Navigation – Plan du site
The Poetics of Censorship

Incest, Lit(t)erally: How Joyce Censored The Wake

L’inceste, la lettre et la liberté : Joyce premier et dernier censeur du Wake
Stéphane Jousni

Résumés

Tout au long de sa vie d’auteur, Joyce dut batailler contre la censure, une censure à la fois éditoriale et institutionnelle, successivement irlandaise, britannique, américaine et française. C’est elle qui freina la publication de Dubliners pendant sept années (de 1907 à 1914), elle qui empêcha d’abord la publication puis la circulation de Ulysses aux Etats-Unis (de 1921 à 1934). Entaché d’immoralité voire d’obscénité, jugé blasphématoire et, pour finir, stigmatisé comme illisible (Finnegans Wake, 1939), le texte joycien n’aura cessé de louvoyer entre empêchements et interdictions, amputations et trahisons.

Finnegans Wake, car c’est bien de lui et de lui seul qu’il s’agira ici, prend pour pré-texte le tabou par excellence qu’est l’inceste, objet et sujet d’une lettre mystérieuse, introuvable, toujours déjà censurée mais toujours déjà en circulation, et qui n’est autre que l’œuvre elle-même. Ce faisant, le Wake démontre que la plus perverse mais aussi la plus efficace des censures (parce que la plus productive) est celle que l’auteur exerce contre sa propre création. Ainsi Finnegans Wake écrit-il l’histoire, toujours renouvelée, d’une fascinante transformation : celle qui voit l’art d’écrire le plus contraint qui se puisse imaginer donner naissance à l’art de lire le plus libéré qui soit.

Haut de page

Entrées d’index

Index by keywords :

authorship, father, incest, taboo
Haut de page

Texte intégral

1« This fellow has heresy in his essay ».

2This sentence is the petrifying accusation that young Stephen Dedalus, then a pupil at Belvedere College, has to face in chapter two of the Portrait Stephen, not Joyce himself, assuredly. Yet, in focusing on the boy’s defeat, the episode, whose autobiographical nature is attested, sheds light on Joyce’s own mishaps in later and real life. In the Portrait, Stephen indeed agrees to submit to the authority and — contrary to Joyce — to disown his initial argument:

  • 1 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), introduction and notes by Seamus Dean (...)

On a certain Tuesday the course of his triumphs was rudely broken. Mr Tate, the English master, pointed his finger at him and said bluntly:
– This fellow has heresy in his essay. […]
– Where? asked Stephen.
Mr Tate withdrew his delving hand and spread out the essay.
– Here. It’s about the Creator and the soul. Rrm… rrm…rrm… Ah: without the possibility of ever approaching nearer. That’s heresy.
Stephen murmured:
– I meant without a possibility of ever reaching.
It was a submission and Mr Tate, appeased, folded up the essay and passed it across to him, saying:
– O… Ah! ever reaching. That’s another story.1

  • 2 The occurrences themselves, which would hardly qualify today as “mild oath”, read :
  • 3 The minutiae of the battle of words can be found in Ellmann’s biography of Joyce. In one of his fa (...)
  • 4 Terence Brown, introduction to Dubliners, London: Penguin, Modern Classics, 1992, vii.

3Although not entirely such “another story”, the first trouble Joyce had with censorship was not with a religious authority on a spiritual or dogmatic issue; it was with his publisher on moral and political grounds. In February 1906, the English publisher Grant Richards, who had accepted Joyce’s manuscript of Dubliners, started objecting to the use of the adjective bloody in several stories. Used in “Two Gallants”, the word is also present — once — in “The Boarding House”, and several times in “Grace”.2 The real offence though was felt in its presence in “Ivy Day in a Committee Room”, where bloody was referring to late Queen Victoria: the use of the word was judged “indecent and blasphemous”. As time went by,3 Grant Richards’s objections became more and more numerous while Joyce, who had agreed to some changes to begin with, was turning adamant on specific passages. Eventually, after what Terence Brown calls a “protracted correspondence [in vain search] of a compromise between artistic integrity and commercial pusillanimity”,4 when Dubliners was finally published in 1914, the text read: “Here’s this chap come to the throne after his old mother keeping him out of it till the man is grey” when Joyce had initially written: “Here’s this fellow come to the throne after his bloody owl’ mother keeping him out of it till the man is grey.” (My italics)

  • 5 Ellmann mentions that the prospect amused Joyce. “As he wrote to Miss Weaver on February 25, 1920: (...)

