On 10 October 1925 Joyce was working on the ‘last watch of Shaun.’
In a letter dated 10 October 1925 Joyce announced to Harriet Weaver that he had started writing the ‘last watch of Shaun,’ now book III, chapter 4 of Finnegans Wake.
Joyce completed book I of the Wake with ‘Shem the Penman’ and ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ which he drafted in January and February 1924. In March he started work on the chapter ‘Shaun the Post’ but this grew well beyond his initial conception into the four separate chapters, the four ‘watches’ of Shaun, that now comprise the entirety of book III of the Wake. By the end of 1924, therefore, Joyce had drafted most of books I and III, the two ends of the book which he saw as being like a tunnel started from different sides of a mountain and which he hoped would meet in the middle.
At the same time, problems with his eyesight continued to interrupt Joyce’s writing. He underwent an iridectomy in June 1924 and a cataract operation in November from which he spent most of December recovering. He suffered attacks of conjunctivitis and episcleritis in January 1925 which left him unable to read without a magnifying glass.
Despite these problems, Joyce made good progress with book III and by October had started on the final chapter in which dawn comes to the sleeping Earwicker household. In his letter to Harriet Weaver in October 1925 he announced that he had written ‘about three foolscapes of hammer and tongs stratification lit up by a fervent prayer to the divinity which shapes our roads in favour of my ponderous protagonist and his minuscule consort.’
Joyce also told her that he had composed ‘some wondrous devices’ for the last watch of Shaun during the night, and that he had written them out carefully in the dark only to discover the next morning that he had written them on a page already containing other notes. He said he would have to examine the resulting ‘mosaic’ with his ‘astronomical telescope’ in order to disentangle the two sets of notes.
Joyce finished his revisions of book III in April 1926, after which he started planning book II. Chapter 4 of book III was published for the first time as ‘Continuation of a Work in Progress’ in transition no. 18 in November 1929. With it were three illustrations by Stella Steyn which had been commissioned by Joyce and Sylvia Beach. Steyn (1907-1987) was an Irish artist who had studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and at the Bauhaus in Germany. She had studied under Patrick Tuohy who gave her a letter of introduction to Joyce whom she met for the first time in 1926. The illustrations published in transition, however, were of Anna Livia Plurabelle, and are not related to book III chapter 4.
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, vols II & III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber 1957, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.