Irish Historical Mysteries: The Trade in Joyce Manuscripts
(Sculpture by Jo Davidson, photograph by François
Kollar, © Mission de Patrimoine Photographique)
Part 1: The Léon Cache
did he desist from
Because it was a task for a superior intelligence to substitute other more acceptable
phenomena in place of the less acceptable phenomena to be removed.
James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922 Text, page 650.
James Joyce's Ulysses,
modelled on Homer's Odyssey
and describing the wanderings and encounters of Leopold Bloom and
assorted characters in Dublin on 16 June 1904, is perhaps the
most acclaimed, but not necessarily actually read, novel of our
time. While Joyce has a number of informed devotees among the
general reading public, there is a perception that his works have
in general been captured by an enclosed, academic elite or church
which spends its time jargonising and theologising over the
deeper significance of the author's every word. Consider for
example the following: 'In effect, Joyce's writing exacerbates
the question of materiality by reaching constantly beyond the
assumes limits of signifying probability, and by situating the
"nexus" of semio-linguistic structure in its
materiality and not in some form of anima or agency
"deposited in it"-as Frederic Jameson, among others,
suggests when he states that the "pure temporal movement of
signification itself, as it deposits itself in object or letter,
is retained, without any ultimate sense of the direction or
meaning of that movement."' (1) Come again?
Notwithstanding the excesses of his exegetists, the stock of James Joyce has never been higher, as demonstrated by the huge sums fetched by manuscripts and first editions of his works in recent years. Thus in December 2000 the National Library of Ireland purchased from Christie's in New York a 27-page draft of the Circe episode in Ulysses, at a cost of US$1.4 million. (2) The name of the vendor was not released, but it was stated to be a relative of John Quinn, a wealthy New York lawyer who had acquired material from Joyce. There was a general welcome for the purchase of the Circe manuscript, and it was clear that thanks to the 'Celtic Tiger' economy, the National Library was no longer starved of the funds necessary for such major purchases. Yet there was also some surprise expressed that the Circe manuscript had surfaced, as it had been considered that there was no longer any such material remaining to be discovered.
Flushed with this success, the National Library took the opportunity in July 2001 to purchase from Sotheby's of London for £55,000 what it thought was an original death mask of Joyce. Unfortunately, it was brought to the attention of the National Library and its Director, Brendan O Donoghue, that all surviving original Joyce death masks were accounted for, and that the mask on offer was in fact a copy. The Library immediately cancelled the sale, but the affair was a considerable embarrassment and revealed a worrying deficiency of expertise. (3) Another unexpected Joycean find, a notebook relating to the Eumaeus episode in Ulysses, was also sold by Sotheby's at the same auction session for US$1.5 million, but the National Library decided not to join the bidding for this item.
It would later emerge that the Library was in any case at this time engaged in top secret negotiations for the purchase of a collection of Joyce manuscripts much larger than any of those which had hitherto come to light. A considerable international sensation was created when on 29 May 2002 the then Minister for Arts and Heritage, Síle de Valera, stepped from the Government jet at Dublin Airport carrying a suitcase containing Joyce papers which had been acquired for €12.6 million. The immediate charge to the public purse was leavened by the fact that half the cost was to be paid by Allied Irish Banks, taking advantage of the so-called Section 1003 tax relief procedure. At a press conference in the National Library on the day following, 30 May, the full extent of the acquisition was revealed: notebooks from the author's early period, preparatory notebooks for and drafts of episodes of Ulysses, and proofs of Finnegans Wake. (4)
The vendors of the material were a Mr and Mrs Alexis Léon of Paris, with Sotheby's acting as their agents. Alexis Léon is the son of Paul Léon, a close friend of Joyce who donated his own personal correspondence and papers to the National Library as a free gift before his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1942. (5) Joyce had left Paris with his family in 1939 and then moved to Switzerland, dying of a perforated ulcer in Zurich on 13 January 1941. Despite the danger that Paul Léon faced from the Germans on account of his Jewish faith, he bravely made several trips to Joyce's Paris flat to remove material for safe keeping on the family's behalf. Characteristically, Joyce had departed his flat hurriedly leaving rent arrears, so that the landlord was planning to auction off his effects, and there was also a danger that possessions would be looted by rapacious Nazis.
