[Up] [JAJportal] [Robot Wisdom home page]

A dreadful omen, and a history of the world

Jorn Barger, June 23 1995

Friday July 14, 1922: Djuna Barnes and Edmund Wilson, Jr., came to dinner to-night and we went to the "Chauve-Souris." ...Djuna tells me that the publication of "Ulysses" has driven her to literary suicide. "I shall never write another line," she said, with a graceful gesture of despair. "Who has the nerve after that? And poor Joyce, what is he getting out of it, poor devil? Living in wretchedness and poverty, half blind and tormented day and night by migraine." ...Djuna said that Joyce is frightfully superstitious. Just before "Ulysses" came out she was walking with him and his wife in the Bois de Bologne, when a man brushed by and mumbled something she did not understand. Joyce blanched and trembled. Djuna asked what was the matter. "That man, whom I have never seen before," he said, "said to me as he passed, in Latin, 'You are an abominable writer!' That is a dreadful omen the day before the publication of my novel."
       Burton Rascoe, "A Bookman's Daybook" Horace Liveright NY 1929 p27
       (Ulysses was published Feb 2 1922.)
August 1922 "I think I will write a history of the world."
       Joyce to HSW, as remembered by HSW to Ellmann in 1955, JJ2
While none can deny that Finnegans Wake is at the very least a locked box, current opinions vary widely on whether that box can ever be opened, and, if it were, what we might hope to find inside.

Can it really hold the summa of Joyce's lifelong analysis of human nature, his "history of the world"? Or might there be, somewhere deep inside, a coherent fictional narrative... perhaps even Joyce's detailed autobiography? Or is it just a magnificently twisted gorgeous Celtic knot?

Does Joyce get the last laugh after Pound's sneer, "nothing short of a divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization"? Or, is FW, finally, resoundingly, hollow at the core...?

All who would undertake to study this problem must eventually grapple with FW's vast surviving genetic record-- especially the drafts in the British Museum, and the workbooks at Buffalo. If Picasso similarly had dedicated half his adult life to a single painting, the masterpiece of his career, reworking it obsessively, overcomplicating it intentionally... by the time it was exhibited it would have accumulated to a full foot's thickness, with all the layers of revisions!

And the process of analysing its 'genetic record' could involve reconstructing each layer in sequence, even to the point of identifying which, in a warehouse full of archived paint-palettes, was the one he'd used for each patch of color, within each layer, and the discarded tubes he'd mixed the shade from....

A daunting task, for an incertain prize! But for FW the first stage is obvious, anyway-- using the guideposts Joyce himself left, in the form of different-colored crayon exxings, to match all possible workbook notes to their corresponding draft insertions. Given that nearly all the source notes have survived, and that most of the text seems derived from notes, this list ought finally to be about as long as the Wake itself. But how much will the concrete realization of such a list actually clarify Joyce's purposes?

If the crayon exxings tell the true story, Joyce finally used far less than half the notes he'd once judged promising enough to jot down. The unused notes must shed some light on Joyce's thought processes as well, but as we venture into this new domain, our task not only grows quantitatively, but blurs, too, dramatically, into subjectivity and speculative hypothesis.

Does the note "Robert replenishes his briar" anticipate the cad with a pipe, to take one real example? Does its use of the name 'Robert' refer back to Exiles' Robert Hand? We can hardly begin to speculate until we've traced all references to pipes, and to the name Robert, not just in the notes, but through the entire body of Joyce's writings! But again, when this task is done, can we yet be confident that any given note reflects Joyce's conscious invocation of a motif, and not mere accidental happenstance?

The genetic study of Finnegans Wake is suspended in such doubts. The task is enormous, and enormously difficult, the outcome is unknown. (How like life!)

I present below a few dozen notes that illustrate, I think, as clear a thread of continuity as we can ever hope to find. Each note is assigned a hypothetical month of origin, according to the chronological scheme I presented in European Joyce Studies. Deane and Lernout's work with VI.B.10 and the Irish Times shows that that notebook was filled consecutively from October 1922 through January 1923. Various correlations in VI.B.3 suggest its dates are April through June 1923, implying a whole notebook lost (VI.D.8) that covered the critically formative months of February and March.

The dating of VI.A (Scribbledehobble) is more problematic, because of its format as fifty parallel lists of phrases. Fortunately, these lists show consistent variations in the visible appearance of pen nibs and inks, that allow them to be correlated quite precisely to each other. Moreover, a few dozen scattered duplications between the B-series stenopads and VI.A notes permit an approximate correlation of these Scribbledehobble 'strata' to real-world dates.

