James Joyce. “Anna Livia Plurabelle”

James Joyce. “Anna Livia Plurabelle” (“Finnegans Wake” I.viii). Ed. Francisco García Tortosa. Trans. Francisco García Tortosa, Ricardo Navarrete Franco, and José María Tejedor Cabrera. Madrid: Cátedra, 1992, 181 pp.

By J. Carnero González. In Papers on Joyce I (1996): 103-108.

When scholarly works such as García Tortosa’s recently published book on Finnegans Wake appear, one can only delight in being an academic, a Joycean, a reader, indeed in moving through the more familiar waters of one’s critical world. Well beyond the often rarefied circles of Joyce scholarship, however, any lover of literature and of culture in general ought to feel gratitude for the publication of this book which, with an execution one could describe as impeccable, draws us nearer to the increasingly less impenetrable and unknown James Joyce.
The work at hand is in fact the union of two autonomous and quite different texts, each of great value and intellectual merit. Without detailing yet their respective designs, these two texts would be the “Introduction” and the “Translation,” properly speaking. The book is divided into six lengthy sections or chapters, the first four of which bear numbers and compose the “Introduction”: I. Joyce and Finnegans Wake; II. Finnegans Wake; III. Anna Livia; IV. The Translation of “Anna Livia Plurabelle.” Each of these chapters is in turn subdivided into diverse parts without headings. They are followed by a “Bibliography” and by the translation itself which, in bilingual format, closes the volume with the title “Anna Livia Plurabelle.” Those responsible for the translation are García Tortosa, Navarrete Franco, and Tejedor Cabrera, all members of an active group of Joyce scholars at the University of Seville.
Perhaps the work directed by García Tortosa could have been presented in a slightly different way. If indeed, as suggested above, its content—Bibliography apart—is clearly composed of two distinct texts, the form could have better revealed this distinction by grouping, on the one hand, Chapters I, II, and III, and, on the other, Chapter IV, “The Translation of ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle,’” attached to and immediately preceding the translation of FW i.viii, as its authentic and singular introduction. The Bibliography might then serve as a conclusion to the impressive scholarly and literary achievement. Yet, assuredly, García Tortosa and his colleagues will have had their reasons for structuring the work as they have.
One has no choice but to disagree with García Tortosa, however, when he affirms at the outset of his synopsis of FW I.viii that one must bear in mind “that this is nothing more than the prologue to a translation. . . ” (97). On the contrary, the first three chapters of the book represent and compose a legitimate monograph on Joyce and Finnegans Wake, an inspired, erudite, and enriching study even for those altogether familiar not only with the biography but also, and most importantly, with Joyce’s artistic endeavour. García Tortosa’s insights are extraordinarily sensitive to Joyce’s craft; they are keenly conscious, indeed wary, of the ever-present trickery and flirting of Joyce with language.
García Tortosa’s scholarly method and imaginative procedures are equally worthy of praise. The author sequences elements by means of a technique present in Finnegans Wake: with almost rigid discipline, he moves from the grand to the small, from the general to the particular, in a progressive, at times almost imperceptible way, drawing near, such as occurs in cinema when the camera shifts from wide-angled perspectives to close-ups revealing intricate detail.
Chapter I of the Introduction—”Joyce and Finnegans Wake”—consists of five well-differentiated sections in which García Tortosa reveals his deep knowledge of the material he is managing, fundamentally the Joyce biography and its influence on the composition of Finnegans Wake. The author draws special attention to the presence in the Joyce oeuvre of Dublin, of Joyce’s family, and of the artist’s personal ups-and-downs from 1939 to his death in 1941. This first section, without seeking to present an exhaustive treatment of the Joyce biography and its interwoven relation to the writer’s works, becomes, by virtue of its style and mastery of sources, more revealing and intriguing than many general introductions and monographic studies devoted to such subjects.
Of special significance is the third section of this first chapter, above all pages 28 to 37. These pages study with admirable erudition the presence of Lucia Anna Joyce in Finnegans Wake, not only through Issy but also through the figure of the mother, Anna Livia Plurabelle. The universal myth of Cinderella is analysed and seen to cast new light on the functions and names of Joyce’s real daughter and those of the daughter in the work. If we are convinced by García Tortosa’s interpretation, we are given “the keys to numerous enigmas in Finnegans Wake and, specifically the solution to the labyrinth into which Joyce placed his daughter in the work” (31-32).
Chapter II, entitled “Finnegans Wake,” is divided into two sections, the first of which begins, appropriately enough, by mentioning the ballad “Finnegan’s Wake,” to which the cover of García Tortosa’s book subtly makes reference. García Tortosa affirms: “Finnegans
Wake owes its title and in part its underlying structure—which controls and opposes the centrifugal motion of the work—to a popular ballad, known as ‘Finnegan’s Wake’” (40).