The present writer was concerned about certain aspects of the May 2002 purchase, particularly how the manuscripts sold by the Léons could be differentiated from material Joyce had left behind in his flat. For example, a series of Joyce's notebooks for Ulysses, numbered 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 are in Buffalo University and can be acccounted for in that (as the writer has been informed) 1, 2, 4 and 7 were sold on by Sylvia Beach, while 6 and 8 were among material sold by Joyce's family to the university after the war, which material had earlier been duly returned to its possession in accordance with Paul Léon's instructions. The missing notebooks numbered 3, 5 and 9 are among the manuscripts acquired from the Léons by the National Library, and the question arises as to whether these might have somehow become detached from the material Paul Léon had rescued on Joyce's behalf, or whether they could have been an earlier gift to him from Joyce. (6) Alexis Léon was quoted at the time of the 2002 sale as insisting that the manuscripts had nothing to do with the documents which his father had rescued from Joyce's flat. Yet one Internet commentator observed, 'The way this is phrased suggests to me that Alexis Léon knows he's on shaky ground in claiming ownership'. (7)
As a long-time user of the institution, the present writer felt entitled to make a Freedom of Information Act application to the National Library, and documents released in October 2002 showed that the sale of the manuscripts had not in fact gone entirely smoothly. It emerged that the Joyce Estate, headed by Joyce's grandson Stephen James Joyce, had heard of the planned sale on the grapevine. The Estate's solicitors, McCann FitzGerald, made its own FOI application on 18 April 2002 to Minister de Valera, in an effort to find out what was happening. On 29 April National Library Director O Donoghue advised that the solicitors' FOI application should be refused on the grounds that it might compromise ongoing negotiations, and furthermore that such refusal should be couched 'in terms which do not even acknowledge that such a purchase is being contemplated'. The Library's FOI release to the present writer was minus a substantial proportion of documents relating to the sale, including the sale contract. These documents were withheld on the rather startling grounds that they could be used in a legal challenge which could 'call into question the whole transaction with possible significant exposure to the State and the National Library'. (8
The first public airing of the controversy over the Joyce manuscripts was in the edition of Phoenix magazine dated 17 January 2003. Stephen James Joyce went on the record with his concerns in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times on 16 February 2003, challenging Alexis Léon to produce proof that the manuscripts were in fact his mother's property. Joyce stated that the Estate did not have 'any strong wish to get involved in litigation', but added ominously, 'If we feel we have to take action, we will'. Also subject to criticism were the National Library and the Government, on account of the secrecy surrounding the purchase, and the failure to keep the Estate informed, 'as it was in the past under similar circumstances'. The writer understands that prior to the sales of the 'Circe' and 'Eumaeus' materials, the Joyce Estate was fully briefed, and it is hard to understand why this courtesy was not observed in the case of the Léon cache sale.
While Alexis Léon resolutely refuses to comment further, National Library Director Brendan O Donoghue merely repeated that 'the vendors asserted that they were the legal and beneficial owners of the materials and were entitled to sell them'. Alas, that does not constitute proof of ownership or evidence of due diligence in establishing the provenance of the disputed materials. Indeed courts internationally have been taking a more critical view of secrecy and failure to inquire before purchase in the case of assets whose ownership is in dispute as a result of the dislocation of war. Appeals to the Statute of Limitations and attempts to transfer the burden of documentary proof to the plaintiffs are not being regarded in a legally favourable light. Those who consider that passage of time renders restitution a moralistic irrelevance might ponder the case of a collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt, stolen by Nazis in 1938 and now valued at £170 million, which by court order were restored by a Viennese gallery in March 2006 to an heiress resident in California (Guardian, 21 March 2006).
The publicity concerning the Joyce manuscripts also led to the matter being the subject of parliamentary questions in the Dáil. Fine Gael spokesman Jimmy Deenihan asked the present Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister John O'Donoghue to state if the sellers Mr and Mrs Alexis Léon had 'proper legal title' to the manuscripts. Minister O'Donoghue replied on 13 February 2003, repeating the by now familiar line that the vendors 'asserted that they were the legal and beneficial owners of the materials', and that the 'contract for sale entered into with the vendors reflects this position'. Emmet Stagg for Labour followed up with a question about the 'potential legal case' which may be taken against the State in connection with the manuscripts purchase. In his reply on 26 February Minister O'Donoghue merely referred back to his earlier answer. (9)
Full colour digital images of the Joyce manuscripts in question have now been made available to scholars on a high resolution computer screen in the National Library Manuscripts Reading Room in Kildare Street, Dublin. (10) Reflecting the fact that while ownership of the manuscripts may lie with the Library, the copyright remains with the Joyce Estate, it is necessary to sign a declaration agreeing to abide by legal conditions of use. The speed with which copies of the Joyce manuscripts have been made accessible is to be commended, but there should be no question of access to the originals being decided on the basis of grace and favour, as alas is the case with certain uncatalogued Library manuscripts. (11) The writer also cannot help drawing a contrast between these colour digital facsimiles and the semi-legible half-century old microfilm and scratched and indistinct microfiche via which some other records, particularly of a genealogical nature, must still be viewed in the Library.
In the Irish Times of 30 April 2003 journalist and Joycean expert Terence Killeen wrote a fairly lengthy and impassioned piece decrying attempts to unravel the mystery of the provenance of the Joyce manuscripts. Accepting that 'some of the manuscripts have clearly been separated from others of which they once formed part', Killeen hypothesised lyrically to the effect that 'Joyce's life was an odyssey without an Ithaca', and that 'in the course of his many wanderings, items might well have become separated from each other'. Killeen also effectively justified the National Library's 'reticence' about dispelling the cloak of secrecy enveloping the transaction, on the grounds of threatened legal action.