4The publishing history of Ulysses, which is well known and has been thoroughly documented, belongs indeed to the history of censorship, if only in America. The book, which was meant to be published by the English review The Egoist, was actually serialized — thanks to Ezra Pound — in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918. But the US postal authorities, which controlled the circulation of the monthly issues of the journal, started objecting to the text’s obscenity, with the consequence that they stopped the mailing. Successively in January 1919, May 1919, January 1920 and July-August 1920 — corresponding respectively to episodes 8, 9, 12 and 13, namely “Lestrygonians”, “Scylla and Charybdis”, “Cyclops” and “Nausicaa”—the issues of The Little Review were confiscated, which meant burning5. Episode 13 — “Nausicaa” — also fell into the hands of the Secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice who, in October 1920, lodged a complaint against the Little Review for publishing obscenity:

  • 6 Jeri Johnson, introduction to Ulysses (1922 text), Oxford: Oxford UP, World’s Classics, 1993, xli.

Citing virtually every page of Nausicaa, the complaint charged that it was ‘obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent and disgusting’.[…] The case was lost in February 1921, which meant for Joyce the loss of any possibility of Ulysses appearing in book form in the United States.6

5The ban was not lifted before the end of 1933 — interestingly enough, the period during which Ulysses was legally censored exactly covers the period of Prohibition. This is how Ulysses came to be published in France, in 1922.

  • 7 Some critics have argued that on account of its metaphorical disguise the passage may have been ov (...)

6Actually, the mention in the “Nausicaa” episode of Gerty McDowell’s exhibition of her drawers on Sandymount Strand — one of the major examples of obscenity that were stigmatized — was far more innocent than its immediate consequences, i.e. Leopold Bloom’s masturbation.7 Among the numerous elements that helped mythologize Ulysses in terms of publication, one can single out two anecdotes. One is related to the copy-editing in America of the manuscript of Ulysses: in what he claimed later was merely an attempt to circumvent the suppression of the whole of episode 4 (“Calypso”), Ezra Pound himself had cut numerous passages from Joyce’s text, in particular all references to Bloom’s defecation, on which the episode ends. The other features — at a later stage — the manufacturing of the book: while the process of typing and printing Ulysses—in Dijon, at Maurice Darantière’s — was proceding fairly smoothly, the last of a series of misfortunes with the “Circe” episode — episode fifteenth — saw the husband of the typist, after glancing at the manuscript and finding it utterly scandalous, throw the offensive passages into the fire. As Joyce had no spare copy, the burnt pages had to be rewritten entirely...

Finnegans Wake: the Word, the Letter and Transgression

7Whereas for Joyce’s earlier works the identification of the actual censor(s) — typist or printer, publisher, legal authorities …— is an essential matter, in the case of Finnegans Wake it ceases to be relevant, provided we consider the message — i.e. the work of art – in its entire process, including all intermediary stages between the author’s creation and its reception by the reader. Indeed Finnegans Wake, which is allegedly unintelligible, cannot be censored by any authority precisely on account of its illegibility. This is far less a Jesuitical statement than it may seem; with the Wake, the only two instances that can in any case intervene in terms of censorship are the author and the reader.

  • 8 See Colin McCabe’s analysis in James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, Basingstoke: Palgrave M (...)

8My contention in this paper is that the link is quintessential between censorship as a notion and Finnegans Wake. Censorship, at least in literature, indeed confronts the taboo and the word. The confrontation may lead to the physical act of deleting the offensive items, including by — literally — crossing out or blackening passages, from one single word to whole segments, so as to render them illegible. In letters, for example, this is a common practice of military censorship during wars. Precisely, what Joyce does with Finnegans Wake is question the word, in the sense of challenging its very notion.8 My use of the term “word” here obviously refers both to the linguistic notion and its numinous value. These form the two lines of argument of my paper; they are based on two elements that no longer have to be proven: firstly, the poetics of Finnegans Wake is the poetics of the pun; secondly, Finnegans Wake’s major — maybe only — topic is incest. And that which represents the utmost transgression in all cultures is essentially referred to by means of a mysterious letter, always-already evoked, never shown, in other words always-already censored.

In the Beginning was the Pun9

  • 9 Beckett places the phrase in Murphy’s mouth in the eponymous novel Murphy (1938).
  • 10 Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos, The Middle Ages of James Joyce, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1982. Fr (...)
  • 11 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, London: Faber & Faber, 1939, 460.20. Subsequent references (FW) are t (...)

9In his study of Joyce’s works entitled The Aesthetics of Chaosmos,10 Umberto Eco devotes a part of his close reading of Finnegans Wake to the analysis of the pun, “a figure largely ignored by classical rhetoric”, which he defines as a sort of “pseudo paronomasia” (AC, 65), sophisticated in the case of the Joycean pun by its multilayered, multilingual character. Among the various examples Eco gives, one can single out “Jungfraud’s Messonge book”11 a segment in which the Wake’s readers even only slightly familiar with psychoanalytic theory will be able to detect — or detext —simultaneously: Jung + Freud + young + fraud + Jungfrau + message + songe + mensonge.

