The general bafflement caused by those portions of James Joyce’s Work in Progress which have appeared in transition seems to me an indication that most readers have failed to realize that Joyce’s writings, from Dubliners to the present book, form an indivisible whole.
Ordinarily the graph of a writer’s career ascends, with slight irregularities, to a horizontal line representing the culmination of development. That is, after a period of trial and error, he achieves an individual manner of expression and his works thenceforth are variations on a theme, becoming successively richer perhaps and more perfect but not differing in their bases one from another.
Joyce’s development, conversely, has been and continues to be a firm mounting line. Each of his books has represented an enormous advance in expression and technique, each has been the record of a corresponding advance in the author’s spiritual life. It is unlikely that he will repeat himself; and to predict, as some have done, that he will in the end return to the simplicity ofDub!zZne:·s is to admit a profound incomprehension of his mind.
This consistent development is apparent even in single books, as may be noticed by comparing the first pages of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with the closing pages or the first chapter of Ulysses with the ensuing ones. But, like other writers, Joyce has of course his constant qualities, although they are less evident; and it is these that must be searched for in his earlier works before a proper approach may be made to Work in Progress.
The progression through Dubliners, the Portrait and Ulysses to the present work, besides demonstrating a steady spiritual and literary expansion, crystallizes one constant factor that is of primary importance in understanding Joyce; namely, the fact that his style and technique are tyrannically dictated by the nature of his subject. In this respect his writing is perhaps the purest in the English language. There is a strong personal dye in all that he has ever written, from an unpretentious phrase in Chamber Music to an involved page—long sentence in Work in Progress; but the elasticity and resilience of his technique are so immense that they permit it to stretch out and close in over every minute tendril of the subject’s organism, whereas in the works of other writers the corners and protruding ends are apt to be chipped off in order that the main portions may be crammed into the confines of a rigid technique. It is this power that sometimes makes Joyce difficult, for, since the subject is so closely encased, there remain none of the vacant spaces which another writer would fill in with explanations.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the narrative opens in the babbling language and from the irrational viewpoint of a small child. As the child grows older the language and viewpoint become imperceptibly riper in proportion, until the story ultimately takes the form of the entries which Stephen Dedalus makes in his diary when his soul is tortured by the mental and physical revolt of adolescence. Nothing outside the consciousness of Stephen is included nor is there a phrase in the novel which does not contribute directly to the development of the theme.
The vantage point of Ulysses, a vastly more complex book, in which the subconscious to a large extent supplants the external and the conscious, shifts frequently, yet the rhythm, the tempo, the vocabulary and the limits of the frame are always determined by the subject.
The consistency with which Joyce adheres to this method is illustrated too by his disdain for transitions. When one unit of his work has come to its natural termination he drops it and turns to the next. He does not insert an announcement that six months have now passed in the life of Stephen or that the ensuing pages will reproduce the drowsy flow of Mrs Bloom’s consciousness as she lies in bed. Such a procedure would be alien to his mind and would seriously damage the organic quality of his writing.
This closeness of composition is intimately related to another phase of Joyce’s character — his preoccupation with words, a preoccupation which, apparent in the verbal precision of his early writing, has now become so highly developed that it has blinded most of his readers to the rich internal art of his latest work.
On the first page of the First story in Dubliners (written when Joyce was in his early twenties) I find the following significant passage:
“Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.”
His readers will remember Stephen’s reflections after discussing the word funnel with the dean of his school, an English convert to Catholicism:
“—The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.”
Again, the youthful Stephen communes with himself as he stands on the North Bull bridge:
“He drew forth a phrase from his treasure and spoke it softly to himself:
“— A day of dappled seaborne clouds.
“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade,hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many-coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world ofindividual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?”
