Jennifer Ruark story

Scholars Trace Literary Origins of ‘Finnegans Wake’ in James Joyce’s 50 Notebooks

By  Jennifer Ruark

JUNE 14, 2002

"FINNEGANS CHROMOSOMES: Think of it as genetic research of a literary sort. The international group of scholars producing The Finnegans Wake Notebooks at Buffalo is tracing the development of James Joyce’s late masterpiece to its original building blocks, in a process that seems about as daunting as mapping the human genome.

During the 16 years (1923-39) it took Joyce to write Work in Progress, eventually published as Finnegans Wake, he filled at least 50 notebooks with words, phrases, and snippets of conversation -- either by himself or, as he went blind, with the help of a scribe. Scholars long thought the notebooks, which are now housed at the State University of New York at Buffalo under the curatorship of Robert J. Bertholf, were creative flights of fancy. But in the 1980s, Vincent Deane, an independent Joyce scholar in Dublin, and other researchers suggested that most of the entries could be traced back to written sources. For example, what had long appeared to be drafts of dialogues were actually lifted straight from reports in The Irish Times."