James Joyce; language, sources and method

James Joyce, "Roots and branches"

On the occasion of the first Joyce exhibition which was held in the Librairie-Galerie La Hune in Paris (October 1949), the owner Bernard Gheerbrant had a piece called "roots and branches“ made by Johnny Friedländer and Zao-Wou-Ki. The roots contain the most important literary sources which inspired James Joyce’s work and the branches show a few book titles of his followers. 

At the age of eighteen Joyce became fascinated by the work of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and he published an article about his play “When we dead awaken”. In 1907 the destiny of "A portrait of the Artist as a young man", the novel he was currently working on, was changed drastically. Chapters were scrapped and his style of writing altered, and all this as a result of his increasing interest in the French Symbolism and Naturalism. The technique of the "stream of consciousness" was chiefly inspired by the Russian writer Tolstoy and the French writer Edouard Dujardin.
is based on the Odyssee of the Greek writer Homer. The cyclical structure of Finnegans Wake is inspired by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico.

Listen and read the fragment of text from Ulysses, episode 7, Aeolus read by Joyce himself (click)

Joyce evolved from realism in his literary work (attempts to describe the world), through doubts about the possibilities it afforded, to finally concentrating on the language itself. In their experimentation with language both Joyce and Dada sought to break from old forms and to focus more on the sound and colour of language.
In the chapters Cyclops, Circe and Ithaca, written during his exile in Zurich in 1919 and 1920, we see a style of writing emerging which is clearly the precursor to the prolific text of Finnegans Wake. These chapters, together with the episodes on Aeolus, Sirens and Oxen of the Sun all point to Work in Progress which ultimately was published under the title of Finnegans Wake.

Ulysses ends with the mention of all the cities in which the book was written. Putting down in black and white the places and times only serves to emphasize the importance which Joyce attached to the cities where he wrote the books.
Joyce’s German style in Zürich different from his English style where the umlaut is dropped from the u, implies his devotion to preserving the language identity of this city.

If the boundaries of the novel writing technique were drastically stretched in the writing of Ulysses they were wrested even further in the creation of Finnegans Wake. It appeared as if in Ulysses all the scope that language had to offer was fulfilled, but Finnegans Wake transports language beyond the bounds of communication. Ulysses is the book of the day, Finnegans Wake the book of the night, for it evokes slumber and dreams. Joyce wrote his book of the night mainly in Paris, the city of light, and, after the First World War, the centre of art and English and American literature.  
Joyce worked for seventeen years (between 1923 and 1939) on his Work in Progress and from the beginning he published extracts in Transition as well as in other magazines.


Finnegans Wake is constructed according to the logic of a dream where the identities of the characters have no contours and indeed where identities mesh and interchange. A dream in which the inkling of a memory becomes manifest in a spate of symbols connected in bizarre way. It is the same for words. They are linked together in such an untrammeled and unanticipated way that a single phrase evokes a whole gamut of contradictory ideas. A nocturnal saga about metamorphoses with no boundaries between events. All is borne along on the flow of wordplay.

Finnegans Wake is written in a new language. The foundation of the book is English but the language is continually affected in all sorts of ways. On one hand Joyce meshes words so that a single construction of letters can encompass several words in the dictionary, and on the other hand Joyce weaves words and expressions from other languages into his texts.

Finnegans Wake does not adhere to a some of the major conventions of a traditional novel: a speaker is not always identified; the storyteller is not neutral but nearly always seems to be a character in the book; a speaker can be superseded by another in the middle of his dialogue; two speakers can even talk at the same time or one of the speakers takes over the characteristics of the other. It is questionable whether we can even define them as characters in Finnegans Wake.
It seems as though all the peoples of the world are included in the book: biblical and mythical figures, gods and heroes, fabulous characters, Roman emperors and popes, saints, world literature characters or characters from other Joyce books, historical figures, friends and family members, politicians, singers, composers, philosophers, artists, writers…
This massive tangle of people can be divided into large groups for which Joyce used symbols which he jotted down in notebooks (see the symbols at the bottom of page 299 in Finnegans Wake.)

Finnegans Wake is a myriad intertwining stories, a structured chronicle without a frame, a monster wordplay which skillfully conveys a chain of associations. Finnegans Wake refuses to lend itself to a simple interpretation. The book invites one into the realm of another kind of reading. Because of its circular construction it has no beginning and it has no end - the last words dovetail perfectly with the first words. (The illustration – to be found in FW - is a schematic combination of the map of Dublin and a geometrical problem, the “vesica pisces” symbol.)