Here is Stephen-Joyce reacting to the occult power of words as another might react to caresses or blows. His “soul frets” in their presence, they “fill him with fear”, certain of them he “cannot speak or write without unrest of spirit”, they evoke in him more intense emotions than the phenomena of the outer world. This is not an affectation. It is as vital apart of Joyce as his Irish birth or his Catholic training. Possibly, as he suggests, the weakness of his eyesight has sensitized his appreciation of the images that may be built from words; but, whatever the cause, this almost abnormal need for the nourishment of verbal associations has made it possible for him to write such sentences as “And low stole o’er the stillness the heartbeats of sleep”, in which he voices an emotion tuned to the pulse of the ages and familiar to all humankind.
It is little wonder then that, -as the years have gone by, Joyce has reached out farther and farther in his explorations ofthe world’s languages and has cut ever more deeply into the roots of the language formed by the successive generations of his ancestors. Nor is it any wonder that the wealth and range of his vocabulary have grown with each chapter and that his interests in recent years have become concentrated on the magnificent universe that may be brought into being by language.
It may at first seem that a chasm as wide as infinity separates the warm melodious lines above quoted from such sentences as:
“So you need hardly spell me how every word will be bound ove to carry three score and ten toptypsical reading throughout the book of Doublends Jined till Death, who oped it, closeth thereof the dor. ”
But each passage comes in its time. The Joyce of today is reflected as authentically in the last quotation as was the adolescent Stephen in the verses he wrote when ” the liquid letters of speech, symbols of the element of mystery, flowed forth over his brain”.
Inevitably his extension ofthe boundaries of language has been but half of the phenomenon which is complemented by a similar enlargement of conception. By following Joyce’s evolution through the four prose works one finds his “inner world of individual emotions” widening out from the intensely personal until it circumscribes a crowded cosmography. The short stories of Dubliners were re—creations of people Joyce had known in Dublin and of events he had witnessed. Beyond this, the stories were rich in personal and atmospheric overtones, but it was not until he wrote the Portrait that he was to subordinate the visible world. Here, despite the superb characterization of Simon Dedalus and such graphic scenes as the Christmas dinner, he was occupied with his own spiritual self, in recording the deprofundis of a sensitive boy’s turbulent passage through the sexual and spiritual crises of adolescence. Ulysses in parts ascended to a cosmic plane and displayed a Joyce who had advanced from the spiritual conflicts of youth to the more complex ones of maturity. Lndividual emotions were now tranformed into the universal. Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, for all the realistic cataloguing of their thoughts, actions and habits, were phases of Joyce’s mind personified by figures similar in dimension to Pantagruel, Faust or Don Quixotte. Dublin, although its streets, pubs, shops and citizens were called by name,was not so much the insular capital of 3oo,ooo inhabitants as it was a universal city freed from allgeographical boundaries. The acute consciousness that formed the roadway through the Portrait was frequently abandoned for explorations in the pits of the unconscious.
It can be seen today that there already existed most of the indications of what Joyce would do next, not only in the universalization of character and scene but in the accompanying technical and philological inventions. But it is extremely doubtful that even his closest students predicted the enormous distance he was to travel between the completion of Ulysses in 1921 and the publication of the opening pages of Work in Progress in transition six years later.
Yet his direction has continued to be in a straight line: his new work is intimately associated with what he has done in the past and its origins are to be found in his earlier books. Work in Progress again takes the form decreed by the conception, it again demonstrates Joyce’s preoccupation with the word and his mastery of it, it is again the transformation of a troubled spirit into the symbols of social life, it again makes use of the necessary technical inventions, it carries to the extreme limits the universalization of character and the sketching of a cosmorama started in Ulysses, and, like all of Joyce’s books, it is again fundamentally a book of Dublin.
It is all this and much more — but always within the limits of that straight line. This time Joyce enlarges upon his method of reproducing the synthetic creations of half—consciousness, which he introduced so remarkably in the closing pages of Ulysses, and carries it to the realm of sleep, where thousands of thoughts are thrown together into a pattern expressed by a vocabulary of its own. He has embraced the world, heaven, hell and the celestial bodies, and, instead of observing the traditional chronological scheme, with the narrative hbres sharply separated and treated as individual unities, he has telescoped time, space, all humanity and the universe of gods and heroes. This latter fact- consistent with his own development but in opposition to all previous literary canons should be emphasized in order that the uninitiated reader will understand at the outset that he is faced with a revolutionary four-dimensional conception of the universe, that the “characters” who bob up briefly, disappear and reappear in various forms and in unexpected company are composite, that time plays no part, that Joyce reaches out into all space to take what he for the moment requires. The reader must be prepared at times to visualize several related images simultaneously, realizing that these images are not necessarily bound together by surface—obvious associational chains but that their range may include any desired point in political or religious history, legend, fable, mythology, science, mathematics, current events, etc.