Killeen's piece was overtaken by events, in that in contrast to the National Library's refusal, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism had decided on 29 April 2003 following a Freedom of Information appeal to release the Joyce manuscripts sale contract, albeit with significant deletions. The contract is dated 22 May 2002 and is between the vendors Mr and Mrs Alexis Léon, their agents Sotheby's, and the purchaser, Minister de Valera, with the latter authorising Library Director O Donoghue to sign on her behalf. Payment for the manuscripts was scheduled in three instalments, due on 30 May 2002, 28 February 2003 and 28 February 2004, at which latter date all the goods became the property of the purchaser. The contract includes a clause allowing for the sale to be rescinded in the event that evidence raising doubts as to the authenticity or attribution of the items is presented, a sensible precaution in the light of the earlier unfortunate Joyce death mask transaction between the Library and Sotheby's. While the manuscripts were closely scrutinised by Joycean literary experts, it does not appear that they were examined by a qualified forensic documents expert with regard to handwriting, ink and paper.
The contract states that the vendors are 'the full legal and beneficial owners of the property', but section 6, 'Warranties by the Vendors', has been subjected to severe pruning. This is unfortunate, as this is the very portion of the contract which might have been expected to allay doubts about the vendors' title to the manuscripts. The Arts Department justifies the deletions on the grounds that 'premature disclosure of the contents of these clauses could reasonably be expected to result in undue disturbance of the ordinary course of business, and in this context could result in an unwarranted financial cost to a person or persons and/or to a public body'. The withholding of the vendors' warranties was again appealed to the Information Commissioner, who ruled in favour of the Department in December 2003 on the somewhat enigmatic grounds that 'the disclosure of the information would, of itself, be an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the party communicating it'.
While a statement by Alexis Léon dated 24 April 2001 had thus been withheld, certain documents appended to it were released. Because Alexis Léon has consistently refused to make further comment, these documents provide the only available clues as to the possible nature of his case for ownership. The documents include firstly extracts from the published memoir of Alexis's mother Lucie Léon (aka Noel), in which she describes how her husband Paul had rescued materials from Joyce's Paris flat during World War II and arranged for them to be held safely for the benefit of Joyce's family. Lucie Léon's account also mentions 'a suitcase with important Joyce papers in our apartment', and there is an inference that this is the collection now sold to the National Library. Yet the context clearly raises questions concerning such a connection, as Lucie also recorded that she had attempted to deposit the suitcase with the Swiss Legation, on the grounds that 'Mr Joyce carried a British passport' and the Swiss were protecting British interests, implying that the material was being held in trust for the Joyce family and was not in fact her property. (12)
Notice in Gazette Hôtel Drouot, 24 May 1941
the appended documents include
published notice in French concerning a sale on 30 May 1941 at
the Hôtel Drouot in Paris of goods of the deceased 'J. J.',
presumably James Joyce (see copy above). The sale is stated to be
at the request of the 'administrateur judiciaire', which would
indicate that it was legally authorised, although in the
confusion of war all the niceties may not have been observed.
Lucie Léon referred to an apparently earlier sale arranged
Joyce's landlord and held in the Hôtel Drouot on 7 March, but
the writer is informed that this is a misstatement as there was
only one sale. The goods on offer at the May sale included
furniture, miscellaneous items and books, with no apparent
mention of any manuscripts as such. Yet the inclusion of the sale
notice as an appendix to the 2002 contract might tend to suggest
that the Léons' title to at least some of the disputed
manuscripts may be based on a claim of specific purchase.
If this is the case, why continue to withhold the vendors' warranties, and why not produce more firm evidence such as a bill of sale? Why the continuing secrecy, and the frankly provocative decision to refuse the Joyce Estate information which might allay its concerns? In short, why prolong a controversy unnecessarily by refusing to be more transparent in relation to the expenditure of a sum of public money as large as €12.6 million? At a time when fiscal rectitude has resulted in cuts in health and education, and inevitably also restrictions in cultural spending, these questions take on an even greater urgency.
The plot thickened further with the revelation that James Joyce's will was probated belatedly in Ireland in September 2003. The probate was taken out on behalf of the Joyce Estate, an action obviously designed to protect its legal interests. (13) Meanwhile, the trade in Joyceana continued, and Sotheby's concluded another spectacular sale in July 2004, which included an explicit three-page letter sent by the author to his wife Nora in 1909. This letter had supposedly lain for the best part of a century 'hidden in the pages of an old book' complete with its stamped envelope, and was purchased by an anonymous bidder for the staggering sum of £240,800. A play had actually been written in 2001, entitled Her Song be Sung, and performed in Dublin in 2004 before the sale, which imagined just such a discovery of an erotic Joyce letter in an old book (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/bwriting/stories/s1196227.htm). It is true that fact can be stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction masquerades as fact . . .