Joyce was not a fantasist but an engineer, an assembler of building blocks. In a business-like manner he gathered his materials together, passionately interested in its form whilst not believing in its content. And if the printer had not printed and if the writer were not dead, Joyce would still be busy to this day adding to Finnegans Wake. The book was literally a Work in Progress.

       – a few pages from the many notebooks which formed the base of FW -



James Joyce in Zurich and Paris


On 30 June 1915 James Joyce arrived in Switzerland from Trieste with his wife and their two children and they settled in Zurich. Joyce spent a good deal of his time in the café-restaurants of the town. From the beginning of his sojourn in Zurich he frequented the Zum Weissen Kreuz restaurant in the Seefeldstrasse. Amongst the members of the "Club des Etrangers” which gathered there were later students of Joyce who were mostly friends. Soon afterwards Café-Restaurant Pfauen, next to the Pfauentheater (now the Schauspielhaus) became their favourite haunt. But Joyce also visited other cafés such as the Odeon and the Terrasse.

To the west of the Limmat Joyce regularly went to the Augustiner restaurant in the Augustinergasse because of its affordable lunch menu. On the other side of the Limmat were a few cafés which provided substantial food, such as the Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten to which Joyce went on special occasions. Because of the Zurich early closing hours, evenings which began in the Pfauen or Augustiner often removed to his own house, or to Frank Budgen’s studio and even, on one occasion, to the British Consulate. Joyce’s multifarious dialogue which was so surprisingly authentic found its origins in the café where he could observe his fellow human beings. For Joyce and his friends cafés were not places where you had to behave yourselves impeccably. Joyce considered them to be akin to British pubs where one could rub shoulders with all sorts of people without it mattering what their social backgrounds were, rather like an extension of one’s own living room. Lots of his friends told of his loud laugh and of his wont to sing songs. It was not until the thirties that Joyce visited the famous Kronenhalle
He then had more money to spend and was somewhat of a celebrity albeit in a small cultural circle. Aside from all this Joyce was often to be found in the “Zürcher Museumgesellschaft” on the Limmatquai, where he read English newspapers.

Joyce personally knew a few progressive musicians and he was a friend of Antheil and Otto Luening who were the first composers of "musique concrète". Joyce lived next to Philip Jarnach in Zurich and met Busoni who worked with Jarnach.
Joyce held the contemporary composers Othmar Schoek and Antheil in the highest regard. Antheil was a friend of Ezra Pound. Joyce tried to convince Antheil to write an opera based on Byron’s Cain, and also one about the Cyclops episode from his own Ulysses. A few fragments of written music of these pieces have survived and from these we can see pianolas and percussion played an important part, just as in his Ballet Mécanique from1921 (see Dada in Paris)


Upon the invitation of Ezra Pound the Joyce family moved to Paris in the summer of 1920. In the city of light Joyce wrote the last four episodes of Ulysses and at the end of 1921, or the beginning of 1922, he started his Work in Progress which for many years was the working title of Finnegans Wake. When Joyce met Eugene Jolas in 1926, he gained the opportunity of publishing Work in Progress in installments between 1927 and 1938 in the literary magazine Transition.  

In the sixteen years that Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake he filled fifty-five notebooks, from shorthand notebooks to cash books, all full to bursting with jottings, disparate newspaper articles and pronouncements of his wife Nora. These formed the raw material for his book.
During the writing of his Work in Progress Joyce was plagued by health problems and family worries. Between 1923 and 1930 Joyce underwent a dozen or so eye operations. His father died in 1931. In 1932 his daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But despite these setbacks the half-blind Irish bard carried on writing indefatigably.

Work in Progress was not well received. His brother Stanislaus and the writer Ezra Pound  were particularly loud critics. But there were also a few positive reviews. In 1931 Joyce read aloud in public from Anna Livia Plurabelle  in English and Adrienne Monnier read in French. In 1934 friends of Joyce organized a presentation of Work in Progress in a temporary room next to the renowned restaurant La Coupole. Louis Gillet, Léon-Paul Farque and Edouard Dujardin were the speakers who defended Joyce’s work. Samuel Becket, George Antheil and Philippe Soupault were among the public.

By the time the Joyce family succumbed to the approaching threat of war and left Paris in 1939, they had lived, for shorter or longer periods, in many places in Paris (and in between times in other parts of Europe, too). But to Joyce the city of Paris represented a stable base. Important to Joyce was Sylvia Beach (with her bookshop Shakespeare & Company) who had introduced Joyce to the Parisian literary world and who published Ulysses on 2 February 1922, his birthday.