In this unprecedented creative work there is, properly speaking, no plot, no character development, no action, no narrative sequence. Instead there is presented such a picture of the entire universe as might be registered in the slumbering mind of a capricious god who, from some infinite point in space, had witnessed the planets and heaven and hell unwind their history on the edge of those few terrestrial square miles now known by the name of Dublin.
History, as we all know, is none too reliable; but the purpose, at least, of the modern historian is to record,correlate and interpret facts as accurately as possible. The Biblical, Greek and Celtic historians, however, were hindered by no such prosaic idea. The Bible is a hodgepodge of fact and legend. Ancient Greek history is so tightly bound up with the feats of the gods that myth and actuality are inseparably merged. The early chroniclers of Ireland told their history mostly through colorful legends. And anyone with a true appreciation of the art of storytelling will prefer these old histories where facts are buried within imaginative stories to the new histories which are dry catalogues of dates and events; for the former offer truth through the medium of art and the latter only reach an approximate truth through research and reporting.
Coming from acountry as rich in legend and folklore as Ireland, it is not surprising that Joyce should have had the idea of creating a history of the universe and creating a language in which such a history would have to be related. This, in brief, is what he has done in the book that at present is known only as Work in Progress. On a cosmic scale it is the history of Dublin and the spiritual and intellectual autobiography of Joyce. Figures of the past and present flit through it spectrally as they have through the world’s existence and through the mind of Joyce. Finn MacCool, Adam and Eve, Humpty-Durnpty, Napoleon, Daddy Browning, Lucifer, Wyrndham Lewis, the Archangel Michael, Santa Claus, Tristram and Isolde, Noah, St. Patrick, Thor and Dean Swift are a few of the thousands of worthies whose shades pass through the pages of Work in Progress.
All this is indicated by Joyce himself, who says on page 16 of transition no. 5:
“The proteiform graph itself is a polyhedron of scripture. There was a time when naif alphabetters would have written it down the tracing of a purely deliquescent recidivist, possibly ambidextrous, snubnosed probably and presenting a strangely profound rainbowl in his (or her) occiput Closer inspection of the bordcrerzu would reveal a multiplicity of personalities inflicted on the document and some prevision of virtual crime or crimes might be made by anyone unwary enough before any suitable occasion for it or them had so far managed to happen along. In fact, under the close eyes of the inspectors the traits featuring the chiaroscuro coalesce, their contrarieties eliminated, in one stable somebody similarly as by the providential warring of heart shaker with housebreaker and of dramdrinker against free thinker our social something bowls along bumpily, experiencing a jolting series of prearranged disappointments, down the long lane of (it’s as semper as oxhouse-humper!) generations, more generations and still more generations.”
And a few lines later he offers a bit of advice that may well be kept in mind while investigating the contents of Work in Progress:
“Now, patience; and remember patience is the great thing, and above all things else we must avoid anything like being or becoming out of patience.”
But even with a general idea of Joyce’s purpose and methods, it is sometimes possible only with difficulty to follow this new work, for Joyce’s erudition results in numerous allusions outside the usual range of knowledge, while his philological versatility —— often materializing in the obscure form of his distortions — presents serious obstacles to even his most sympathetic readers. Moreover, where in the Portrait and Ulysses the abrupt transitions were from chapter to chapter or from paragraph to paragraph, they are here from sentence to sentence, from word to word, or even sometimes from syllable to syllable, thus making an unrelieved demand on the attention.
However, for a closer approach to .loyce`s conception, verbal structure, technique and style, the portions dealing with Anna Livia are perhaps better adapted to separate consideration than others, for this theme, while a vital and representative element of the book as a whole, is self-containing when detached.