  • 12 To which we can also add scherzo (the musical movement) … and probably some more.

10Eco concludes his analysis with this segment, which is no less than a patchwork of elements scattered in the Joycean text: “Finnegans Wake [the open work par excellence] is a scherzarade (game, charade, tale of Sheherazade)12meanderthale and, finally, a work of doublecrossing twofold truths and devising tail-words” (AC, 66). Or, to quote the text in its problematic syntagmaticity, the Wake is a:

prepronominal funferal, engraved and retouched and edgewiped and puddenpadded, very like a whale’s egg farced with pemmican, as were it sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till this noddle sink or swim by that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia. (FW, 120.10)

  • 13 The following lines are partly rewritten from an article which appeared in French under the title (...)
  • 14 When the survival in Cornwall of a megalith known as the “Tristan Stone – dating back to the sixth (...)
  • 15 Isolde is often called Fair Isolde/ Iseult (Iseult-la-Blonde, also Iseult-la-Belle). She was the d (...)
  • 16 If Isolde’s name is variously spelt according to the periods and the authors (one can also find Ys (...)

11The examples selected in this paper will mostly be sex-oriented, as befits the story of Tristan and Isolde, at least according to Joyce’s apparently unorthodox interpretation. In actual fact, the famous Arthurian legend, which forms the basis of one of the first sections of Finnegans Wake — Joyce began writing them in July-August 1923 — and reads as one of the major intertexts of the Wake,13 has long been considered an epitome of tragic unconsummated love.14 Joyce’s reading runs counter to that tradition. His erotic bias leads to many a delightful coinage such as, for instance, Sexcaliber (FW, 14), playing on the name of Arthur’s magical sword Excalibur, to aptly remind the reader that the very early texts of Arthurian literature were far saucier than the versions which circulated during the Victorian age. The occurrence appears in the very first pages of the text, clearly setting the tone of Tristan and Isolde’s romance. Later on, the reader comes upon a pseudo toponym, Luvillicit, the village which Isolde supposedly comes from (FW, 385.25), which definitely confirms his/her suspicion of the not-so-chaste nature of the relationship between the blond Irish maiden15 and her Armorican champion aka Tristan.16

12Among the most remarkable passages helping Finnegans Wake qualify as a great erotic novel stands the section usually labelled “the Tristan and Isolde vignette”. It makes up most of episode 4 of Book II, during which Tristan takes Isolde away from her native Irish home to escort her and, literally, deliver her to King Mark of Cornwall to whom she is to be married. The passage lists as the main event of the journey “the big kiss of Tristan and Isolde”, a fact that had long been kept a secret — i.e. censored — on account of its scandalously immodest nature:

For it was then a pretty thing happened of pure diversion mayhap, when his flattering hend, at the justright moment, like perchance some cook of corage might clip the lad on a poot of porage handshut his duckhouse, the vivid girl, deaf with love, (ah sure, you know her, our angel being, one of romance’s fadeless wonderwomen, and, sure now, we all know you dote on her even unto date !) with a queeleetlecreee of joysis crisis she renulited their disunited, with ripy lepes to ropy lopes (the dear o’dears !) and the golden importunity of aloofer’s leavetime, when, as quick, is greased pigskin, Amoricas Champius, with one aragan throust, druve the massive of virilvigtoury flshpst the both lines of forwards (Eburnea’s down, boys !) rightjingbangshot into the goal of her gullet. (FW, 395)

  • 17 “Like Arthurian literature in general, the Tristan story saw a revival in the Victorian age”, Alan (...)

13Actually, among the various versions of the legend that circulated in the nineteenth century17 and that Joyce had access to, Swinburne’s treatment of the story focuses on the famous kiss in the poem “Prelude”. As Lupack states, quoting from the poem:

  • 18 Ibidem, 156.

[the] ‘Prelude’ defines and glorifies love as a powerful and essential force […] The irresistible power of love is symbolized by the love potion. After unwittingly drinking the potion, the lovers kiss: ‘And their four lips became one burning mouth’ (46). This image, which closes the first of the poem’s nine sections, is part of a pattern of images of fire and heat that suggest the burning passion and the elemental nature of their love. The passion exists until their deaths when, in a line that echoes the description of their first kiss, Iseult finds Tristram dead and dies herself as she kisses him one last time, a kiss in which ‘their four lips became one silent mouth’.18

  • 19 In Luca Crispi and Sam Slote’s “Chapter by Chapter Genetic Guide”, Mikio Fuse notes that as time w (...)
  • 20 The italics are mine while the parentheses are Joyce’s. D3 and D4 stand for draft n°3 and draft n° (...)