The National Library and the Irish State staked a lot on the 2002 purchase of Joyce manuscripts, these forming the centrepiece of a Bloomsday Centenary Exhibition which opened in the Library in June 2004. In order to circumvent feared objections from the Joyce Estate to this exhibition, the Government put through a special amendment to the Copyright Act 2000 which allows for public display of artistic or literary works without reference to the creators or rights owners. (14) It would have been preferable if the Joyce Estate and the Irish Government had arrived at a mutually acceptable resolution of their differences before the Centenary of Bloomsday, but the National Library and the Department of Arts decided on a hardball approach which exacerbated rather than eased tensions. The controversy over the Léon cache of Joyce manuscripts has been in some respects akin to a game of high-stakes poker, with the winning hand not fully shown. The Joycean community in general appears not much troubled by the doubts surrounding the origin of the manuscripts, perhaps because it is considered that the successful capture of such an important element of Joycean heritage for Ireland renders ethical objections petty or irrelevant. The current position is that some years after the purchase of the Léon cache of Joyce manuscripts, we are still pretty much stranded in the dark of Nighttown, with outstanding questions concerning the collection's provenance and ownership unanswered and likely to remain so indefinitely.
Part 2: The Barnes Cache
say how many pseudostylic shamiana, how few or how many of the most
public impostures, how very many piously forged palimpsests slipped in the first place by
this morbid process from his pelagiarist pen?
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 1939, Penguin Edition 1992, pages 181-82.
In the light of the various finds of
outlined above, it seemed to the present writer that it was a question
not of if but when the existence of a new cache would be revealed
to the world. I wondered to myself whether controversy
would again follow the announcement of a new find, and if this
time the materials might relate not to Ulysses,
but to Joyce's last and
most difficult work, Finnegans Wake.
So exactly it came to pass when in March 2006 the
National Library announced that
it had paid €1.17 million for more Joyce manuscripts,
consisting of six large sheets containing 1923
drafts of portions of the work which would become Finnegans Wake. (15)
The Library did not immediately release the name of the individual from whom it had purchased the Finnegans Wake manuscripts, but there were indications that he or she was based in France. However, in response to questions, the Library eventually revealed that the vendor was a certain Laura Barnes. Following further enquiries, the Library confirmed that this individual was also known as Laura Rosenfeld and Laura Weldon. Under the latter name, she had been co-ordinator of the above mentioned Bloomsday centenary celebrations, ReJoyce 2004, and was very well known to the Library. (16) A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Rosenfeld is her birth name, but in her professional work as a rare book dealer and proprietor of Araby Books she generally uses the name Laura Barnes. In 2006 Ms Barnes was appointed acting director of the government-funded James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street in Dublin.
Freedom of Information applications uncovered more detailed information concerning the background to the Finnegans Wake manuscripts deal. In particular, it appeared that in mid-2004 the National Library had an opportunity to acquire the manuscripts from a rare book dealer in Paris, Jean-Claude Vrain. The Library’s Joyce Research Fellow, Dr Luca Crispi, stated on 29 June 2004 that the Library would have ‘right of first refusal through July’. However, in a sequence of events which still remains obscure, Ms Barnes/Rosenfeld/Weldon managed to acquire the manuscripts from Vrain, and then moved to negotiate their resale to the Library via Sotheby’s of London. (17) The FOI releases contain no documentation whatsoever concerning the manuscripts between 29 June and 5 October 2004, in itself a remarkable hiatus, and making it difficult to explain how the opportunity to acquire the manuscripts from Vrain was lost. On 12 October 2004 Dr Crispi stated that nothing would happen until 'next year', but that everything was 'proceeding on course' and that Sotheby's would 'officially' offer the manuscripts to the Library 'via normal channels'. It is reasonable to ask whether Sotheby's was acting for Vrain or for Barnes at this point? Library Director Ó hAonghusa has been quoted as stating that Sotheby's could provide reliable warranties as to provenance and ownership which a small Parisian book-dealer could not. This overlooks two facts, firstly, that Sotheby's was mentioned as a potential agent as early as June 2004, and secondly that the fallibility of this firm's judgement was demonstrated during the affair of the Joyce death mask recounted above.