The dates given for B-series notes can thus be considered accurate to within about two weeks, while the Scribbledehobble notes should be given a wider berth of plus or minus one month.

By Joyce's own reckoning, Ulysses was finished on October 29, 1921, and Finnegans Wake begun in October 1922. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the first notes for FW were jotted in Buffalo workbook VI.B.10 late in that month-- given Joyce's superstitious reverence for anniversaries, quite possibly on the 29th itself. Scribble notes in some dozen categories may pre-date VI.B.10, but we'll probably never know whether, or which. So we really have no better candidate for Joyce's first FW note than this:
10.01 "Polyphemous is Ul[ysses]'s shadow" [Note: The reproduction in the
JJA has switched pages 10.01 and 10.02.]
Given the hopelessness of ever finding a convincing explanation for any of these early notes, it could seem quite presumptuous to imagine that this singular note might find a special genetic context. But consider the following reconstructed chronological sequence of shadows, doppelgangers, and self-encounters, mostly unexxed, from the succeeding nine months of notes:
October 1922: 10.01 "Polyphemous is Ul's shadow"
Jan '23: 10.92 "kick his reflection (soul)  [kick his] shadow  [kick
  his] form (bed) : L[eopold] B[loom] meets self"
Feb '23: Eumeus 295 "there are 2 sinbads (Ul-Psagg-LB-?WBY)"
Jun '23: Circe 224 "Doppelganger"
Jun '23: 3.129 "2 Tristans (Doppel ganger)"
Jul '23: Exiles2 46 "Trist. meets self"
Jul '23: Exiles2 91 "Tantris is shadow of Tristan (EP)"  Ezra Pound
Jul '23: Exiles2 107 "T steps aside + has a look at himself"
The theme of the shadow-twin is entirely familiar from Ulysses, especially in the Eumeus episode. It's interesting to observe that it's Tristan, not Mark, who's been chosen by Joyce to fill Bloom's shoes-- no surviving note offers anything like "Mark meets self" or "Tristan is shadow of Mark".

Looking forward from this point to the published text of the Wake, there is surely no clearer exemplification of the shadow-twin theme than HCE's meeting with the cad. So we can hardly believe our luck in finding this note from late July:

Circe 262 "unknown beggar comes to bigtimer in day of triumph to tell of 
a past betise"
Surely, undoubtedly, Joyce is recalling here the "dreadful omen" of Feb. 1 1922, in the Bois de Boulogne, quoted at the top of this essay... with Joyce himself standing in for HCE here, and the beggar recast as the FW cad. Two other, sequential notes, also from July '23, further substantiate this evolutionary chain:
Penelope 108-9 "boydobelong (Bois) : mystery of a handsome cad : (cab)"
[There's a pun here on "Mystery of a Hansom Cab", a nineteenth century 
bestseller by Fergus Hume.  And given its location under Penelope, 
"boydobelong" might be Joyce's rendering of Nora's French 
And then this, from late July or August:
Eolus 131 "what I'm afraid may be said to me I had better say first 
myself" which neatly anticipates HCE's stuttered self-defense.
Even the cad's standard greeting, "How are you today, my fair gentleman?" is visibly foreshadowed from December on:
Dec: WanderingRocks 1 "How do you?  How do you do?"
Dec: 10.50 "How do you do, you damned sneakylooking soaper you think 
you're not going to fork out?  How do you do, Mr X! You haven't got in 
yet I know what you're after nor you won't.  I hope you're quite well"
Feb: Eumeus 302 "how do you do (a common phrase in Dublin)"
Jun: Grace 6 "how do you do, Mr Patrick" [already, Tristan and Patrick 
are identified!]
So, to our great good fortune, against all odds, enough of a trail seems to have survived, to allow us to watch the shadow-motif's *evolution* into the episode with the cad. But can we now further trace the cad's identity as HCE's son, foreshadowed first in another very early note?
Oct '22: 10.02 "son turned out badly"
This 'generations motif' threads its way nicely among the shadow-twin notes [newly-mentioned notes are marked "*"]:
Oct: 10.01 "Polyphemous is Ul's shadow"
*Oct: 10.02 "son turned out badly"
*Dec: Circe 44 "afraid you may kill your father"
*Dec: 10.44 "Sororicide, matricide, fratricide, no word for figlicide 
(cf Abraham + Cenci"
*Dec: Eolus 51 "said to his father (only lector knows 'tis his father)"
Dec: WanderingRocks 1 "How do you?  How do you do?"
Jan: 10.92 "kick his reflection (soul)  [kick his] shadow  [kick his]
form (bed) : LB meets self"
Feb: Eumeus 295 "there are 2 sinbads (Ul-Psagg-LB-WBY*)"
Feb: Eumeus 302 "how do you do (a common phrase in Dublin)"
*Apr: 3.13 "the son's life repeats the father's. He does not see it. 
Make the reader see it   Past [illegible- overwritten]  Present J--- 
J---   Future  ?" [the "?" is JAJ's]
*Apr: 3.34 "Cork property mortgaged : JSJ when born : JAJ when born"
*May: Cyclops 94 "Clive Holland (O.W.'s son)"  Oscar Wilde
*May: 3.108-109 "3 generations to make a gentleman (Guido Cavalcanti)"
Jun: 3.129 "2 Tristans (Doppel ganger)"
Jul: Exiles2 46 "Trist. meets self"
Jul: Exiles2 91 "Tantris is shadow of Tristan (EP)"
Jul: Exiles2 107 "T steps aside + has a look at himself"
Jul: Circe 262 "unknown beggar comes to bigtimer in day of triumph to 
tell of a past betise"
So Joyce seems already to be giving serious thought to the puzzle of familial relationships within this universal history. Notice too that by the time of the "bigtimer" note in July, the stranger that Barnes called simply "a man" has become for Joyce a "beggar". The following note from April may thus indicate Stephen Dedalus, Bloom's spiritual son, as one aspect of the cad:
3.24 "mendicant orders (SD) introduced  900/1000"
And the early notes dwell at length on the imagery of the foxhunt, and often also on gunplay. If Joyce was envisioning a peaceful encounter, of the "How do you do?" variety, he must also have contrasted that to a violent encounter, the betrayer bringing down the proud stag.