14Joyce, who chose a maritime metaphor in contrast to Swinburne’s fiery one, may well have drawn upon the poet’s romantic vision to deliver his own, much more risqué. At any rate, it is worth noting that between the final version — Joyce’s rather graphic description of a “down-the throat-French kiss” — and the earlier drafts, dramatic changes have taken place. They all go from the more explicit to the more cryptic,19 which could be viewed as a self-censoring process. Let us simply scrutinize what transformations affect Isolde’s teeth: from “the double line of ivoryclad forwards” (D3) they become “the double line of eburnean forwards” (D4) to end up in the final version as “the both lines of forwards (Eburnea’s down, boys !)”20

  • 21 To be convinced of the erotic charge of Joyce’s words, one only needs to examine the description o (...)

15Undeniably, the Latin term eburnea / eburnean — meaning “ivory” or “made of ivory” — is meant to ring a bell to any Irishman/woman’s ear or indeed to anyone aware of Ireland’s Latin name — Hibernia —, provided he/she drops the ‘h’ and spurns the diphthong in the first syllable. It also reveals the French slang word burnes (balls), whose presence is consistent with the overall erotic quality of the passage.21 Thus, if we agree with Eco’s analysis, identifying the major force of the text as residing in “its permanent ambiguity and in the continuous resounding of numerous meanings which seem to permit selection but in fact eliminate nothing”, (AC, 67) for a polyglot reader with some command of French to discard the presence of burnes in this Eburnea can only mean that he/she is — whether consciously or unconsciously — censoring his/her own reading.

  • 22 See A. de Mandach, “Le triangle Marc-Iseut-Tristan : un drame de double incest”,  études Celtiques(...)
  • 23 Insect appears only four times in the whole book, one in the singular form —FW, 127.3 — and three (...)
  • 24 One might object that insects are not particularly famous for metaphorically pointing to sex or se (...)

16So far, we have been dealing with sex. Yet the Wake is not concerned so much with sex per se as with incestuous sex. This remark applies first and foremost to the love affair between Tristan and Isolde, since most researchers in Celtic studies make Tristan Mark’s son rather than his nephew. Some theories even make Tristan the son Mark had with his own sister, which would turn the triangular relationship between Mark, Tristan and Isolde into “a tragedy of double incest”.22The word incest as such never appears: the closest the text goes to the naming of the thing is the use of the word insect, which reads both as paronomasia and anagram. Though not particularly recurrent,23 it is literally omnipresent, mainly through the various forms taken by the reference to the earwig after which Earwicker, the hero, the Father —aka HCE, for Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker — is called. One of these forms is the pleasantly Hibernicized version of its French translation “perce oreille”, which leads to Persse O’Reilly, one of Earwicker’s avatars.24

  • 25 Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789) was a major work on the syllabus of (...)

17 Further on, the deed with no name is mentioned — or rather alluded to — via derived words, some existing, some totally forged, such as incestuous or incestuish. The genuine term incestuous appears when the plot is transposed to the last years of the Roman Empire.25 Under the guise of Roman senators and emperors the real identities of the characters are easily made out: they are no less than Porter / Earwicker the Father, Anna Livia (ALP) the Mother, and the three children, Shem and Shawn the twins and Isobel / Yso-belle.

Incest to the Letter

  • 26 That is, debated upon within the text itself.
  • 27 It has also been labelled by Joycean critics “polymorphous criminality”, “Protean sexual offence”. (...)

18The pre-text of the Wake happens to be a much debated upon “act of indecency”,26 supposedly committed by father Earwicker against two anonymous innocent girls in Phœnix Park; these two unnamed maidens are but the two faces of one woman, Isobel, Earwicker’s daughter. The nature of the aforesaid act of indecency becomes transparent when the name of Phoenix Park aptly changes into Fornix Park; or perhaps it does not, since HCE’s sexual misdemeanour27 is still variously read as an act of exposure, actual sexual intercourse, or merely “peeping” at two girls micturating under a bush. Everything — so the reader is told — is said and explained in a/the famous Letter, which could be described as follows:

  • 28 The phrasing is Mikio Fuse’s in the chapter entitled “The Letter and the Groaning” devoted to chap (...)

[it is] a document of the family drama, purporting to defend (but yet betrays) the ‘crime or crimes’ (FW, 107.26) allegedly committed by HCE. It was supposedly written by Shem and carried by Shaun on behalf of ALP, and, at times, it appears to be an incestuous message addressed by Issy to HCE.28

  • 29 “Belinda of the Dorans, a more than quinquagintarian (Terziis prize with Serni medal, Cheepalizzy’s (...)
  • 30 The beginning of Chapter 5 develops into three pages, thereby listing the various names that were (...)