In this first section the author analyses in addition the philosophical precepts of Giambattista Vico and Giordano Bruno of Nola, maintaining that, if indeed the central theme of Finnegans Wake would be the circularity of man’s existence on earth (42), such a concern with circularity appears in all of Joyce’s previous works, including Exiles. However, and this is significant for its novelty, García Tortosa observes: “Circularity is one of the keys to Finnegans Wake, of this there is no doubt, yet the end need not literally lead to the beginning. Understood in these terms, moreover, such static circularity would contradict the viconian idea of analogy, which holds that cycles repeat themselves analogically, not identically” (47). García Tortosa concludes this section by constructing a brief synopsis in which Universal History is seen as a fusion of all histories. For the author, the essence of Finnegans Wake lies in the “All in all” of Hamlet and Stephen.
Immediately before turning his attention to “Anna Livia” in Chapter III, García Tortosa, following the procedures described above, reflects on the language of Finnegans Wake . Language itself is a terrain in which the author moves with ease; he feels especially comfortable dealing with it on this occasion, as evidenced by his prose which, although reflexive, never-theless remains clear and direct. If, the author postulates, the tavern-owner of Chapelizod represents all men, “the English language would have to fulfil the same function: to be one and all languages at once” (64-65).
The third chapter concludes what, in my opinion, constitutes an inspired monograph of the highest quality on Joyce and Finnegans Wake. The first two of this chapter’s five sections are most noteworthy, although one must mention in addition the page by page synopsis of I.viii (96-106) and a final, brief section concerning the possible models, especially that of Nora Barnacle, from which Joyce drew inspiration in drawing the character of Anna Livia (107-109).
García Tortosa begins the chapter by detailing the different versions through which I.viii evolved and the manner in which the original idea became more elaborate and complex. In a delightful comparison, the author writes that the “method of composition which Joyce uses in ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle,’ and in Finnegans Wake, does not differ substantially from that which a bee uses in the building of its honeycombed hive” (96). Of equal interest, García Tortosa’s analysis of the female protagonist’s—if I may be permitted this expression—name, chosen as title for this third chapter, is, in spite of its brevity, sharp and revealing even for those who consider themselves familiar with the topic: successively, Plurabelle (90), Livia (90-93), and Anna (93).
As indicated above, Chapter III’s conclusion gives way to a separate, distinct monograph, namely the translation of FW I.viii, properly speaking, all of which, in my opinion, should be followed by the Bibliography, thus drawing the work to a close. Chapter IV, titled “The Translation of ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle,’” in fact the authentic introduction to the translation, remains unnecessarily and unnaturally separated by the Bibliography from that which it ought immediately to precede.
García Tortosa begins Chapter IV by presenting and comparing five translations of a representative text, that of FW 215.31-216.05, the conclusion to I.viii. The translations are those of C. K. Ogden into basic English, Samuel Beckett and others into French, Joyce himself into Italian, Lavergne into French, Leopoldo R. I. Rodríguez into Galician, and finally García Tortosa, Navarrete Franco, and Tejedor Cabrera into Spanish. An unpublished translation of this same text by Silva Santisteban into Spanish an another by Sobré of FW 538.18-538.08 into Catalan are also mentioned. In a more personal tone, García Tortosa concludes the chapter by describ-ing how his idea for a translation arose and how it was brought to fruition.
With the same rigor and care characteristic of preceding chapters, the translation is artistically precise and accomplished even in its smallest details. FW I.viii is presented in the original and translated into Spanish, on even and odd pages, respectively, conserving the format of each page and line of Joyce’s text. While lines are not numbered, as is customary with official editions, page numbers of the original appear within brackets. Concerning translation procedure, the authors have respected the process Joyce followed in creating the original, thus conferring to the translation its own validity and universality.
The Bibliography is divided into four parts: primary sources; general; bibliography cited in the Introduction; and bibliography used in the Translation. These account for the nine dense pages of titles, of both recent and older publication, which form an indispensable tool for anyone, either neophyte or veteran, seeking to move in Joycean waters.
“Anna Livia Plurabelle” (Finnegans Wake I.viii), bilingual edition of Francisco García Tortosa, marks an intellectual and literary achievement which any lover of literature, indeed of the arts in general, ought to celebrate. The exactitude of its execution, its erudition and accomplished translation, set new standards for scholarly practice in our country. With his book’s publication, work on Joyce in Spain will receive the international attention it deserves.1


1. An earlier Spanish version of this review first appeared in the Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 5 (1992): 245-48.