Joyce has here immortalized the muddy little River Liffey, which rises in the Wicklow Mountains about twelve miles southwest of Dublin and, alter curling through some fifty miles of picturesque scenery, empties into Dublin Bay.
Strangely enough, it diliers from the other rivers that have figured in legend and folklore by being personified as a woman instead of a man. Among the sixteen Irish rivers represented by heads on the corners of the old Dublin Customs House the Liffey was the only one with feminine features, and the citizens of Dublin speak affectionately of their miniature river as the Anna Liffey, perhaps taking the name from the old records, where it is referred to as the Avenlithe.
In Work in Progress this river is christened Anna Livia, with the Plurabelle added to designate the numerous tiny tributaries of the stream. She becomes neither entirely a woman nor entirely a river, but rather an abstraction, a legendary concept, possessing all the attributes of the female sex and sometimes having the majesty of a goddess, sometimes the shameless promiscuity ofa scullery maid. She “coalesces” with other female characters of history, Biblical legend and folklore, returning persistently in one form or another to the surface of the chronicle.
Opposite her is Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (Here Comes Everybody), the strange composite male character who haunts this cosmic history in many disguises and under endless names, the most frequent of the latter being Persse O’ReiIley, a deformation ofthe word Perce—Oreille, the French for “earwig”. He is represented in nature usually by the mountain, and both he and Anna Livia Plurabelle are repeatedly alluded to by their initials or by series of words beginning with these letters.
They are introduced on page 1; of transition no.1 in the following manner:
“Yet may we not see still the brontoichthyan form outlined, aslumbered, even in our own nighttime by the sedge of the troutling stream that Bronto loved and Brunto had a lean on. Hic cubat edilis
Apud libertinam parvulam. Whatif she be in flags or flitters, reekierags or sundyechosies, with a mint of monies or beggar a pinnyweight, arrah, sure, we all love little Anny Rainy, or, we mean to say, love little Anna Rayiny, when unda her brella, mid piddle med puddle she ninnygoes nannygoes nancing by. Yoh! Brontolone slaaps yon snoores. Upon Benn Heather, in Seeple Iseut too. The cranic head on him, caster of his reasons, peer yuthner in yondmist. Whooth? His clay feet, swarded in verdigrass, stick up starck where he last fellonem, by the mund of the magazine wall, where our maggy seen all, with her sister—in·-shawl. While over against this belles’ alliance, beyind Ill Sixty, ollollowed ill ! bagsides of the fort, bom, tarabom, tararabom, lurk the ombushes, the site of the liffing-in—wait of the upjock and hockums.”
The passage also illustrates many peculiarities of Jyce’s manner, such as the combination of several images in a single word (“brontoichthyan” “bronto”, thunder: “ichthyan”, pertaining to fish: “ichthyol”, brown, the brown liquid made from fossilized fish). The male and female characters are recalled in the initials H. C. E. and A. L. P. of the Latin words. An extraordinary image of the little river’s current, vivid and with the non—sense appeal of a nursery rhyme, is evoked in the phonetic effect of the line starting “mid piddle med puddle”, while Joyce’s fondness for puns leads him to place “maggy seen all” after a reference to the Magazine wall, the subject of a famous epithet by Swift and one of landmarks of Dublin which is mentioned continually in the work.
Anna Livia’s appearance after this is frequent enough, and she entirely occupies the foreground in the closing part of Book I. (The Book of Life), a section which originally appeared in le Navire d’Argent of September, 1925, was reprinted in a greatly expanded form in transition no. 8 and,after extensive further additions, was issued in a separate
volume in the winter of 1928. This portion is beautifully introduced by a passage which immediately precedes it but which is not included in the book:
“…with a beck, with a spring, all her rillringlets shaking, rocks drops in her tachie, tramtickets in her hair, all waived to a point and then all innuendation, little oldfashioned mummy, little wonderful mummy, ducking under bridges, bellhopping the weirs, dodging by a bit of bog, tapidshooting round the bends, by Tallaght`s green hills and the pools of the phooka and a place they call it Blessington and slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, babbling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddygaddy, grannyma,gossipaceous Anna Livia !”
