which this kind of evidence does not exist, I will have to use a system of relative dating. The Irish newspapers Joyce used had to be sent to Paris by boat. They reached him only a few days later. If we take into account some possible delays due to bad weather, we will have to provide a margin of at least a week. Since we have no real evidence for this date, I choose not to use it. It is certain, though, that Joyce couldn't have read The Irish Times of December 23 before its date of publication (= date a quo). Therefore, all the notes taken from newspapers will get the date a quo as a key date.


In some exceptional cases this way of relative dating for newspaper articles does not work. In VI.B.6, Joyce uses material from old newspapers. The period of note taking of this notebook is the end of December 1923 to the end of February 1924. He suddenly notes parts of articles from the Irish Independent dated February 13, 1923. This is no reason enough to redate the notebook. Geert Lernout already pointed out that Joyce had taken some old issues of newspapers on his stay in the winter of 1922 in the South of France of which he found evidence in a letter (Geert Lernout 1995, 39). Joyce could have read the old Irish Independent issues some ten months later.


Although the letters are a helpful tool in my research, the information they provide is not always relevant to the dating of the notebooks. A good example of a close call is this sentence in a letter dated 23 October 1923: "A friend of his [=Mr Quinn] told me that there is a club in the far East where Chinese ladies (not American as I supposed) meet twice a week to discuss my mistresspiece. Needless to say the club is in – shavole Shanghai!" (LI 206)


Joyce used the words "shavole Shanghai" (FW 398.28), but apparently skipped the notebook-phase and immediately introduced it in the drafts (47481-4 'savole hang shanghai', which he changed into 'savohohole shanghai' on 47481-5). As a consequence, I could not insert the entry, nor the date in the timeline.


The fact that I can only include the notes that were traced in an identified source may be a restriction of my project. It is obvious, though, that studying the chronology of both notebooks and manuscripts may help us date the Wake's pre-texts more precisely. As Geert Lernout mentioned before, it is only when we refer to the notebooks and the drafts that we can decide with some degree of probability which parts of the world went into the book and which parts probably did not (Lernout 1995, 45). In both cases, it is important to know when they did(n't) in order to reconstruct the "contextual memory" (Ferrer, 233).  






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          New York: Buccaneer Books, 1976.


Connolly, Thomas E. James Joyce's Scribbledehobble. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1961.


Deane, Vincent, Daniel Ferrer, and Geert Lernout, eds. The "Finnegans Wake"

          notebooks at Buffalo. Notebook VI.B.3. Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2001.


Deppman Jed, "Hallow'd chronickles and exploytes of king Rodericke O' Conor from Joyce's earliest drafts to the end of causal historie" Probes: Genetic

          Studies in Joyce. Eds. David Hayman and Sam Slote. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.



Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Revised Edition. Oxford: University Press, 1982.


Ellmann, Richard, ed. Letters of James Joyce vol. three, London: Faber and Faber, 1966.


Ellmann, Richard, ed. Selected Letters of James Joyce, London: Faber and Faber, 1975.


Ferrer, Daniel. "Clementis's Cap: Retroaction and Persistence in the Genetic Process." Yale French Studies 89 (1996): 223-236.


Flood, Ireland: Its Saints and Scholars, 1917.


Fordham, Finn. "The 'Finnegans Wake' Notebooks at Buffalo, VI.B.3, VI.B.10, VI.B.29, edited by Vincent Deane, Daniel Ferrer, and Geert Lernout." James Joyce Quarterly vol.39-1 (Fall 2001): 173-177.


Gilbert Stuart, ed. Letters of James Joyce, London: Faber and Faber.


Groden, Michael, e.a., eds. The James Joyce Archive. New York: Garland, 1977-79.


Hayman, David. 'Joyce et Mallarmé.' Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1956.


Hayman, David. A First-Draft Version of 'Finnegans Wake'. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963. 


Hayman, David. The Wake in Transit. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.


Higginson, Fred. Anna Livia Plurabelle: The Making of a Chapter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1960.        

Lernout, Geert. The French Joyce. Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Lernout, Geert. "The 'Finnegans Wake' notebooks and Radical Philology." Probes: Genetic Studies in Joyce, Ed. David Hayman and Sam Slote. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995. 19-48.


Litz, A. Walton. The Art of James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1961.


Rose, Danis. The Textual Diaries of James Joyce. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1995.