24 December 2006

Finnegans Wake...riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay

I went up to Berkeley (CAL) the other day and bought a few books at Moe's and the redoubtable Serendipity. Also bought some cheap DVD's at the enormous record shop Rasputin which is just down the road (Telegraph) from the equally enormous Amoeba. Those 2 shops have probably got more records in them than every record shop in Oxford and Cambridge and York. I bought the DVD for $12 of Fortunes of War (408 minutes) with Kenneth Branagh and the lovely Emma T, his then consort. My point (and I do have one) is this. KB alias Guy Pringle is teaching Finnegans Wake to his war torn students and at one point comes up with a slightly Joycean line 'when I hear the word gun I reach for my culture'. Whether it is in Olivia Manning's novels or not I am not sure, but it's a good motto and I am now living by it....

James Joyce. FINNEGANS WAKE. Faber & Faber,1939.

Landmark work of literary modernism, the greatest work in the canon, the key book... it opens thus: 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.' Riverrun btw is now the name of a decent California wine. Although trumpeted along with the infinitely more accessible Ulysses as one of the great unread books, many readers have read it several times and there are list - service groups on the web devoted to discussing it, sometimes word by word. Championed by Connolly and Burgess, the latter edited a shorter version of the work and the former described it as having 'passages of unearthly beauty.' Sometimes compared to The Beatles 'Revolution Number 9' - a brave work in the experimental realms but something of a cul-de-sac ( Connolly compared it to 'the unfinished obelisk which lies on its side at Assuan'.) The book is, however, collected and revered and also eagerly bought and dealt in by chaps who are usually handling Fleming, J K Rowling and Dick Francis. Joyce felt that the ideal reader would be someone who devoted his/her life to understanding the many meanings of the book (like the Koran.) His wish may be being fullfilled, even now on the infobahn.

VALUE? The signed limited edition is the most sought after and valuable with the highest prices for copies that still have the original publisher's yellow folding box. Can make over £8000 thus, the regular trade edition goes for about a £1000 nice in its maroon jacket. Jacketless copies are sometimes seen doing rather well on ebay, one sold recently at £400 from a seller who seemed to think Joyce was a woman (called Joyce?) The signed limited is constantly traded in auction at around the £5000 mark, the highest record being $15000 in 2002 for retired dealer Maurice Neville's copy described as 'unopened.' I have never heard of a signed presentation from Joyce and assume such a thing would go ballistic. JJ died in Zurich a year and a half after the book came out and was said to have been disappointed by its lacklustre reception. He felt that the ordinary man in the street would understand the book if it was merely read aloud to him. Might work on the right street in Berkeley.

Current Prices £1200+/ $2000+ Want level 25-50 Highish

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