Using stylometry to weigh in on the Finn’s Hotel debate

For a more detailed account of this topic, see the article, “Finn’s Hotel and the Joycean Canon”, which appeared in Issue 14 (Spring 2014) of Genetic Joyce Studies.

Finn's Hotel analysis

Ithys Press controversially published Finn’s Hotel in June 2013, describing the collection as “almost certainly the last unpublished title by James Joyce”.[1] Ithys and Rose contend that the fragments warrant consideration as a standalone collection, the style in which they are written suggesting that such was Joyce’s intention: “The prose pieces of Finn’s Hotel … are written in a unique diversity of styles, much more so than Ulysses. Taken together, they form the true and hitherto unknown precursor to the multi-modulated voices of the Wake—but these first utterings from Finn’s Hotel are far easier to understand.”[2] This view is not unanimously accepted, with some scholars countering that the writings are merely early drafts for what would later become Finnegans Wake, and thus should not be published as an independent addition to the Joycean canon. Terence Killeen notes, in The Irish Times, that “the pieces scream of Finnegans Wake itself”.[3] He states: “It is true that one or two of them did not end up in the final text, but it is quite normal for a writer to draft and then abandon various passages in the initial stages of a major work.”[4]

It is only on rare occasions that style fails to provide a marker from which we can discern the position of a text within a corpus. Thus, it is to style that I look in my effort to contribute something novel to the Finn’s Hotel debate. For this task I use computational stylistics, a means of analysing style using statistical methods. Armed with an authorial signature based on the most frequent words in a text, critics can establish the stylometric distance between texts. The purpose of my analysis is to form an authorial signature of Joyce’s oeuvre so that I might determine, at a macro-level, where it is that Finn’s Hotel resides within such a context. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate whether the collection is, from the perspective of style, quite distinct, or alternatively, closely aligned to Finnegans Wake. If style can be considered a determinant of what makes a text, then I believe that the results of such an analysis should be accepted as an indicator of whether Joyce intended Finn’s Hotel to be a standalone publication, or whether the relevant manuscripts are indeed the earliest incarnations of what would eventually come to be Finnegans Wake.

Initially, I conduct a stylometric analysis of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Finn’s Hotel, using the relative frequencies of the 100 most frequent words in each text to form an authorial signature. The most frequent words in a text, typically function words, are proven to be accurate measures for classification by style.

Finn's Hotel analysis

Fig. 1. Joyce texts clustered by 100 MFW

When treated as complete texts, Finn’s Hotel and Finnegans Wake form a distinct cluster which is separated from Ulysses, A Portrait and Dubliners (Fig. 1). The clusters are represented here on a dendrogram, which visualises stylometric similarity based on the distance that one must traverse across the lines of the graph to reach one text from another. This dendrogram shows two distinct clusters, with Finn’s Hotel alongside, and thus similar in style, to Finnegans Wake.

Finn's Hotel analysis

Fig. 2. Cluster analysis of Joyce corpus

Finn's Hotel analysis

Fig. 3. Cluster analysis of Joyce corpus as bootstrap consensus tree

When segmented, Joyce’s texts typically cluster (see Fig. 2), demonstrating, stylometrically, that his style remains consistent across particular novels. Close reading is necessary to delineate those exceptions that do exist, an undertaking that is beyond the scope of this particular study. To validate these results, I conduct a “bootstrap consensus tree” with a consensus strength of 0.5, availing of Burrows’ Delta once again to perform a cluster analysis over maximum frequency words ranging from 100 to 1,000, in intervals of 100 (see Fig. 3). This approach is based on the same principles as the previous analyses, but by “repeating” the process of classification in an iterative fashion, ensures that results are more accurate. Clusters are then visualised in a tree-like manner. There is little difference between the initial cluster analysis as represented by the dendrogram (see Fig. 2), and the subsequent consensus tree (see Fig. 3), correlating these findings.

As the majority of Joyce’s texts cluster together, it is significant that Finn’s Hotel aligns with particular sections of Finnegans Wake and Ulysses. When clustered as complete texts, Finn’s Hotel is closer to Finnegans Wake (see Fig. 1), suggesting that, when taken in their entirety, Finn’s Hotel is stylometrically more similar to Finnegans Wake than any of Joyce’s other works. When texts are fragmented, Finn’s Hotel continues to cluster with sections of Finnegans Wake, but it also aligns with the “Oxen of the Sun”, “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca” episodes in Ulysses. Were it not for the distance between these three episodes and the remaining fragments of the novel, focusing on this portion of the results may potentially serve to confuse matters. My interpretation of this particular clustering would be that these results do not demonstrate that Finn’s Hotel is stylometrically similar to both Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, but that the three episodes from Ulysses, like Finn’s Hotel, are statistically similar to the style adopted by Joyce in Finnegans Wake. Again, a complete literary interpretation of these findings would only serve to detain us unnecessarily. What we can conclude from the macro-analyses conducted in this study is that Finns Hotel, in relation to style – while not conclusively – is certainly closely aligned to Finnegans Wake. What is more certain, is that “the multi-modulated voices of the Wake” are just that, “voices”. When one considers style, Finnegans Wake remains consistent throughout, a trait which appears typical across Joyce’s canon. These findings show, statistically, that Joyce’s style is not “multi-modulated”, and thus, Finn’s Hotel is particularly similar to Finnegans Wake. These results do not conclusively resolve the issue of how we situate Finn’s Hotel within the Joycean canon, but they do contribute to the debate, supporting the view that these works should not be treated as a standalone collection. If we accept style as a tool suited to literary classification, then the fragments within Finn’s Hotel are most likely drafts for what became Finnegans Wake. As I have attempted to outline, there are limitations to this approach which would be supplemented by close, as opposed to purely distant, reading. Statistically, however, the criticisms of Ithys Press are seemingly upheld.

[1] “FINN’S HOTEL by James Joyce.” Ithys Press. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Pamela Duncan. “Publication of James Joyce Collection Divides Scholars.” The Irish Times. 15 June 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
[4] Ibid.

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