Adrienne Monnier and Harriet Shaw Weaver supported Joyce both artistically and financially. Later on he became friends with Lucie and Paul Léon to whom he entrusted many of his manuscripts during the German occupation of Paris. On his birthday, 2 February 1939, in Jolas’ house in Neuilly Joyce at last revealed the hitherto secret title of his Work in Progres: Finnegans  Wake which he had been working on since the end of 1922 and which was published in May 1939 by the London publisher Faber & Faber.

James Joyce; Zurich and Paris as a literary source

Zurich as a literary source:

Dublin is not only immortalized in Ulysses but also in Finnegans Wake Dublin is constantly being referred to. This is also true for Zurich where the majority of the Ulysses episodes was written, and for Paris where Ulysses was finally published and where the whole of Finnegans Wake was written. It goes without saying that the cities have to suffer the full gamut of “Wakian” wordplay. Below are a few examples, chosen from many.

The word Zurich is only mentioned once in Finnegans Wake, in a sort of broken Irish mixed with German: Wheil he was, swishing beesnest with blessure, and swobbing broguen eeriesh myth brockendootsch, making his reporterage on Der Fall Adams for the Frankofurto Siding, a Fastland payrodicule, and er, consstated that one had on him the Lynn O'Brien, a meltoned lammswolle, disturbed, and wider he might the same zurichschicken other he would with tosend and obertosend tonnowatters, one monkey's damages become. (FW 70.3-9)

Two allusions to the name Zurich. Tugorios is en adjective which describes Switzerland and in particular Zurich. There are two lions in the Zurich coat of arms (just like Venice and Lyons). «Tugurios-in-NewrobeorTukurias-in-Ashies» means a land which is in both «Newrobe» (Europe) and «Ashies» (Asia); such as Turkey and Constaninople.  Your temple, sus in cribro! Semperexcommunicambiambisumers. Tugurios-in-Newrobe or Tukurias-in-Ashies. Novarome, my creature, blievend bleives. My building space in lyonine city is always to let to leonlike Men. (FW 155.4-7)

Tim Finnegan (Finn McCool, a hero from Celtic mythology, whom Joyce pokes fun at) was under the influence of the SechseläutenBöögg. (folkloric feast with parades of large effigies)  Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you're going to be fined again!" (FW 5.11-12) "0ho, oho, Mester Begge, you're about to be bagged in the bog again. (FW 58.16-17)

Joyce was particularly interested in the liaison betweeen "sex" and "bell",  female beauty and the sound of bells described as "pingpong". The Sechseläuten motif features prominently at the end of the chapter on Anna Livia Plurabelle. "There's the Belle for Sexaloitez!" is an answer to the question "Fieluhr?" (wie viel Uhr ist es?) except that this questions also points to "fiel er?" and "feel her?".   ".....don't you kennet or haven't I told you every telling has a taling and that's the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher's gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. 'Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse's clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I'd want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There's the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray!....."

Listen and read the fragment of text from Finnegans Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle read by Joyce himslf  (click)


Joyce was very interested in forgeign languages though most of them he could hardly speak. He kept lists of words from exotic languages (including Romanche) which he used for his book. There are no lists for the languages he did speak: English, French, Italian and German, not even for Schwytzerdütsch which he understood fairly well.  Schwytzerdütsch is a language with exceptional characteristics. First and foremost it is essentially a dialect which varies from region to region but which makes no social distinction. Secondly it is primarily a spoken language, and thirdly it seems to be a form of German which has stagnated. Joyce particularly favoured the expressions concerning “food He intermingled German and Schwytzerdütsch: This, of course, also explains why we were taught to play in the child­hood: Der Haensli ist ein Butterbrot, mein Butterbrot! Und Koebi iss dein Schtinkenkot! Ja!Ja!ja! (FW 163.4-7)

Paris as a literary source

Joyce toyed with the rumour that he was the founder of the Dadaist-Surrealist movement by placing HCE (one of the main characters in Finnegans Wake) in the limelight at a literary salon attended by Dadaists and Surrealists ...getting on to 'dadaddy again, as them we're ne'er free of.  (FW 496.28). This salon de espera described as a place where lodes of ores flocking fast to Mount Maximagnetic, afeerd he was a gunner but affaird to stay away (FW 497.16/17), was probably a reference to Les Champs Magnétiques, the first Surrealist text created by Philippe Soupault and André Breton, and perhaps also Max Ernst, who called himself "dadamax" . This reference is further strengthend by We are again in the magnetic field (FW 501.17). The salon is frequented by Merrionites (followers of the Futurist Marinetti), Dumstdumbdrummers (the lectures in Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich were often accompanied by rhythmical drumming), Cabraïsts (participants of the first Dada activities in Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich) and Ballymunites (close-knit devotees of Hugo Ball). (FW 497.17/19/20)