19At first — i.e. in chapter 4 Book I — it is only mentioned, yet it already appears as a document of paramount importance. The Letter is then discovered — and subsequently described, analysed and commented upon — in chapter 5 Book I. The latter is often referred to as the “Letter Chapter” and could very well stand as the real incipit of the Wake. The document is dug out of a dung heap by a hen: “and what she was scratching at the hour of klokking twelve looked for all this zogzag world like a goodish-sized sheet of letter paper originating by transhipt from Boston (Mass.)”. (FW, 111.7-10) The geographic origin of the Letter, the identity of its discoverer whose full pedigree is given,29 are clearly established. Its genuineness cannot be denied: “It is not a hear or say of some anomorous letter”, (FW, 112.30) and its author is identified: Anna Livia, then called “Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities” is the one who initially conceived it. The Letter is no less than her declaration of love to HCE, her husband and princeps; it constitutes “[H]er untitled mamafesta memorialising the Mosthighest [that] has gone by many names at disjointed times”. (FW, 104.4)30

  • 31 This is no less than the definition of boustrophedon, that bi-directional form of writing which wa (...)
  • 32 Biographic as well as genetic criticism confirms the fact; in Crispi and Slote, Fuse sums up: “Tin (...)

20Many fastidious details are provided, all of them devoted to the formal characteristics of the Letter. All are pointed as ab-normal and generating confusion: “You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample jungle of woods”. (FW, 112.3) Before being covered with written signs, the sheet — “we note the paper with her pretty young watermark: Notre Dame du Bon Marché” (FW, 112.31) — has been ruled: “more than half of the lines run north-south in the Nemzes and Bukarhast directions while the others go west-east in search from Maliziies with Bulgarad”. (FW, 114.2-5) The visual result — “a pretty checker” — is far from being comfortable to the eye. Obviously, care was being taken to save paper: “It is seriously believed by some that the intention may have been geodetic, or, in the view of the cannier, domestic economical.” (FW, 114.14-15) But in the end, covering every square inch of the piece of paper, leaving no blank space whatsoever — or nearly — ends up ruining the intelligibility of the message: “But by writing thithaways end to end and turning,31 turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down… where in the waste is the wisdom?” One could carry on quoting from chapter 5, which marks the starting point of the book’s metatextual dimension. Clearly, the writing under scrutiny is Joyce’s and the document is no less than the Wake itself.32

21Among the numerous crucial points that relate to our issue in this paper stands the question of authorship. Of course the author of the Letter is Anna Livia, ALP, the Mother, the Wife. At the end of the book (FW, 615-619) she even authenticates the manuscript, by appending three words that leave no doubt whatsoever: Alma Livia Polabella. However, prior to this authentication, the concept of signature has been shown as nonexistent: “[…] never forgetting that both before and after the battle of the Boyne it was a habit not to sign letters always”. (FW, 114-115) The lack of formal existence hardly prevents the identification of the author though: “So why, pray, sign anything as long as every word, letter, penstroke, paperspace is a perfect signature of its own?”(FW, 115.6-8) What matters ultimately is that

while we may have our irremovable doubts as to the whole sense of the lot, the interpretation of any phrase in the whole, the meaning of every word of a phrase so far deciphered out of it […] we must vaunt no idle dubiosity as to its genuine authorship and holubolus authoritativeness (FW, 118.1-4).

  • 33 The irony shows in the presence of “holubolus” (hullabaloo + tohu-bohu + Latinized ending).
  • 34 The Latin auctoritas directly refers to the auctor, i.e. the founding father. Both words point to (...)
  • 35 One has to remember how the first page of the Wake reprocesses the story of Humpty Dumpty.
  • 36 I am here obviously following Derrida in his indirect commentary of Finnegans Wake in Plato’s Phar (...)

22The unencrypted use of such terms as “authorship” or “authoritativeness” ironically33 and yet unequivocally refers to the Father,34 successively and synecdochically: Earwicker, Joyce, God, thus pointing to the Wake as masquerading as the Holy Writ. The innocent reader who would be reluctant to jump to that conclusion must then be reminded of the following two elements: one is that via the image of the hen — and the egg35Finnegans Wake evidences that its main preoccupation lies in the question of the origin. This leads us to highlight the fact that once discovered, the text reveals a stain — literally, the letter discovered on the dung heap is filthy; a stain — the original sin — which equates the origin …with incest. Here is undoubtedly a first heresy. The other lies in a now famous phrase: “in the buginning is the woid” (FW, 378.29). This playful parody of the Scriptures qualifies as another heresy since it can be — and has been — equated with the rejection of the Logos.36

  • 37 As a punishment to men who had built a tower ambitioning to reach Heavens, Yahve sentenced the inh (...)