By the end of July, in those Penelope notes we've already seen, the shadow is clearly taking on the character of the husband's cuckolder, a Tristan to his Mark:

*Jul: Penelope 103 "like all bad men he looks attractive"
Jul: Penelope 108 "boydobelong (Bois)"
Jul: Penelope 109 "mystery of a handsome cad"
We can hardly be criticized for seeing Molly and Boylan here! In fact, in the Ulysses notes of 1921, we find:
A2.38 Penelope "asks re BB who is that cad?" unexxed
The adultery motif, another of Joyce's well known idees fixes, is well represented in the notes, from December on. A small sampling:
Dec: 10.40 "Ulysses rex in partibus  goes away to test"
Dec: Eumeus 73 "his place in her affections was usurped by a lodger"
Dec: Circe 41 "Adam 1st cocu: LB yellow (cocu) cocuage"
Jan: Eumeus 185 "exercise rights as a husband"
Feb: Eumeus 201 "lady's affections went astray"
Feb: Eumeus 221-2 "gets playing with other fellow's wife : devil to pay"
Feb: Eumeus 275 "found his wife not at home"
Feb: Circe 139 "will of God be done (cocu)"
Feb: Scylla 19 "Ulysses unlucky Penelope false"
Feb: Scylla 20-21 "wittol (cocu) : ?advocates (adultery)"
As Hayman rightly emphasizes, the archetypal adulterous triangle of the Tristan legend had been in Joyce's thoughts since November at least:
10.15 "Isolde of Britt - Pen  [Isolde of] White hands  Calypso"
We must recognize, too, in this image of an adulterous cad, Joyce's traumatic 1909 encounter with Cosgrave-- another cad bringing gossip of cuckoldry, a Joycean fusion of Tristan with Bedier's four gossiping felons. And given that the cad is at some level the adulterer, do we have in the following note a possible origin for his famous pipe?
Jan: 10.92 "On duty : Robert replenishes his briar"
The association of "Robert" with adultery, in Exiles, seems indeed to have persisted as well in the early Tristan and Isolde vignette (March '23), where Tristan is called Robert Roly:
Mar: T&I "...Her role was to roll on the darkblue ocean roll that rolled 
on round the round roll Robert Roly rolled round.  She gazed while his 
deepsea peepers gazed O gazed O dazedcrazedgazed into her darkblue 
rolling ocean eyes."

So it appears we can now follow Joyce from Ulysses and Polyphemous, thru Mark and Tristan, thru Richard and Robert, thru Joyce and the beggar, thru John Joyce and James, thru Poldy and Boylan, to Tristan and Tantris, and (no doubt) to Shaun and Shem...

[Up] [Ma] [Robot Wisdom home page]