 A description of a boat and its passengers: 'Ack, ack, ack. With which clap, trap, and soddenment, three to a loaf, our mutual friends the fender and the bottle at the Bate seem to be implicitly in the same bateau' (FW 65). Parts of this description hark back to important statements and basic principles of the Surrealists.
is an illusion to René Crevel's pronouncement in the second edition of the "Révolution Surréaliste" that everybody is more or less syphilitic. 'Three to a loaf', and 'soddenment' refer to the further unexplained accusation of Paul Claudel in his Il Secolo interview that Surrealism and Dadaism only mean one thing: ‘pedarasty.' ‘Bateau' alludes to the importance the early Surrealists attached to Rimbaud's "Le Bateau Ivre", which they judged to be an exemplary text. The comment follows: the amount of all those sort of things ... has been going on onceaday in and twiceaday out every other nachtistag among all kinds of promiscious individuals at all ages in private homes and reeboos publikiss and allover all and elsewhere throughout secular sequence the country over and overabroad has been particularly stupendous (FW 66).
Here Joyce is talking about the spate of public uprisings blamed on the Surrealists. He called the group: "Federals", "Uniteds", "Transports Unions for Exultations of Triumphants Ecstasies" (FW 66).
The “Centre Surréaliste” was an office such as workers’ unions use for their meetings. Members were registered and propaganda was spread around. It was situated at 15 rue de Grenelle. Joyce went there regularly. It lay between his house and St. Germain-des-Prés.

The name Paris in Finnegans Wake

- Spoken with a French accent: And spoke she to the dour in her petty perusienne: Mark the Wans,..(FW 21.17/18)
- French text: tout est sacré pour un sacreur, femme à barbe ou hommes nourrice (FW 81.28/29)
- Eiffel: Holy Saint Eiffel, the very phoenix! (FW 88.24)
- Reference to Paris: Parish, and Safely and soundly soccered that feminine Parish Poser, (FW 93.14)
- Parisienne: Notre Dame de la Ville a circusfix riding her Parisienne’s cockneze. (FW 102.13/18)
- Notre Dame: Notre Dame du Bon Marché  (FW 112.32)
- Champ de Mors, reference to the Champ de Mars: ..an Irish plot in the Champ de Mors, not?  (FW 119.32)
- Comparison of the everlasting and Paris: and eats the unparishable sow to styve off reglar rack (FW 130.5)
- Comparison of the paleontological and Paris: That school of neoitalian or paleoparisen schola of tinkers. (FW 151.9)
- Paris: Parysis, tu sais, crucycrooks, belongs to him who parises himself (FW 155.16/17)
- Paname, and old Dutch Bargoens slang word in de 20s for Paris, Turricum is the Latin name for Zurich: …and catch the Paname
  Turricum and regain that absendee tarry easty, … (FW 228.22)
- La Chapelle: that was the belle of La Chapelle, shapely Liselle,..(FW 290.2)


James Joyce; documented meetings

Documented meetings, a choice

Ezra Pound persuaded Joyce to move to Paris, welcomed him there upon his arrival and had already made a hotel reservation for him. He introduced Joyce to Sylvia Beach, who would later publish “Ulysses”.

Valèrie Larbaud: Reading evening with James Joyce in the book shop owned by Sylvia Beach called Shakespeare & Company (1921)

Louis Aragon: "I also met Cummings, for me the greatest living poet from the United States and I saw James Joyce as often as I could".

  1   2     3

Man Ray:
photographed James Joyce on 17 March 1922 in his studio in the rue Delambre. (illustration1)

Constantin Brancusi
drew portraits of Joyce around 1929 (illustrations 2,3); he was a friend of Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds

Marcel Duchamp wrote about Mary Reynolds: "She was witness to Dada manifestations and the beginning of Surrealism in 1924. Close friends with André Breton, Raymond Queneau, Jean Cocteau, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Jacques Duchamp-Villon and many other important people of that time.

Philippe Soupault: "We often went to the theatre together which, as any self-respecting Irishman would, he thoroughly enjoyed… There, in the first row –because of his bad eyesight – his eyes took in every movement of the actors and his ears soaked up their every word. Only children can engross themselves as intently as Joyce”.  

Robert McAlmon organized a party for William Carlos Williams in Les Trianons restaurant. Williams sat opposite Joyce, and amongst the guests were a number of old acquaintances such as Marcel Duchamp, Mina Loy, and Man Ray.

Carola Giedion-Welcker: a friend of Joyce. In her literary-scientific work ("Work in Progress." Ein sprachliches Experiment von James Joyce”, 1929) she illustrates links between the texts of Joyce and those of Dadaist artists and authors.
(See also Paris, conspicuous parallels, about our selection).