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How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake: A Chapter-by-Chapter Genetic Guide (review)

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 14, Number 4, November 2007
pp. 780-781 | 10.1353/mod.2007.0098

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The publication of How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake is an event in Joyce scholarship. Written specifically with a non-specialist readership in mind this collection of essays edited by Luca Crispi and Sam Slote provides the first comprehensive guide on how Joyce wrote his last and most inaccessible text.

As the editors explained at the book launch in the James Joyce Centre in Dublin on 21 May, 2007 the idea for this project was born ten years ago at the 1997 Genitricksling Joyce conference in Antwerp at a time in which interest in genetic criticism began to soar. The Buffalo Finnegans Wake notebook project was launched in 1999 and the acquisition of Joyce documents by the National Library of Ireland in 2002 gave a fresh impetus to manuscript scholarship. It seems therefore as if How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake could not have been published at a more convenient and productive time for genetic critics.

The collection aims to represent the diversity of genetic criticism to date—both traditional philological and textual scholarship and the French theoretical approach to genetic criticism are represented. The editors' decision not to follow a diachronic approach in presenting Joyce's creative labor is a key component of the collection's success. Taking as a model Clive Hart's and David Hayman's classic guide to Ulysses, James Joyce's Ulysses, the collection instead presents a chapter-by-chapter genetic analysis of Joyce's Wake. The advantages of such an approach are obvious. First of all, it gives the collection a much needed structure and, in spite of the variety of approaches to the Wake on show, makes it extremely accessible for readers unfamiliar with either Joyce's text or genetic criticism. It also facilitates two different ways of reading the book. Whereas it is clearly possible to read How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake from cover to cover, the organization of the essay collection also allows readers with a specific interest in a particular Wake chapter to pursue an in-depth and directed study of its genetic history.

The chapter-by-chapter guide likewise allows the fifteen contributors to draw on their specific expertise in detailing the writing process and the often very complex development of different Wake chapters. After all it took Joyce over sixteen years to write his final work and as the collection strikingly demonstrates the composition process was by no means straightforward or linear; as Wim Van Mierlo correctly states, "a linear reading does not reveal the structural complexity of the book as Joyce conceived it" (348). Van Mierlo's essay then proceeds to explain how book III.1–2, also called the first of Shaun's two watches, first drafted in 1924, was originally planned as an extension of I.8, the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter. The reason that these two chapters are, in the final book version, separated by almost 200 pages is that Joyce decided to create Book II "as a long interruption" (348). Particularly illuminating is also Finn Fordham's essay, the final one in the collection, which thoroughly charts how Joyce recomposed the Wake's first chapter after deciding that 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." Fordham's instructive essay highlights how Joyce "developed thematic consequences across both chapters" (462) and shows that he clearly thought of these two individual chapters that "were both the farthest apart and also the closest together" (463) as a conceptual unit.

How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake contains many such similarly instructive readings which illuminate the writing process of Finnegans Wake. This short review will not be able to do justice to the exceptional achievement of the volume's contributors and, in particular, its editors; their successful editorship makes the final result a "must-read" for Wake scholars and students.

However, what can be said is that the essay collection in its entirety reveals in an unprecedented way new insights into Joyce's composition techniques. Above all it shows that the book's style was by no means developed arbitrarily. Many Wake readers, unfamiliar with Joyce's...



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