James Joyce Manuscripts In Red Crayon for Ulysses and Finnegans Wake

His eyesight fading, James Joyce was forced to write in color

Robert Motherwell, James Joyce, 1979. Acrylic varnish and conté crayon on paper, 28.9 x 35.6 cms. Bernard Jacobson Gallery


James Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) wrote Finnegans Wake “lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, clad in a white coat, and composed most of Finnegans Wake with crayon pieces on cardboard,” says Maria Popova. “The large crayons… helped him see what he was writing, and the white coat helped reflect more light onto the page at night.”

The obituary of the writer who recognised the importance of keeping a notebook appeared thus in the NYTimes:

While living in Zurich Joyce began to suffer from severe ocular illness and eventually underwent at least ten operations on his eyes. For years he was almost totally blind and much of his later writing was done with red crayon on huge white sheets of paper.

Joyce’s use of red crayons introduces a neat link to Samuel Butler, who in the 1890s decided to translate the Greek text of the Odyssey into English prose “for the use of those who cannot read the original”. He used red crayon “to mark phrases and passages that crop up in the original Greek versions of both the Odyssey and the Iliad – evidence, as far as Butler was concerned, that the poems had different authors. ” Butler’s Odyssey is said to be one of only two translations James Joyce used in writing Ulysses.


Homer Odyssey

Butler’s translation of the Odyssey – with red crayon lines (Via)


“Joyce used a different colored crayon each time he went through a notebook incorporating notes into his draft,” adds Derek Attridge in a review of The Finnegans Wake Notebooks at BuffaloThese color-coded crayon illustrations were “a scrupulousness which has never been satisfactorily explained”.

And it’s all steeped in deep meaning, of course, Unless the writer was a great marketeer and spinning myth? As he said: “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant – and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”


James Joyce, notebook for Ulysses crayons

James Joyce, notebook for Ulysses

crayonsWords, 1917 Ulysses Notebook

Words, 1917 Ulysses Notebook

Rhetoric- James Joyce notebook crayons

Rhetoric- James Joyce

joyce_ulysses- crayon

James Joyce – Ulysses

Lead image: Robert Motherwell, James Joyce, 1979. Acrylic varnish and conté crayon on paper, 28.9 x 35.6 cms. Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

Via: AnorakOpen Culture


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