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Unique Finnegans Wake Manuscript with unrecorded variant text “His writing is not about something; it is that something itself” — Samuel Beckett on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

JOYCE, JAMES. Autograph Manuscript Signed from the Anna Livia Plurabelle Section of Finnegans Wake

Paris, October 6, 1930

One page. 4to. Fine condition.


In this splendid manuscript Joyce improvises on key lines from the melodic “Anna Livia Plurabelle” chapter of what became Finnegans Wake. ALP, as he called it, was the author’s favorite chapter and the most-published and best-loved section of the book. Joyce selected this passage to begin his famous 1929 recording.

The textually unique manuscript contains variant readings not found in the published editions. When the episode appeared in transition in 1927, Joyce used the word anyone, but subsequent printings read erewone. In the present manuscript Joyce plays with making it erewhon, a reference to Samuel Butler’s utopian novel Erewhon, meant to be read as “nowhere” (1872). In another line Joyce experiments by using the word saone, which was given as saon in all printed editions. In other passages Joyce introduces punctuation that he never used in print.

Similarly, Joyce’s otherwise unknown use of tailing in this manuscript demonstrates the author’s endless tinkering and his inventive wordplay. In 1927 he used the word end in the first sentence, but in 1928 and subsequent editions, he used the word taling, referring to telling a tale. In the present manuscript he makes the connection between the meanings explicit with tailing, conveying both the end (tail) and the telling (tale), a change he ultimately did not adopt.

These variant readings reflect the author’s meticulous fine-tuning of the text in these crucial years. Some show the text in its form just prior to the alterations made for the 1930 Faber edition of ALP. In one, in the series of punning river names, the river “Send-us-pray” is not capitalized in the 1928 edition or the present manuscript but is capitalized beginning with the 1930 edition. In another change dating to the same period, Joyce altered bell, referring to the tolling of a bell, as it is given here, to Belle referring to a woman. Still other changes reflect the text in the form it maintained until the final 1939 edition. Thus the manuscript uses the word since, which Joyce retained in all editions until Finnegans Wake, when he changed it to senne.

The composition and publication of the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” episode of “Work in Progress” has a long and complicated history. “An early version of the ALP piece was to have appeared in 1925 in the English review The Calendar, but the printers refused to set it. Instead, it was published for the first time in Le Navire d’Argent on 1 October 1925. … In October 1927, Joyce revised the ALP piece for publication in transition, the literary journal edited by Eugene Jolas, and he read the piece from an advance copy of transition to an audience of about 25 people on Wednesday 2 November. He continued revising it in advance of its publication in book form by Crosby Gaige in October 1928, and by Faber in June 1930” (James Joyce Centre).

The work appeared in its final form when it was published in 1939 by Faber as part of Finnegans Wake. A revised form of the present manuscript appeared on page 213 of that edition.

Over the course of its seventeen years of writing and publication, the immensely ambitious “Work in Progress” was derided by some readers as incomprehensible or self-indulgent. It has since come to be regarded as a classic of modern literature. Harold Bloom wrote of the novel, “[if] aesthetic merit were ever again to center the canon, [Finnegans Wake] would be as close as our chaos could come to the heights of Shakespeare and Dante” (The Western Canon). The most beautiful and most accessible part of the book is “Anna Livia Plurabelle,” “widely recognized as one of the most beautiful prose-poems in English” (Parrinder, James Joyce).

Finnegans Wake manuscripts are very rare in the market. The Garden Ltd collection, sold in 1989, included a corrected typescript (not manuscript) of the “riverrun” portion of the work, and Joyce’s revised copy of the transition text of the “Tales Told of Shem and Shaun” section appeared in the same collection. No others have appeared for public sale in the past thirty years.

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