23Heresy? … to say the least the deed matches what Aristotle first labelled hubris, a sin for which Yahve devised a specific retribution, namely Babel.37 One then could interpret the Wake’s babelism as Joyce’s albeit parodic self-censorship, by which he was chastising his own transgression. One indeed should never overlook the fact that Jesuit-educated Joyce, however anticlerical, never ceased to be a believer. So far for the authorial aspect of censorship, whatever credit we grant the hypothesis.

24As for the other instance able to censor the text of the Wake — the reader — his/her only way to do it is to dismiss it. That was the stance Nabokov once adopted:

  • 38 A pastiche of Joyce’s own phrasing (FW, 120.10). Cf supra.
  • 39 Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, New York: McGraw Hill, 1973. Inserted as epigraph to his “After (...)

Ulysses towers over the rest of Joyce’s writings, and in comparison to its noble originality and unique lucidity of thought and style the unfortunate Finnegans Wake is nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room, most aggravating to the insomniac that I am38Finnegans Wake’s façade disguises a very conventional and drab tenement house, and only the infrequent snatches of heavenly intonations redeem it from utter insipidity. I know I am going to be excommunicated for this pronouncement.39

25However, in order to advocate the non-reading of the Wake — what Nabokov is seemingly aiming at here —, any censor must have read it first, albeit in fragments. This amounts to a form of aporia of which only way out is to start reading the text all over again: “[…] riverrun, past Eve and Adam, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, […]”.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

BECKETT Samuel, Murphy, London: Routledge, 1938.

BROMWICH Rachel (ed.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein, The Triads of the Island of Britain, Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2006 (3rd edition).

CHOCHEYRAS Jacques, Tristan et Iseut, Genèse d’un mythe littéraire, Paris: Honoré Champion, 1996.

CRISPI Luca and SLOTE Sam (eds.), How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake, A Chapter by Chapter Genetic Guide, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2007.

DE MANDACH André, “ Le triangle Marc-Iseut-Tristan : un drame de double inceste”,  études Celtiques, XXIII, Paris, 1986.

DERRIDA Jacques, La dissémination, Paris: Le Seuil, 1972 (Engl. transl. 1981).

DETTMAR Kevin J. H., The Illicit Joyce of Postmodernism, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1996.

ECO Umberto, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos, The Middle Ages of James Joyce (trans E. Esrock), University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1982 [1962].

ELLMANN Richard, James Joyce, Oxford: Oxford UP, rev. ed. 1982 [1959].

JOUSNI Stéphane, “Eburnea’s down boys! Le baiser fougueux de Tristan et Iseut vu par Joyce”, SOFEIR Conference, Lille, March 2009, http://cecille.recherche.univ-lille3.fr/axes-de-recherche/irlande-internationalisation-et/publications-en-ligne-69/.

JOYCE James, Dubliners (1914), intro Terence Brown, London: Penguin, Modern Classics, 1992.

____________, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), intro and notes Seamus Deane, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.

____________, Ulysses (1922), intro Jeri Johnson, Oxford: Oxford UP, World’s Classics, 1993.

____________, Finnegans Wake, London: Faber & Faber, 1939.

LUPACK Alan, Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

McCABE Colin, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd rev. edition 2003 [1978].

NABOKOV Vladimir, Strong Opinions, New York: McGraw Hill, 1973.

Haut de page

Notes

1 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), introduction and notes by Seamus Deane, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992, 83-84. Emphases Joyce’s.

2 The occurrences themselves, which would hardly qualify today as “mild oath”, read :

[...] At dinner, you know. Then he has a bloody big bowl of cabbage before him on the table and a bloody big spoon like a shovel. (“Grace”)

3 The minutiae of the battle of words can be found in Ellmann’s biography of Joyce. In one of his famous letters to Grant Richards (May 20, 1906, in Letters, I, 61), Joyce wrote: “The points on which I have not yielded are the points which rivet the book together. If I eliminate them what becomes of the chapter of the moral history of my country? I fight to retain them because I believe that in composing my chapter of moral history in exactly the way I have composed it I have taken the first step towards the spiritual liberation in my country”. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Oxford: Oxford UP, rev. ed. 1982 [1959], 221. From here on, this work will be referred to as E. followed by the page number.

4 Terence Brown, introduction to Dubliners, London: Penguin, Modern Classics, 1992, vii.

5 Ellmann mentions that the prospect amused Joyce. “As he wrote to Miss Weaver on February 25, 1920: ‘This is the second time I have had the pleasure of being burned while on earth so that I shall pass through the fires of purgatory as quickly as my patron S. Aloysius’. With his penchant for litigation he dreamed of a trial as successful as that of Madame Bovary”. (E., 502)

6 Jeri Johnson, introduction to Ulysses (1922 text), Oxford: Oxford UP, World’s Classics, 1993, xli.

7 Some critics have argued that on account of its metaphorical disguise the passage may have been overlooked or even failed to be understood.

