We all know the history. When Finnegans Wake was first published in May 1939, the edition was riddled with errors and typos. Joyce spent the rest of his life listing corrections to be made, which were compiled into an errata catalog that filled several pages. Subsequently, both Faber in the UK and Viking in the USA brought out editions that contained the list of corrections as an afterword. It wasn’t until the 50s that both firms brought out editions that incorporated the corrections.
Since then, Finnegans Wake has seen very little in the way of updating. The Centennial Edition that Viking published in the 80s was the same edition from the 50s, only with the page size reduced. A reader only need look at page 456 to see the lack of commitment to revision in the intervening decades: a printing mishap that obscured certain letters in the second and third lines (in the words “thank” and “boiled”) remained, evidently unnoticed by the publishers.
Penguin put out two editions in 1999 and 2000 that reproduced the 1939 text, albeit with a reassuring introduction and a handy table of contents. One can’t help but wonder if Penguin’s perverse decision to revert to the original text was a cautious move made in light of the critical controversy over Ulysses: The Corrected Text, which caused a storm of outrage from Joyce purists in the 80s. The editors of that edition allegedly caused more problems than they repaired, certainly discouraging any similar attempts with the even more problematic Wake.
Since the most recent updates are a half century old, Finnegans Wake has acquired a canonical status that makes the book a minefield for any would-be revision squad. Wake readers are used to the font and pagination of the Faber and Viking editions. The guides to the Wake all refer to the original layout, and with a book as frequently baffling as Finnegans Wake, often the only consensus among readers is the way the pages are numbered. The siege mentality of Wake fans, fostered by touting a book other literature fans regularly deride, has made them very protective of every wild word of the Wake.
Over this hallowed ground ride Joyce scholars Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, who have spent decades plowing through notebooks and supporting material for Joyce's final work. The result of their labor is The Restored Finnegans Wake, first published as a limited edition in 2010 and now out in hardcover from Penguin Classics. Their modus operandi is outlined in the essays included in the book. The genetic approach (employed in the edition of Ulysses published in 1986 by Hans Gabler, who contributes an afterword to the book) treats the text not as a document that has to be measured on a linear scale of correctness, but as a constantly evolving story. The editors take great pains to emphasize that this is not the definitive Wake, but that this edition forms a “dialogue” with the old Finnegans Wake. This seems appropriate enough in the case of Joyce, who was fascinated by strange dialogues as well as always looking for new modes of storytelling.
Predictably, there has been controversy from the academic community. Critics have justifiably questioned the current lack of availability of the hypertext that constitutes the basis for the new edition. Without it, scholars have no easy visibility to the extent of the change to our cherished Finnegans Wake this book represents, and none whatsoever to the rationale behind the corrections themselves. For editors who argue that their methodology is not only complex and justifiable, but the only way such a “restoration” could be undertaken responsibly, Rose and O'Hanlon run the risk of being considered dishonest in withholding the details of their methodology. It is to be hoped that the availability of the hypertext is forthcoming.
That said, few other criticisms would seem substantial. The text itself looks wonderful. True, the type is small even by the standards of the Centennial Edition: the last page of the Wake's text is on page 493, compared to 628 for the old edition. But the Monotype Dante font used in the Restored Finnegans Wake retains the quirky, academic feel of the Fourier font used to such deadpan comic effect in the original. Certain episodes (like the Mookse and the Gripes and the Ondt and the Gracehoper) are rendered in smaller type, to make them into self-contained stories rather than simply weird digressions. New paragraph breaks have been inserted: it comes as a shock when a whole new page starts with the indented words “An imposing everybody” that was buried amid the verbiage concerning Earwicker's rise in social standing on page 32. The quiz night questions in I-6 are much more readable as wholly separate paragraphs in the restored edition.
So what else is new in the new Finnegans Wake? Readers will first notice that “riverrun” begins the paragraph a third of the way across the page, emphasizing the abrupt start of the Wake. The “commodius vicus of recirculation” is now “commodious,” which, as the LRB has already pointed out, makes the link to Emperor Commodus (and the toilet reference) a bit more remote. Most significantly, Book IV has been divided into four separate episodes to make it seem less amorphous. The final chapter, of course, begins with “Soft morning, city!” The sidenotes in chapter III-2 have been reduced in size to make the text of the “lesson book” much easier to read, and several words in the chapter's opening paragraph have been generously restored:
As we there are where are we are we there from tomtittot to teetootomtotalitarian. Tea tea too oo.
As we there are where are we are we here haltagain. By recourse, of course, recoursing from Tomtittot to Teetootomtotalitarian. Tea tea too oo.
In the process of discovering the differences between the texts, Wake fans should expect to find changes they consider wrongheaded, neutral, and commendable. Without the hypertext, it's impossible to know why, at the beginning of II-1, we now “forbare ever solittle of Iris Frees” instead of Trees; although in keeping with the floral motif “Frees” might refer to freesia, the original presumably suggested the green counterpart to Lili O'Rangans that's now lost. For now, the change at the beginning of I-4 that amends “the besieged bedreamt him stil” to “still” represents neither a revelation nor a real improvement. However, 04:14 now reads “The oaks of ald now they lie in peat but elms leap where ashes lay”; the original's “askes lay” had always seemed like a strained reference to Ask, the Norse Adam. I also noticed that a change had been made in 233:05 that reverted back to an early draft in a very significant way: “Angelinas, hide from light those hues that your ain beau may bring to night!” This restores the pun on “rainbow” and discards the 'sin beau' that never seemed right in the previous edition.
The dialogue between the Restored Finnegans Wake and its predecessor should actually be more like a discussion among the community of Joyce fans. It will be interesting to see how it develops.