On this day…19 August

On 19 August 1939 Joyce sought a copy of Finnegans Wake in order to start making corrections.

Six weeks after the novel had finally been published, Joyce wrote to Paul Léon asking him to obtain unbound sheets of Finnegans Wake from Faber and Faber so that he could start making corrections.

Despite the drawn-out process of writing and publishing Finnegans Wake, the book as published by Faber and Faber in London and by Viking Press in New York in July 1939 contained numerous mistakes. On 22 July Paul Léon wrote to Richard de la Mare at Faber saying that every time Joyce looked at the book he found misprints and that he wanted to start making corrections for a second edition.

Following Léon’s request, Faber sent unbound sheets of Finnegans Wake to Joyce on 30 August 1939, and Joyce began making his corrections, though not entirely systematically. He worked primarily on those parts of the text that had been added at the later stages when he was adding new material to the proof pages. Joyce made the corrections on the margins of the sheets and these were later typed up as a list.

When George Pelorson met Joyce in April 1940 and asked him what he was doing, Joyce replied that he was reading and revising Finnegans Wake, and when Pelorson asked why, Joyce said he was adding commas. The process of revision and correction continued for a whole year, until by August 1940 Joyce had compiled a 31-page list of misprints that he and others had identified.  He gave a copy of the list to Maria Jolas when she was leaving the south of France on 28 August 1940. This was Joyce’s last work on Finnegans Wake.

Unfortunately, the typed list of corrections that had been produced contained a number of errors and these were incorporated into the list of ‘Corrections of Misprints in Finnegans Wake’ that was published by Faber and Faber and by Viking Press in 1945. The list was originally published as a separate pamphlet but in the Faber reprint of 1946 the list was included as an appendix. It was not until the edition of 1957 that Faber incorporated all of these corrections into the text, and only in 1964 were the mistakes in the original typed list corrected.


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.

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

Fordham, Finn: ‘The Corrections to Finnegans Wake,’ in James Joyce: The Study of Languages, edited by Dirk Van Hulle, Brussels: Peter Lang, 2002.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.