Monday 9 December 2019

Readers re-Joyce: Finnegan brought right back to life

Difficult novel 'reborn' after years of toil

Editor Danis Rose with a new limited-edition copy of James Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake', published by the Houyhnhnm Press
Editor Danis Rose with a new limited-edition copy of James Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake', published by the Houyhnhnm Press

John Spain Books Editor

CRITICS agree it is James Joyce's most difficult book, putting 'Ulysses' in the ha'penny place when it comes to leaving a reader perplexed.

Now 'Finnegans Wake' is to be republished in a new edition for the first time, more than 70 years after the famous novel first appeared in 1939.

In what will be the literary highlight of the year, the new edition of the book will be launched next Thursday in Dublin Castle by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, a Joyce enthusiast.

The new, corrected edition is the fruit of 30 years' hard work by two Dubliners, Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, who are textual scholars.

They went back to Joyce's 50-plus original notebooks which eventually became 'Finnegans Wake', to correct thousands of mistakes that had crept into the text.

The mistakes were mainly the result of type-setting errors and Joyce's poor proof-reading due to failing eyesight.

Spotting them was far from easy, because the novel is full of words Joyce made up himself.

The mistakes made a difficult book even more confusing.

Now this new edition at last presents the novel in the form in which Joyce intended.

But it won't come cheap -- at least initially.

The new edition of the book is being published in a limited edition of 1,000 copies by the Houyhnhnm Press.


Two-hundred of these will be bound in black calf-skin and will cost €900 each.

The remaining 800 will cost €300 each. But the good news for ordinary readers is that the book will be available next year in a trade edition from Penguin priced at around €20.

Mr Rose and Mr O'Hanlon have spent years verifying, codifying, collating and clarifying the 20,000 pages of notes, typescripts and proofs comprising Joyce's "litters from aloft".

The new reading text of 'Finnegans Wake', typographically re-set for the first time in its publishing history, incorporates some 9,000 minor, yet crucial, corrections and amendments, covering punctuation marks, font choice, spacing, misspellings, misplaced phrases and ruptured syntax.

Although individually minor, these changes are crucial in facilitating a smooth reading of the book.

Danis Rose said yesterday: "Although it seems like a long time to be editing a single work, in many ways I'm astonished that it only took 30 years when you consider that the typesetting alone took 10."

Poet Seamus Deane and Joyce expert Bruce Arnold will also speak at the launch in Dublin Castle next week, as will the editors Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon.

Dubliner Rose is the editor of 'Ulysses: A New Reader's Edition' as well as the author of 'The Textual Diaries of James Joyce'. O'Hanlon, who has collaborated with Rose in most of his Joyce projects, is a mathematician.

Two-page special report on the book in tomorrow's Irish Independent by Bruce Arnold

Irish Independent

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