Then comes the chatter of two garrulous old washerwomen beating their clothes in the turf-colored waters of the Liffey. ‘O tell me all about Anna Livia! I want to hear all about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now. You`ll die when you hear” ·— thus starts this episode, written throughout in a rhythmic prose which imitates the sound of the river’s current as the banks grow farther apart or approach each other on the course between the mountains and the sea.
The entire episode is the transfigured conversation of the washerwomen prattling scandalously of the things that have been done by the owners of the clothes they are washing. And, as two old women in a village would bring all the townspeople and local events into their gossip, so the washerwomen talk of Dublin, the Dublin of the legendary past, the Dublin of today and the Dublin that existed in the intermediary ages. As night comes on, their voices grow blurred and faint and a metamorphosis takes place, leaving them standing as a stone and an elm tree on the opposite banks of the Liffey.
The real story that lies below the transparent upper plane is that of Anna Livia, Dublin’s river, and the sea rover who founded the city. It is the story too of Dublin itself, the Ford of the Hurdles, as brought down from the dim beginning of the ages by record, fable and legend and as kept alive in the speech of its people, the names of its places and the tales passed on by one generation to the next. Or it is, to some extent, the tale of the world’s rivers, or even the abstract concept of “river”, for Joyce, giving a new dignity to the pun, has subtly woven into his text the names of hundreds of rivers in all parts of the world, as well as all things possessing fluvial associations.
The characters, as usual, merge: they are Anna and Humphrey, the city and its founder, the river and the mountain, the trout and the salmon, the male and the female — any personnages who conform to the author’s purposes. As for the washerwomen whose rambling gossip forms the vehicle for the tale, they, beyond their immediate personalities, are identified in a large sense with the great forces of death and love, which in turn are represented by the immobile stone and the graceful elm.
With this latitude of character treatment, condensation of material and freedom from the restrictions of time and space, Joyce is able to put into the sixty-one small pages of Anna Livia Plurabelle a quantity of matter which, elucidatively expanded into a conventional presentation, would till perhaps several volumes. He once again “covers the subject” by orchestrating his theme with a poetic encyclopaedia of related strains, as in the opening pages of Work in Progress he brought together the various versions of the tall motif, from Lucifer to .Napoleon and from Humpty—Dumpty to Tim Finnigan.
A multiplicity of concepts placed in immediate contact by a super—rational associational process that is divorced from chronology, place distinction or segregation of fact and myth- and expressed ina special language moulded for their requirements may, then, be taken as the groundwork of Joyce’s new book. As Elliot Paul remarked in his essay on its plot elements, the work does not possess the usual beginning, middle and end, but —— following Vico’s theory of successive civilizations built in a Phoenix—like circle — may begin at any point and end at the same point. Anna Livia Plurabelle is a complete unit when read alone, yet its veins and arteries extend to all parts of the organism to which it belongs.
And if Work in Progress, because of the magnitude of its subject and the breadth of its treatment, may at first appear to be the most impersonal of Joyce’s books, a closer inspection will show that this is an appearance only, for he has found room in these tightly packed pages for the things he has thought, the sights he has seen, the people he has known, the subjects he has read about, the jokes he has heard, the plays he has attended — all the topics that have attracted his interest during a period of many years. Like his unforgettable Leopold Bloom, he is fascinated by the curious and little—knowr1 elements of human knowledge; and he has inserted literally thousands of references to these strange subjects in his text, where they blend harmoniously with seemingly foreign neighbors, assuming that universal and timeless sense that makes them collectively form the body of a great new cycle of legends.
It is this unusual manner ofworking that will cause Jyce’s new work to differ from the others in displaying no stylistic advance in its successive pages, for he has, so to speak, written the entire book simultaneously, inserting his new ideas continually in whatever part of the supple text they are appropriate. How l»Vork in Progress has developed like a living organism may be observed by a comparison ot the three published versions of Anna Livia Plumbelle, of which the passage below is a sample:
” Well, you know or don’t you know or haven’t I told you every story has an end and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is it? It must be late. It’s ages now since I or anyone last saw Waterhouse’s clock. They took it asunder, I heard them say. When will they reassemble it? ”
(Le Navire d’Argent, September,1925, p. 72.)
“Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every story has an end and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look,the dusk is growing. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is it. It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now since I or anyone last saw Waterhouse’s clock. They took it asunder, I heard them say. When will they reassemble it?”
(Transition, no, 8, p.33)
“Well, you know or 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 since eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd them sigh. When will they reassemble it?”
(Anna Livia Plurabelle, p. 52.)
When one has followed Joyce through his books, this prose does not seem the unintelligible jumble of crippled words which it apparently represents to many readers. One remembers the boy for whom the word paralysis had a dreadful fascination, one recalls Stephen standing at the edge of the bridge trying to analyze his pleasure in the phrase, “A day of dappled seaborne clouds” from Hugh Miller’s A Testament of the Rocks, one thinks of the amazing linguistic excursions in Ulysses. When all of Joyce’s work is placed together Work in Progress takes its position at the head of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, revealing itself as writing of almost unparalleled beauty, rhythmic and mellowly colored, endlessly suggestive in its ideological content, frequently humorous, stimulating in its resourcefulness, and, above all, unmistakably branded with the unique genius of Joyce.
It commemorates the place where Joyce has paused on the way he has persistently followed for more than two decades. It has been a lonely way, a way that has lost him sympathizers and friends. Many of his admirers stopped off at the Portrait, most of the remainder refused to go farther than Ulysses. A few, a very few, have accompanied him the entire distance and, even if not always understanding, have recognized the immensity of his undertaking and have been eager to overcome its difficulties. Be that as it may, neither silence nor attack has deterred Joyce from allowing his natural development to continue to its logical conclusion, however solitary the destination might prove.
He has been opposed mostly because of the unfamiliar text which his verbal innovations formed, few of his readers looking far enough past this preliminary barrier to see that the revolutionary word scheme was demanded by the vast multiple plan of the book. It was assumed that Joyce had taken it upon himself to offer the English—speaking world a remodelled version of its language. His writing was impatiently labelled as meaningless and without form, and his critics declared in effect that, far from being Stephen’s ideal of “lucid, supple, periodic prose”, it was neither lucid nor periodic — and, for that matter, could only by courtesy be classified as prose.
All this is the unjust act of judging a bool; by its jacket. It is quite possible that many of the words composed by Joyce (always with sound philological authority) will eventually find a place in our speech, or at least in our literary language; but such an eventuality, unless I am greatly mistaken, is incidental to the purposes of Work in Progress. Suppose, however, that Joyce did have the presumption to contribute a few suggestions for the further expansion of our language ——— why should the gesture be received with indignation? English is a notorious borrower and manufacturer. Contrary to the claims of the purists it is not selfsufficient nor has it reached its saturation point, as is continually being proved by the adoption or coining of such words as kiosk, camouflage,jitney, skyscraper, radio, jazz, kodak. Like all other modern languages, too, it contains numerous subsidiary vocabularies evolved within the past few generations to fulfill the needs of such specialized branches of human activity as the sciences, the trades and the professions. Why, then, should it be considered an outrage that Joyce has created a terminology of his own to express a conception that lacks the appropriate symbols in the existing tongue? In many cases he has crossed common ground in his work, and his passage has more than once left words that are full of interest. Although its length would prevent its general use, I can think of no more completely descriptive word for a skyscraper that hierarchitectitoploftical nor one that blends a dozen words into a fuller summary of a man’s character than violer d’amores, while a delight to be found on almost every page of Work in Progress is the pertinent humor of such words as shampain applied to a morning—after headache; clapplause, which instantly revivifies a lacklustre term, or dontelleries,which, referring to lingerie, surprisingly transforms the French word for lace.