8 See Colin McCabe’s analysis in James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd rev. edition 2003 [1978]. See also the 1929 modernist proclamation of the “Revolution of the Word” as was theorized in the journal transition.

9 Beckett places the phrase in Murphy’s mouth in the eponymous novel Murphy (1938).

10 Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos, The Middle Ages of James Joyce, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1982. From here on, this work will be referred to as AC followed by the page number. Italics Eco’s.

11 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, London: Faber & Faber, 1939, 460.20. Subsequent references (FW) are to this edition.

12 To which we can also add scherzo (the musical movement) … and probably some more.

13 The following lines are partly rewritten from an article which appeared in French under the title “Eburnea’s down boys! Le baiser fougueux de Tristan et Iseut vu par Joyce”, SOFEIR Conference, Lille, March 2009, <http://cecille.recherche.univ-lille3.fr/axes-de-recherche/irlande-internationalisation-et/publications-en-ligne-69/>.

14 When the survival in Cornwall of a megalith known as the “Tristan Stone – dating back to the sixth century – suggests that the legend may have had some basis in fact, the romance itself or rather the romances began to circulate in the twelfth century. The early medieval Tristan material is roughly divided into two traditions: the common or primitive one by Béroul and the courtly one by Thomas of Britain. The latter more particularly accounts for the noble bashfulness which is supposed to have dictated the behaviour of the two unfortunate lovers. See Alan Lupack’s Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

15 Isolde is often called Fair Isolde/ Iseult (Iseult-la-Blonde, also Iseult-la-Belle). She was the daughter of the king of Ireland. She must be distinguished from Isolde / Iseult of the White Hands (of Brittany). Both maidens were wooed by Tristan who actually married the latter. The spelling Isolde mainly appears in Germanic languages, English and German included, as well as in Wagner’s version of the legend, the opera Tristan und Isolde (completed 1859, first performed 1865) which Joyce very much admired and even called a “magical work”. (E., 459)

16 If Isolde’s name is variously spelt according to the periods and the authors (one can also find Ysold, Ysolt, Isolt, Yseut, Yseult, Iseult, Iseut, Es(s)yllt…), this is no less the case for Tristan, who has been variously referred to — from the sixth century onward — as Drystan, Drustan (in Welsh), Trystan, Tristram (in English), Tristran, Tristrant, Tristan (in French)… See Jacques Chocheyras, Tristan et Iseut, Genèse d’un mythe littéraire, Paris: Honoré Champion, 1996 (43-53) and Rachel Bromwich (ed.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein, The Triads of the Island of Britain, Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2006 (3rd edition), 331-334. For the whole legend, see Lupack, op. cit., chap. 7, 371-425.

17 “Like Arthurian literature in general, the Tristan story saw a revival in the Victorian age”, Alan Lupack writes. Three major poets reprocessed the medieval material: Matthew Arnold (“Tristram and Iseult”, a poem, 1852), Tennyson (“The Last Tournament”, 1872) and Swinburne (‘Tristram of Lyonesse’, 1882). Op. cit., 394-395.

18 Ibidem, 156.

19 In Luca Crispi and Sam Slote’s “Chapter by Chapter Genetic Guide”, Mikio Fuse notes that as time went by, Joyce’s compositions were more and more complex: “by [1926] Joyce had reached a perhaps perverse proficiency in his distorted and distended ‘nat language’ (FW: 83.12) and was now able to compose new passages directly in his ‘ersebest idom’ (FW: 253.01) of translinguistic portmanteaux. As a result, the first drafts from this point on are more and more complex, far more than the essentially first drafts from a few years before”. L. Cripsi and S. Slote (eds.), How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake, A Chapter by Chapter Genetic Guide, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2007, 98-123. Not to mention the transformation of the very early first drafts into their subsequent versions.

20 The italics are mine while the parentheses are Joyce’s. D3 and D4 stand for draft n°3 and draft n°4. Both drafts have been dated August 1923.

21 To be convinced of the erotic charge of Joyce’s words, one only needs to examine the description of Isolde’s beauty which immediately precedes the kiss itself. The text reads: “nothing under her hat but red hair and solid ivory and a firstclass pair of bedroom eyes”. (FW, 396) The phrase is almost immediately — yet after the kiss — complemented with the mention of the lovers’ post-coitum sadness (“volatile volupty, how brieved are thy lunguings !” (396-29), which is itself followed by their ensuing sleepiness: “how they used to be in lethargy’s love” (397-8). The whole segment helps consider that long prepared kiss as both a metaphor and a metonymy of the sexual intercourse which is supposed to have been nobly eschewed by Tristan and Isolde.

22 See A. de Mandach, “Le triangle Marc-Iseut-Tristan : un drame de double incest”,  études Celtiques, XXIII, 1986, 195 and R. Bromwich (ed.), op. cit., 332.