from Dr Luca Crispi, 29 June and 12 October 2004
(National Library of Ireland FOI releases)
How the Finnegans
Wake manuscripts slipped from the National Library's grasp in
2004 and into the hands of Laura Barnes remains therefore something of
mystery. While serious negotiations to purchase the manuscripts got
under way with Ms Barnes's agent Sotheby’s
December 2004, it was not until June 2005 that the Library was in a
position to sign a contract of sale, having secured funding support
from Allied Irish Banks via the Section 1003 tax relief provision. The
identity of the vendor Ms Barnes was stated not to have been revealed
to the Library until as late as May 2005, and in February 2006
Sotheby’s informed National Library Director Aongus
Ó hAonghusa that
‘she would obviously prefer it if her name did not come out
The contract described the vendor of the manuscripts as
Rosenfeld (also known as Laura Barnes)’, but contained a
confidentiality clause stating that the details of the contract should
not be released, save as might be required legally or in response to an
FOI application. (18)
There was a further remarkable revelation in May 2006, when it was reported that Ms Barnes had purchased the manuscripts for €400,000, meaning that the Library may have paid in the region of €700,000 more than it needed to, had it acted to acquire the material from its Paris owner. It was also claimed that a Finnegans Wake notebook had been on offer with the manuscripts, but that this had been sold to a buyer whose identity remains unknown and therefore was lost to the Library. (19)
The provenance of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts is problematic as well, arising from mystery over the fate of possessions left in Joyce’s Paris flat when he departed it in 1939. As outlined in the first section of the present article, it is known that some assorted goods of Joyce were seized by his landlord in lieu of outstanding rent and auctioned in the Hotel Drouot in 1941. No evidence has been produced to confirm that any substantial manuscripts were involved in this auction, and indeed, as noted above, it is recorded that Joyce’s friend, Paul Léon, had removed manuscripts from the flat for safe keeping and eventual return to Joyce’s heirs. It is claimed that the Finnegans Wake manuscripts were purchased in 1945 or 1946 at an auction in the Hotel Drouot by a book dealer, Maurice Bazy, from whose estate they were acquired by Jean-Claude Vrain some years ago. However, Joyce Fellow Dr Crispi, one of the world’s leading authorities on Joyce’s manuscripts, advised Director Ó hAonghusa in May 2005 that ‘there is no way of knowing precisely when these materials were bought’, adding nevertheless, 'I think we are on safe ground here'. (20) What is to be said therefore about the provenance details supplied by Sotheby's?
The Finnegans Wake manuscripts acquired by the National Library consist of 6 large large sheets containing 11 pages of text, written between April and August 1923, comprising drafts of the sketches called 'Tristan and Isolde', 'Mamalujo' and 'St Kevin'. These manuscripts appear to be the earliest surviving drafts of the work which would be published sixteen years later as Finnegans Wake, and are alleged to have survived unnoticed for half a century, 'interleaved' in a book, recalling the above mentioned mode in which Joyce's erotic letter of 1909 was discovered. Two further remarkable features of the manuscripts are the fact that a significant portion of the text was never published by Joyce and is therefore unknown, and that 6 of the pages are in the handwriting of Nora Barnacle at the author's dictation, demonstrating a hitherto undocumented degree of collaboration between husband and wife. The Joycean scholar Danis Rose has claimed controversially that Joyce first conceived Finnegans Wake as a distinct work to be called Finn's Hotel, which he did not complete, and at first sight this new manuscripts find seems to fall in with his theory.
As in the case of the Léon cache of manuscripts, it does not appear that the Finnegans Wake manuscripts were double checked by a forensic documents examiner in addition to examination by Joycean experts, and in view particularly of the problematic provenance and quantity of hitherto unknown text, this would be a prudent precaution (which the present writer has in fact recommended to the Director and Board of the National Library, without receiving any response on the issue). Having several times examined digital copies of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts in the National Library the present writer retains a distinct sense of unease concerning their authenticity, while acknowledging that he is neither a Joycean specialist nor an expert in forensic document examination (although his work in discovering falsified documentation in the cases of the spurious chiefs Mac Carthy Mór and Akins of That Ilk entitles him to claim some measure of skill in regard to the latter). A running joke in Finnegans Wake is the use of '1132' as an absurd catch-all date, for example, 'the official landing of Lady Jales Casemate, in the year of the flood 1132', and an appearance 'round about the freebutter year of Notre Dame 1132' by 'Motham General Bonaboche' (Penguin Edition 1992, pages 387, 388). The Finnegans Wake drafts feature recognisable versions of both these sequences, firstly, 'the capture of Sir Arthur Casement in the year 1132', and secondly, 'the dispersal of the French fleet under General Boche in the year 2002' (Joyce 2006 Papers, National Library of Ireland Manuscripts Reading Room, on computer). I was admittedly pulled up short by the sudden appearance of '2002' where '1132' might have been expected, and wondered what Joyce (if it was he) was about in suddenly pointing to the future rather than the past, and why '2002' does not feature in the final edition of the Wake. Noted also was the fact that the computer on which I was viewing the Wake manuscript also contained images of the Léon cache, titled 'Joyce Papers 2002'. Perhaps, you may say, Joyce was clairvoyant as well as mischievous, or possibly this is a matter of absolutely no import, or perhaps again there is a more peculiar game in play . . . (The Joycean Sam Slote has now endeavoured to explain the dating differences between the draft and final versions of Finnegans Wake, noting that 'additional dates were eliminated and 1132 became general over Ireland, thereby imposing another lattice of intercorrespondence and inter-connection between elements on the list', going on to suggest a 'fungibility of historical events', asking 'what is the mish and what the mash?' and identifying a 'realm where the onerous category of error could well be erroneous'. Quite.)
The covert aspects of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts deal and the slow release of information resulted in the story remaining in the news in the months following the National Library's announcement in March 2006. By early June 2006 it had emerged that close connections existed between Laura Barnes, Dr Crispi and his wife, Dr Stacey Herbert. (21) Barnes has worked with Crispi and Herbert on Joycean projects in the United States. Barnes and Herbert acted as curators of a Beckett exhibition in the National Library in 2006, and Herbert has also been associated with Barnes’s Araby Books. Interestingly, the signatures of both Laura Rosenfeld and Luca Crispi appear on the June 2005 contract of sale of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts.
