Bloomsday, the annual commemoration of James Joyce‘s modernist masterpiece “Ulysses” on June 16th, the day in 1904 when the book’s entire action takes place, is enriched this year by the publication of a new collection of shorter pieces or “epiclets,” penned by Joyce in 1923 and hitherto regarded as preparatory drafts for his other great epic, “Finnegan’s Wake,” by Dublin’s Ithys Press, under the title “Finn’s Hotel.”
“Finn’s Hotel comprises ten beautifully written ‘epiclets’, as Joyce himself called them: ten ‘little epics,’” explains the Ithys Press prospectus. “Some are very little, like vignettes or sketches; others are substantial, akin to short stories or fables.”
Furthermore, “not all of them were known; three were only discovered in 2004. For the remainder, the manuscript of Finnegans Wake is huge (some 20,000 pages) and diverse, and the Finn’s Hotel parts were scattered among this heap of documents.”
The title “Finn’s Hotel” came from the establishment where Joyce’s wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, was working when he met her—Bloomsday marks the date of the future couple’s first outing in Dublin in 1904.
One of the luckier quirks of 20th-century cultural history is that the century’s two greatest and most influential novels, “Ulysses” and Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” have both been in the public domain for many decades, downloadable completely for free. For Anglophone readers, Proust has even been available in the superb English translation of Scott Moncrieff.
In the case of “Finn’s Hotel,” publication only became possible with the expiry of UK and Irish copyright on Joyce’s work in 2011, 70 years after his death As the Ithys site puts it, “its publication [was] thwarted for twenty years.” Danis Rose, “co-editor with John O’Hanlon of the critically-established restored editions of Finnegans Wake’ and the forthcoming 1922 Ulysses,” approached the Joyce Estate in 1992 with a first proposal to publish Finn’s Hotel, according to Ithys, and obtained permission to produce an edition with Penguin Books. However, the resulting storm of enthusiasm—and some controversy among Joyce scholars who clung to the old interpretation of Finn’s Hotel as an early draft of Finnegan’s Wake—again according to Ithys, led to the Joyce Estate withdrawing its consent.
The enforced lull until 2011 at least allowed for the reincorporation of the lost texts from the series rediscovered in 2004. Something very similar happened in Proust’s posthumous corpus, with the publication in 1952 of “Jean Santeuil,” an early attempt by Proust at the themes later fully developed in “Remembrance of Things Past,” begun in 1896 but abandoned by 1899.
Elsewhere I’ve argued long and hard about the absurdities of copyright laws that keep some undisputed great works of literature copyright-restricted in some countries while completely free in others. But in the case of a work like “Finn’s Hotel,” where assiduous literary research, forensic editing and recompilation, has not only put newly discovered texts into their rightful place alongside known pieces, but also has “With this landmark publication—almost certainly the last undiscovered title by James Joyce—another piece of the complex jigsaw of Irish literature comes into view,” the Ithys prospectus boasts. Now that surely is worth anybody’s money.
Unfortunately, “Finn’s Hotel” will remain little read, for now. Ithys Press is producing the limited first edition in three high-quality and very restricted hand-printed and handbound issues: a 140-copy numbered issue; a 26-copy lettered issue; and a 10-copy deluxe issue. All ultimately must be destined for the book art and bibliophiles’ market. Ithys didn’t answer my questions regarding any future plans for other editions. St Patrick send that some other bold publishing house takes up where Penguin left off and republishes it in another edition.