23 Insect appears only four times in the whole book, one in the singular form —FW, 127.3 — and three in the plural: FW, 306.31; FW, 339.22; FW, 414.27.

24 One might object that insects are not particularly famous for metaphorically pointing to sex or sexual intercourse. Several idioms in various European languages use the image though. As far as the ear is concerned, things read differently: in African mythology for example, the ear symbolizes animality; among the Dogons and the Bambaras — two African peoples from the Western part of the continent — its symbolism is twofold: the auricle stands for the penis and the auditory canal represents the vagina. Incidentally, this sexual symbolism is related to a legend dating from the early ages of Christianity which has the Virgin Mary conceive through the ear. Presumably Joyce was aware of some, at least, of these details.

25 Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789) was a major work on the syllabus of a schoolboy in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Joyce had read the book of course, most probably studied it. It has often been argued that Joyce was drawing a parallel between the Roman and the British empires, particularly in Finnegans Wake.

26 That is, debated upon within the text itself.

27 It has also been labelled by Joycean critics “polymorphous criminality”, “Protean sexual offence”...

28 The phrasing is Mikio Fuse’s in the chapter entitled “The Letter and the Groaning” devoted to chapter 5 Book I of the Wake, in Crispi and Slote’, op. cit., 98. The Letter is much more multipurpose than it appears, though: in the introduction to that same work, Crispi, Slote and Van Hulle note that Joyce’s initial drafts (dated early 1926) “elaborate on Shaun’s delivery of the letter and include ‘a long absurd and rather incestuous Lenten lecture to Izzy, his sister.’” Whether the incest is perpetrated with the father, the brother(s) or all three will fortunately remain unsettled forever.

29 “Belinda of the Dorans, a more than quinquagintarian (Terziis prize with Serni medal, Cheepalizzy’s Hane Exposition)”. (FW, 111.5)

30 The beginning of Chapter 5 develops into three pages, thereby listing the various names that were ascribed to the document. The reader is led to infer that the list is not exhaustive.

31 This is no less than the definition of boustrophedon, that bi-directional form of writing which was the commonest way of writing on stones in ancient Greece (before the Hellenistic period).

32 Biographic as well as genetic criticism confirms the fact; in Crispi and Slote, Fuse sums up: “Tindall observed that ‘the letter represents all literature…, especially Finnegans Wake.’” Rose and O’Hanlon concur, arguing that the Letter is, “synecdochically, the Wake”, but they go further, pointing out the analogy between the “ruled barriers” of the document and some of Joyce’s notebooks, the pages of which are literally ruled. See L. Crispi and S. Sloti, op. cit., 100.

33 The irony shows in the presence of “holubolus” (hullabaloo + tohu-bohu + Latinized ending).

34 The Latin auctoritas directly refers to the auctor, i.e. the founding father. Both words point to the law.

35 One has to remember how the first page of the Wake reprocesses the story of Humpty Dumpty.

36 I am here obviously following Derrida in his indirect commentary of Finnegans Wake in Plato’s Pharmacy. Jacques Derrida, La dissémination, Paris: Le Seuil, 1972 (Engl. transl. 1981).

37 As a punishment to men who had built a tower ambitioning to reach Heavens, Yahve sentenced the inhabitants of the tower to speak different languages in order to prevent them from understanding one another.

38 A pastiche of Joyce’s own phrasing (FW, 120.10). Cf supra.

39 Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, New York: McGraw Hill, 1973. Inserted as epigraph to his “Afterword” by Kevin J. H. Dettmar, in The Illicit Joyce of Postmodernism, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1996, 209.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Stéphane Jousni, « Incest, Lit(t)erally: How Joyce Censored The Wake », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI - n°3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 22 novembre 2013, consulté le 24 novembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/5466 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5466

Haut de page

Auteur

Stéphane Jousni

Stéphane Jousni, agrégée d’anglais, est maître de conférences à l’université Rennes 2. Spécialiste de Joyce, sur qui elle a écrit de nombreux articles ainsi qu’un ouvrage (Lectures de A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, PUR, 2009), elle concentre aujourd’hui sa recherche sur Finnegans Wake, sur lequel elle prépare une monographie. Au nombre de ses derniers articles se trouvent : « Le genre de L’Autre dans Finnegans Wake » in La Fabrique du genre, PUR, 2008 ; “Eburnea’s down boys! Le baiser fougueux de Tristan et Iseut vu par Joyce”, Lille, 2009 , ou encore « Les vacances de M. Joyce en Bretagne, ‘mar pliche !’ », in La France et l’Irlande, destins croisés (16è-21è siècles), ed. C. Maignant, Lille, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2013.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Revues.org