Credits for Joyce Exhibition at Buffalo University 2000
In the light of all these circumstances, it seemed
pose certain questions. Was Jean-Claude Vrain able to provide
evidence that the Finnegans Wake manuscripts were
auction in Paris in the 1940s? Were the manuscripts subjected at any
stage to the
analysis of what they term in the USA a ‘questioned
On what date did Laura Barnes agree the purchase of the manuscripts
from Jean-Claude Vrain, and what became of the National
of first refusal? Is it true that the Finnegans Wake
manuscripts were resold to the National Library for a profit of about
€700,000? Were there formal or informal discussions
concerning the Finnegans
Wake manuscripts between
Laura Barnes, Dr Luca Crispi, Dr Stacey
Herbert and National Library Director Aongus Ó hAonghusa in
January-December 2004? Unfortunately, no answers to these questions have been
forthcoming to date. (22)
While Laura Barnes has declined to reply to any of the present writer's correspondence, she was the subject of a pre-Bloomsday 2006 Irish Times interview which touched on the Finnegans Wake manuscripts controversy. (23) Ms Barnes declared that 'if you connect the dots in an inappropriate way, you come out with an inappropriate picture'. Unfortunately, far from answering questions already posed, this interview raises further questions concerning the Finnegans Wake material. For example, Ms Barnes was quoted as follows in the Irish Times of 15 June 2006: '. . . the decision I made was that the institution I wanted to approach first was the National Library of Ireland, because I thought it belonged there'. In contrast, she was quoted earlier in the Sunday Times, Irish Edition, of 7 May 2006: 'There were multiple balls in the air. To suggest I knew the National Library would buy it is a pipe dream. Nobody could know that.' Ms Barnes is also quoted in the Irish Times of 15 June 2006, 'I wasn't trying to hide anything'. The Finnegans Wake manuscripts sale contract of June 2005 contains a confidentiality clause which prevented the National Library from releasing her name unless legally obliged to do so, and as already noted, in February 2006 her agent Sotheby’s informed National Library Director Ó hAonghusa that ‘she would obviously prefer it if her name did not come out at all’.
The affair unexpectedly came back into public view in late 2006, arising from Dáil questions put down by opposition Fine Gael Party representative Paul McGrath in December. McGrath asked Arts Minister O'Donoghue about the purchase of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts, and sought details of consultancy payments to Laura Barnes. Remarkably, and before the Minister had actually answered the questions, McGrath received an early morning phone call from Ms Barnes, who objected to what she claimed were personal questions, and reportedly also threatened legal action. McGrath lodged a formal complaint with the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, seeking to establish if there has been any breach of protocol in relation to the handling of his questions by the Arts Department. In mid-January 2007 a Sunday newspaper raised further concerns over a possible conflict of interest arising from Ms Barnes's personal relationship with an Assistant Secretary General in the Arts Department, Niall Ó Donnchú. The upshot is that Minister O'Donoghue ordered a departmental enquiry into the purchase of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts, and the affair was also referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privilege. (24)
The Joyce Estate has been embroiled in a major legal battle arising from an attempt by Professor Carol Loeb Shloss, a biographer of Joyce's troubled daughter Lucia, to reverse refusal of permission to cite certain manuscripts whose copyright remains in the possession of the Estate. (25) In a settlement agreed with the Estate in March 2007, Shloss 'won the right to publish her scholarship on the literary work of James Joyce online and in print'. (26) One may sympathise with a scholar who wishes to cite sources without restriction in order to support an argument, whether or not one agrees with their conclusions. However, all the interests endeavouring to wrest control of an extremely valuable commodity from the Joyce Estate may not be entirely pure in their motivations. Certainly, the mysterious not to say murky circumstances in which Joycean manuscripts of doubtful provenance have been traded in recent years at inflated prices continues to be a cause of concern. Having reviewed some recent Joycean commentaries, the writer also wonders how intellectually honest it is to give extensive coverage to the Shloss suit while remaining mute about the ongoing controversy surrounding the Finnegans Wake manuscripts?
At this stage the writer admits that it is just not possible to connect all the contradictory dots in relation to the Finnegans Wake manuscripts purchased in 2005 by the National Library of Ireland from Laura Barnes, aka Rosenfeld, aka Weldon. Furthermore the picture remains blurred in regard to the earlier cache of Joycean manuscripts acquired in 2002 from Alexis Léon. Since 2000 the National Library has spent approximately €15 million of public funds acquiring manuscripts of James Joyce. Such a large expenditure on literary manuscripts requires the highest levels of transparency and accountability, and it is not acceptable that questions should remain unanswered with regard to provenance and cost, as well as relations between a vendor and National Library staff.
