February 23, 2018
Finnegans Wake, Chop SueyOn this day in 1923, James Joyce wrote to his patron, Harriet Weaver, that he had just begun "Work in Progress," the book which would become Finnegans Wake sixteen years later: "Yesterday I wrote two pages -- the first I have written since the final "Yes" of Ulysses. Having found a pen, with some difficulty I copied them out in a large handwriting on a double sheet of foolscap so that I could read them. . . ." Though increasingly plagued by eye problems -- ten operations, and counting -- Joyce's lifestyle had improved from the Ulysses years, thanks to Weaver's continued support, and money given by Sylvia Beach against future royalties. He and his wife, Nora, were able to get new clothes, a new flat, even new teeth: "The dentist is to make me a new set for nothing," wrote Joyce to Miss Weaver, "as with this one I can neither sing, laugh, shave nor (what is more important to my style of writing) yawn. . . ."
Nora was not fond of her husband's style of writing, and not usually content with a yawn. When she discovered that he was "on another book again," just a year after the misery of Ulysses, she asked her husband if, instead of "that chop suey you're writing," he might not try "sensible books that people can understand." Although she did not tighten her purse, Weaver was also unimpressed by those sections of "Work in Progress" which Joyce sent her, and by his explanation that he was attempting to go beyond "wideawake language, cutanddry grammar, and goahead plot":
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