On 13 October 1922 Joyce was in Marseille en route to Nice where he began Finnegans Wake.
Around this time, Joyce was suffering recurrent problems with his eyes but nonetheless was trying to identify misprints in the first edition of Ulysses. Partly to help his eyesight, he travelled to Nice where he remained until mid-November. Joyce later claimed that it was in Nice in 1922 that he began work on what was to become Finnegans Wake.
The latest problem with his eyes was a nebula or opacity of the cornea. Joyce visited Dr Borsch on 3 October and was told that the persistence of the nebula and the recurrent attacks of iritis were due to abscesses in some of his teeth. Borsch reckoned that the removal of the rotten teeth and a stay in a warmer climate would dissipate the nebula and improve his vision. As it turned out, the weather in Nice was wet and stormy, and exacerbated Joyce’s eye trouble, forcing him to visit Dr Louis Colin who relieved the problem by applying leeches. Colin also advised Joyce to drink red rather than white wine!
The proposed publication of the Egoist Press edition of Ulysses (effectively a second impression of the first Shakespeare & Company edition) had offered an opportunity to correct mistakes identified by Joyce and others in the first edition. In the end, no corrections were made as the book went to print earlier than expected, but Joyce met with printer Maurice Darantiere in Dijon en route to Marseille and was told the corrections would be made as soon as possible so the third impression would be ‘letter perfect.’
John Rodker, who was acting for the Egoist Press in Paris, had prepared a list of mistakes to be corrected, but Joyce told Harriet Weaver at the end of September that some of these were ‘not misprints but beauties of my style hitherto undreamt of.’ Shortly after arriving in Nice and settling at the Hôtel Suisse, Joyce wrote to say that he was reading steadily through the book and listing mistakes, but he added that it was not amusing work and he couldn’t manage more than 30 pages a day.
In one of the notebooks that listed corrections for Ulysses Joyce made a sudden departure and noted down words and phrases from articles in the Irish Times of 20 October 1922. One article concerned the results of a ladies’ foursome golf tournament in Ranelagh, and the other was a letter to the editor entitled ‘Beaveritis,’ about a game which involved spotting men with beards or moustaches and shouting ‘beaver’ or ‘walrus.’ It seems that these two apparently incongruous items were the beginning of notes towards what was to become Finnegans Wake. The ladies’ foursome appears on page 395 of Finnegans Wake, and there are references to walrus moustaches on pages 31 and 71.
When asked by Vanity Fair in 1929 about how long he had been working on Work in Progress, Joyce answered ‘7 years. Since October 1922. Begun at Nice.’
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.