As Bloomsday was officially expanded to 'Bloomsweek' in June 2007, the Department of Arts enquiry into the Finnegans Wake manuscripts acquisition was believed to have been largely completed although still to be published, and there were increasing difficulties obtaining documents under the Freedom of Information Acts. However, one interesting document which the writer did receive as a result of repeated FOI requests is an invoice dated 3 August 2004, from Ms Laura Weldon, aka Barnes, to the National Library of Ireland, in respect of a Joycean postcard purchased on its behalf at a Sotheby's sale in London on 8 July 2004. It would be reasonable to state that this document shows that Ms Barnes was acting as an agent of the National Library during this period, and to ask whether it might have been advisable for her to step aside from the purchase of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts, in order to allow the Library to acquire them under the most advantageous and cost effective terms.
Invoice to National Library of Ireland 2004 (FOI release 2 July 2007)
In November 2007 the Department of Arts report into
the Finnegans Wake
manuscripts affair, compiled by former Secretary General Philip
Furlong, was at last released by Minister Séamus Brennan.
Furlong exonerated Laura Barnes (and Niall Ó Donnchú),
stating that all the available evidence 'offers overwhelming support
for the proposition that her acquisition of the Finnegan's (sic) Wake manuscripts was a genuinely
arms-length transaction'. Yet it was conceded that the phone call to
Paul McGrath constituted 'an unacceptable intrusion on the exercise of
a core responsibility of the Dáil Deputy'. Unfortunately,
there are certain serious flaws in the Furlong report.
For example, Mr Furlong did not interview the Joycean expert Danis Rose
in relation to his statement that he alerted Luca Crispi of the
National Library to the availability of the mansucripts at a lower
price early in 2004 (see copy of Rose's letter dated 27 March 2006 obtained via a Freedom of Information application). Mr Furlong rather glosses over Ms Barnes’s
status as an agent and advisor of the National Library, then overseen
by the Arts Department, when she acquired the Finnegans Wake manuscripts in
2004, and most surprisingly he omits to list the above illustrated
invoice in a table of payments to Ms Barnes appended to his report. The
Furlong report also includes a claim that Ms Barnes did not as hitherto
indicated acquire the Finnegans Wake
manuscripts in December 2004, when her Arts Department contract had
terminated, but rather that she entered into an agreement with Mr Vrain
to purchase the manuscripts as early as 28 April 2004, when her
contract was still very much operative. (27)
In April 2008 a further report on the Finnegans Wake manuscripts affair was issued by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the State's public expenditure overseer. The Comptroller firstly reviewed the process by which the National Library came to acquire the manuscripts in 2005, basing his account primarily on the contents of the Furlong report. The Comptroller accepted that the Library 'obtained the manuscripts at market value', but did indicate that they may have originally have been on offer by their French owner at considerably less cost. The Comptroller took account as well of the fact that the vendor Ms Barnes had also acted as an agent of the National Library, listing the above mentioned July 2004 transaction overlooked by Furlong. While the Comptroller found that Ms Barnes's purchase of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts did not appear to 'explicitly contravene' the terms of her contract with the Arts Department, nevertheless 'it would have been clear to informed members of the Joycean community that the Library would have been particularly interested in acquiring the manuscripts to supplement its collection of Joycean material purchased for €13.5 million between 2000 and 2004, since those purchases had been widely publicised'. The Comptroller concluded by observing that while the State ultimately acquired the Finnegans Wake manuscripts at market value, 'the circumstances surrounding the sourcing of the material and the level of interaction that is inevitable within a limited community of persons in a specialised field strongly suggests that more robust contractual and ethical arrangements may be required to protect the State's interests where such factors come into play'. (28)
The Comptroller's report was considered by the Public Accounts Committee on 9 October 2008, and was the subject of an Irish Times article the following day. Members of the Committee were reported to have expressed concern that there had been 'collusion' between Arts Department and National Library staff, and that the Finnegans Wake purchase represented bad value for money, in that the collection had been available for one-third the final price of €1.17 million a year earlier. Committee Chairman Bernard Allen TD was quoted as stating that there was evidence of a 'serious sting', while Tommy Broughan TD referred to 'sharp practice', going on to identify for the record the former National Library employee as Luca Crispi and the former Arts Department employee as Laura Barnes. Jim O'Keeffe TD asked why 'the price of a Rynair flight was not spent sending someone to check out if the €400,000 price was correct'. National Library Director Aongus Ó hAonghusa was in attendance as the committee deliberated, and defended his institution's conduct of the deal, declining to make any apologies and claiming 'our hands were already full . . . we didn't have the staff resources'. (29)
Legal proceedings were commenced in the High Court against a blogger 'Ardmayle' who commented on the Finnegans Wake manuscripts affair in 2007, even though he removed the comments and apologised unreservedly. (30) In January 2010 it was reported that 'Ardmayle' had agreed to pay €100,000 damages in a settlement, and it was noted that the cost of defending the case in a full court trial would be in the region of €700,000-800,000, (31) coincidentally not far off the amount of profit believed to have been made from the sale of the Finnegans Wake manuscripts. For his part the present writer feels obliged to reiterate that he has raised issues of public concern and has put certain questions to the principals involved in the Finnegans Wake manuscripts transaction which they have declined to answer. At all stages I am ready to correct any demonstrably incorrect statements on my webpages, for the content of which I alone am responsible. However, it remains the case that of all the recent aquisitions of Joycean manuscripts, the Finnegans Wake transaction remains the most troubling in terms of the provenance of the material, the ethical blurring of the lines of private and public interest in the case of contracted state employees, and the sheer size of the €700,000 profit made by one individual at public expense. To put the matter further in perspective, the said profit represents nearly 6% of the National Library's total allocation from public funds of €12 million in 2008, a matter rendered even more serious by the sudden collapse in state revenues as Ireland's economic miracle proved to be based on reckless banking practices and an unsustainable property bubble. Finally, it remains to be seen whether there are more discoveries of lucrative caches of Joycean manuscripts of uncertain provenance waiting to be discovered, will additional early Finnegans Wake material resurface, have the sources now been exhausted, or more pertinently, will the ending of the profligate expenditure which characterised Celtic Tiger Ireland make the lucrative Joycean transactions we have been describing a thing of the past?
