On this day…13 November

On 13 November 1938 Joyce finished writing Finnegans Wake.

On the evening of Sunday 13 November 1938 Joyce sent a telegram to Harriet Weaver to announce that he had finished writing Work in Progress. Though there was still a lot of work to do with correcting proofs, the book that Joyce had been working on for sixteen years was complete at last.

Though over the years much of the book had appeared in print in one version or another, nothing of Book IV was seen before the book was published in July 1939. Joyce had started on Book IV by February 1938, but the work was slow given that he was also attempting to correct proofs of earlier parts at the same time.

The final part of Book IV, ‘Soft morning, city!,’ Joyce sketched out in one afternoon, and he told Eugene Jolas that after finishing it he felt so exhausted it was as if all the blood had run out of his brain. Nora told Paul Léon that the final part had been written in a state of extreme tension that left Joyce exhausted. The first draft of this piece was only two pages long, and there remained more work to develop it into the form it took when published.

Joyce wrote to his friend Paul Ruggiero on Friday 18 November mentioning that the book was finished and that it was going to be celebrated along with Thanksgiving at the Jolases’ on Thursday 24 November. At the end of the letter he cheers the fact that his ‘maledetto libro’ (damned book) is finished.

Harriet Weaver wrote to Léon at the beginning of December, pleased with the news that the book was finished. She hoped that Joyce had not suffered a collapse from the intense pressure and wondered how his finances were doing. Léon replied to say that, yes, Joyce had collapsed because of overwork and lack of sleep but continued to work on the proofs. As to finances, Joyce had thought of taking up teaching at Capetown University to rectify his finances but had since abandoned the plan.

Finishing the book went on for some time despite the rush to get it into print by his birthday, 2 February. On New Year’s Day 1939 Joyce wrote to Livia Svevo, whose long hair and name were shared with Anna Livia Plurabelle, to say that he had finished finishing his book, but even then he had not finally finished finishing the book!


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Fahy, Catherine: The James Joyce-Paul Léon Papers in the National Library of Ireland – A Catalogue, Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 1992.

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

Lidderdale, Jane, & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.