On this day…10 March

On 10 March 1923 Joyce wrote two pages of what becomes Finnegans Wake.

The pages Joyce wrote on 10 March 1923 were a first draft version of the story of King Roderick O’Conor which was only incorporated into Finnegans Wake in 1938.

These pages appear to be the earliest drafts for parts of Finnegans Wake, but Joyce seems to have been working towards them from 1922. A notebook dating from late October 1922 contains corrections for Ulysses but then has a list of words and phrases copied from the Irish Times of 20 October 1922. Joyce may not have known what he would do with the words, but they seem to represent the beginning of what was to become Finnegans Wake. Later pages in this notebook contain notes from an article in the Criterion magazine on versions of the story of Tristan and Isolde, a story that was to become very significant in Finnegans Wake.

Just before Christmas 1922 Joyce wrote to his aunt Josephine in Dublin asking her if she would be able to write notes for him on people of an older generation if he supplied a notebook and the names of the people. It’s not clear what he wanted this information for, but perhaps he hoped his aunt Josephine’s notes would inspire new characters and situations.

In February 1923 Myron Nutting noticed that Joyce was sorting out old Ulysses notebooks, and Joyce told him that the unused notes from Ulysses weighed twelve kilos! Again, Joyce seems to have been trawling through unused Ulysses notes to find the material for new writing.

The couple of pages that Joyce wrote on 10 March 1923 were soon covered in revisions making a second fair copy necessary. This was later typed up by Harriet Weaver and Joyce used this typescript when he added the material to the end of what was, by then, chapter three of Book II. Though further revision was necessary to fit the early sketch into its new context, the piece still remains recognisably what Joyce sketched on 10 March 1923.

In mid-March 1923, still suffering severe eye problems, Joyce dictated to Nora a second piece, a first draft of a piece about St Kevin, and at the end of March he writes a third piece, possibly the first version of a piece about Tristan and Isolde. Joyce spent the summer of 1923 in Bognor in England, and there he reworked these early sketches. By then, Finnegans Wake as we know it now was underway.


Sources & Further Reading:

Crispi, Luca, & Sam Slote (eds): How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake – A Chapter by Chapter Genetic Guide, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.