On this day…19 September

On 19 September 1929 Arnold Bennett’s review of Anna Livia Plurabelle was published.

The short critical review by Arnold Bennett appeared in the London Evening Standard. Bennett considered Joyce a rebel but also acknowledged that he had done ‘great stuff,’ as he put it. Unfortunately, Bennett didn’t think much of Anna Livia Plurabelle.

The edition Bennett was reviewing had been published by Crosby Gaige in New York in October 1928. It was a limited edition of 850 signed by the author, and Bennett wrote admiringly of its beauty as a book. However, he went on to say that he couldn’t understand a page of it.

Bennett claimed that when someone told Joyce he didn’t understand his writing, Joyce replied optimistically ‘But you will.’ Bennett felt that Joyce had done so much violence to the English language in Anna Livia Plurabelle that this optimism was misplaced. He felt that Anna Livia Plurabelle would never amount to anything more than just the ‘wild caprice’ of an artist who had lost his way.

By way of example of Joyce’s idiosyncratic language, Bennett listed thirteen words that he found on just one page of Anna Livia Plurabelle (now page 214-5 of Finnegans Wake), claiming that they were Joyce’s invention, and complaining that the book needed to be accompanied by a Joyce dictionary. In fact, ten of the words he listed (Limpopo, Isar, Seint, Zezere, Hamble, Me Nam, Meyne, Drave, Pharphar, and Nyar) are names of rivers and not Joyce’s invention at all. Another, ‘icis,’ may refer to ‘Isis,’ the name given to part of the river Thames.

Of the other two words he lists, ‘dwyergray’ refers to (Edmund) Dwyer Gray, one-time editor of the Freeman’s Journal, whose father had promoted the scheme to bring water from the river Vartry to Dublin. The final word, ‘blackburry,’ really is Joyce’s invention! Perhaps what Bennett needed was not a Joyce dictionary but Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake!


Sources & Further Reading:

Deming, Robert H: James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, vol. II 1928-1941, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

McHugh, Roland: Annotations to Finnegans Wake, third edition, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.