To call this work meaningless and formless is an understandable mistake; but it is amazing that so few critics should have remarked its rhythmical qualities and the multitude of rhetorical devices it contains. Beside being crammed to bursting with meaning, it maintains a rhythm that accompanies the subject throughout, and if its lucidity is that of a deep pool rather than of a wash basin, its submission to discipline is no less rigorous than the classics. Consider, for example, a passage which, curiously enough, has been quoted as an illustration of Joyce’s inefficiency in handling language:
“She was just a young thin pale soft shy slim slip of a thing then, sauntering, by silvamoonlake and he was a heavy trudging lurching lieabroad of a Curraghman, making his hay for whose sun to shine on, as tough as the oaktrees (peats be with them!) used to rustle that time down by the dykes of killing Kildare, for forstfellfoss with a plash across her.”
Here is a sentence that is pool-like in its lucidity, that is supple and periodic. Few authors ever wrote a sentence with a more complete consciousness or every effect they wished to obtain or with a more telling employment of the rhetorical devices at their disposal. In it the female and male characters take the form of a stream and a tree, and the development of the stream to a lake and then to a cascade through the intervention of the tree is related simply through the triple agency of verbal significance, rhythm and phonetic value.
The sentence opens, it will be noticed, with fifteen one-syllable words, the first eleven being accented, the twelfth and thirteenth hastening the rhythm through their lack of accent and the final two returning to long beats. Through this Joyce suggests the weakness and uncertainty of the stream at its commencement (girlhood). Then comes the stronger three—syllable word sauntering, indicating development(adolescence) and leading by a short beat to the epitritus silvamoonlake, signifying full growth (maturity), the further associations with the latter stage being sylvan and the silver moon reflected in the lake. The male symbol is immediately introduced in the three ponderous trochees heavy trudging lurching, continuing to the molossus forstfellfoss, which balances silvamoonlake and suggests firsr, forest, fell and waterfall, the foss coming from the Scandinavian designation of waterfall. The latter part of the sentence, then, completes the introduction of the two symbols by describing the creation of the first cascade through the falling of the tree across the stream.
The principle of Joyce’s word scheme is valid, as I have tried briefly to demonstrate, for his vocabulary is an organic part of the work and each word, whether it be in its natural state or re-formed, has its purpose. At the same time, it cannot be denied that, as an English writer recently said, Joyce has disregarded the limited time and intelligence of common men. He has drawn from an erudition that can be communicated in its entirety to only a few scholars, especially I as his interests are so diversified. In addition to this, he has sealed up many parts of the work to even the erudite reader through the unamplified allusion to subjects familiar only to himself or a limited number of people.
But this is a detail which does not seriously interfere with the literary value of Work in Progress. The medium of language remains at its best far from perfect, and it is seldom that even a simple short story conveys the writer’s ideas in all their shades to the reader’s mind. The merit of a work of art cannot be estimated solely in relation to the extent of its communication: that would be to consider artistic value as acquired instead of intrinsic. No one who has read the Portrait or Ulysses can doubt that Joyce is a writer of extraordinary talents. If his latest work presents titanic difficulties it is because of the reader’s insufficient equipment rather than because Joyce has turned to writing gibberish.
And his latest book com be followed in its large lines by any intelligent reader. Its labyrinths of words and ideas and pictures become gradually less involved as one reads and rereads the opulent text. It opens up continuously, presenting new beauties and new wonders. The treasures subtly buried in it offer ample rewards for the efforts spent in reaching them. ·
It is possible that some day, when the book has been completed and given a title, that it will be edited with columns of footnotes prepared by industrious pedants after years of research. I hope not, for one of the beauties of Work in Progressis its mystery and its inexhaustible promise of new revelations. Like the great books of all times, it will always have different meanings for different readers. To some its grandeur will be in its mixture of legend, fact and myth, for others its chief interest will be a technical one, others will find delight in its verbal and rhythmic qualities, others will be moved by its cosmic comedy and tragedy, and for still others its attraction will lie in its boundless humor. But to everyone it should represent at cyclopean picture of humanity and the gods as viewed across the aeons that the world has whirled its people through space and the gods have given evidence of their indulgence and wrath.