Sean J Murphy
Commenced Bloomsday 2003, last revised 21 January 2012
(1) Louis Armand, 'From
to Vortext: Notes on Materiality and Language', Hypermedia
Joyce Studies, 4, Issue 2,
(2) Irish Times, 15 December 2000.
(3) Same, 13 July 2001; Phoenix, 31 August 2001.
(4) Irish Times, 31 May 2002.
(5) Catherine Fahy, The James Joyce-Paul Léon Papers in the National Library of Ireland: A Catalogue, Dublin 1992.
(6) Statement of Professor Michael Groden, 30 May 2002; National Library of Ireland, News Extra, Summer 2002.
(7) 'Genuinely thrilling Joyce-news', posting to alt.books.james-joyce, rec.arts.books, 31 May 2002.
(8) FOI Request Manager, National Library of Ireland, to author, 17 October 2002.
(9) Phoenix, 14 March 2003.
(10) The National Library has also placed a detailed listing of the Joyce Papers 2002 on its website at http://www.nli.ie/.
(11) Susan Hood, Royal Roots, Republican Inheritance: The Survival of the Office of Arms, Dublin 2002, page vii.
(12) Lucie Noel, James Joyce and Paul Léon: The Story of a Friendship, New York 1950, pages 36-40, 52.
(13) Last Will and Testament of James Joyce, 5 August 1931, Probate Office copy 2004; Phoenix, 16 July 2004; Sunday Business Post, 5 October 2003.
(14) Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Bill 2004, http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/bills28/bills/2004/2004/document1.htm.
(15) National Library of Ireland, New Joyce manuscript accession March 2006, http://www.nli.ie/new_news.htm (press release). The title of Joyce's novel, although not in fact a great deal of its bewildering content, was inspired by an American music hall ballad written by one John F Poole (Jane S Meehan, 'Tim Finigan's Wake', A Wake Newslitter, 13, no 4, 1976, pages 69-73).
(16) Phoenix, 10 and 24 March 2006.
(17) Phoenix, 5 May 2006, and Sunday Times, Irish Edition, 7 May 2006.
(18) National Library of Ireland, Contract 28 June 2005 and other FOI releases in relation to Finnegans Wake manuscripts acquisition.
(19) 'Rare Joyce papers delay cost €800k', Sunday Independent, 21 May 2006.
(20) Luca Crispi to Aongus Ó hAonghusa, e-mail 5 May 2005, NLI FOI release.
(21) Phoenix, 2 June 2006.
(22) E-mails and letters to Aongus Ó hAonghusa, Luca Crispi and Laura Barnes, April-June 2006, unacknowledged or refusal to reply to points raised.
(23) 'A business head on Joyce shoulders', Irish Times, 15 June 2006.
(24) 'Conflict of Interest?', Irish Mail on Sunday, 14 January 2007; Phoenix, 26 January 2007.
(25) D T Max, 'The Injustice Collector: Is James Joyce's grandson suppressing scholarship?', New Yorker, 19 June 2006, http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060619fa_fact.
(26) 'Stanford Scholar Wins Right to Publish Joyce Material', http://www.law.stanford.edu/news/pr/55/.
(27) Phoenix, 14 December 2007.
(28) Comptroller and Auditor General, Special Report: General Matters Arising on Audits, April 2008, http://audgen.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=1100.
(29) Irish Times, 10 October 2008; the full transcript of the Public Accounts Committee debate on 9 October 2008 can be read at http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=ACC20081009.xml&Node=H4&Page=3.
(30) 'Apology', 13 February 2007, http://ardmayle.blogspot.com/2007/02/apology.html; 'Blooming Joyceans', Phoenix, 15 July 2007.
(31) 'Blogger must pay €100,000 for libel', Sunday Times, Irish Edition, 1 February 2010, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article7009820.ece.
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