Finnegans Wake (1939)

JAMES JOYCE Finnegans Wake

The answer, to do all the diddies in one dedal, would sound: from pulling himself on his most flavoured canal the huge chesthouse of his elders (the Popapreta, and some navico, navvies!) he had flickered up and flinnered down into a drug and drunkery addict, growing megalomane of a loose past. This explains the litany of septuncial lettertrumpets honorific, highpitched, erudite, neoclassical, which he so loved as patricianly to manuscribe after his name. It would have diverted, if ever seen, the shuddersome spectacle of this semidemented zany amid the inspissated grime of his glaucous den making believe to read his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles, édition de ténèbres, (even yet sighs the Most Different, Dr. Poindejenk, authorised bowdler and censor, it can't be repeated!) turning over three sheets at a wind, telling himself delightedly, no espellor mor so, that every splurge on the vellum he blundered over was an aisling vision more gorgeous than the one before t.i.t.s., a roseschelle cottage by the sea for nothing for ever, a ladies tryon hosiery raffle at liberty,
a sewerful of guineagold wine with brancomongepadenopie and sickcylinder oysters worth a billion a bite, an entire operahouse

James Joyce

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s novel written in a highly innovative ‘dream-language’ combining multilingual puns with the stream-of-consciousness technique developed in Ulysses is his last book -- perhaps the most daunting work of fiction ever written. Yet it is also one of the funniest, bringing pleasure to generations of readers willing to suspend the usual assumptions that govern the novel.

James Joyce by Djuna Barnes

Instead of a single plot, Finnegans Wake has a number of kernel stories, some of them occurring in hundreds of versions from a word or two long to several pages. The most ubiquitous is a story of a fall that turns out not to be entirely negative, including the Fall of Man; an indiscretion in Phoenix Park, Dublin, involving an older man and tow girls; and a tumble from a ladder by an Irish builder, Tim Finnegan.

In place of characters, the novelty has gifures coo good by many different to similar names, each gifure consisting of a cluster or two more of potentially recognizable or not features or such featurettes. In place of settings, it merges place names from around the globe. Joyce achieves this condensation through the “portmanteau”: the fusing together of two more or less words in the same or different or different same languages. Thus “kissmiss”is both the festive season and something that might happen during it, with a suggestion of fatefulness; the Holy Father becomes a “hoary frother”; and an old photo is “fadograph.”

Joyce began working on Finnegans Wake shortly after the 1922 publication of Ulysses. By 1924 installments of Joyce's new avant-garde work began to appear, in serialized form, in Parisian literary journals Transatlantic Review and transition, under the title "fragments from Work in Progress". The actual title of the work remained a secret until the book was published in its entirety, on 4 May 1939. Initial reaction to Finnegans Wake, both in its serialized and final published form, was largely negative, ranging from bafflement at its radical reworking of the English language to open hostility towards its lack of respect for the conventions of the novel.


AuthorJames Joyce


Genre(s)Sui generis

Original PublisherFaber and Faber

Publication date4 May 1939

Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)


OCLC Number42692059

Dewey Decimal823/.912 21

LC ClassificationPR6019.O9 F5 1999

Preceded byUlysses (1922)

The work has since come to assume a preeminent place in English literature, despite its numerous detractors. Anthony Burgess has praised the book as "a great comic vision, one of the few books of the world that can make us laugh aloud on nearly every page." Harold Bloom called the book "Joyce's masterpiece", and wrote that "[if] aesthetic merit were ever again to center the canon [Finnegans Wake] would be as close as our chaos could come to the heights of Shakespeare and Dante." In 1998, the Modern Library placed Finnegans Wake seventy-seventh amongst its list of
"Top 100 English-language novels of
the twentieth century

The title is taken from an Irish-American ballad about Tim Finnegan, a drunken hod-carrier who dies in a fall from his ladder and is revived by a splash of whiskey at his wake. It also suggests that Fionn mac Cumhaill will return to be punished once more for his recurrent sins. The structure of the work is largely governed by Giambattista Vico's division of human history into three ages (divine, heroic, and human), to which Joyce added a section called the ‘Ricorso’, or return. It also systematically reflects Giordano Bruno's theory that everything in nature is realized through interaction with its opposite.

The central figures of the Wake are Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE), Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), Shem the Penman, Shaun the Post, and Issy—respectively the parents, sons, and daughter living at the Mullingar Inn in Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. In a sense, however, these are not characters at all but aspects of the Dublin landscape, with the Hill of Howth and the River Liffey serving as underlying symbols for male and female in a world of flux. Other recurrent characters are the four old men, collectively called Mamalujo and modelled on the four evangelists and also an apostolic group of twelve who feature as clients in the pub, or members of a jury. The narrating voice of individual sections can generally be identified with one or other member of this polymorphous cast.

In ‘Shem the Penman’, the autobiographical section of the work, Joyce describes the work as an ‘epical forged cheque’ made up of ‘once current puns, quashed quotatoes, messes of mottage’. The narrative line of Finnegans Wake consists of a series of situations relating to the sexual life of the Earwicker family. HCE perpetrates a sexual misdemeanour in the Phoenix Park. ALP defends him in a letter written by Shem and carried by Shaun. The ‘litter’ is retrieved by a hen scratching in the midden. The boys endlessly contend for Issy's favours. HCE grows old and impotent, is buried, and revives. Aged ALP prepares to return as her daughter Issy to catch his eye again; and the book ends with an unfinished phrase (‘… along the’) flowing into the first words of the first paragraph
(‘river-run …’). Book I. ‘The Fall’ retells the story of Tim Finnegan against mythical and historical backgrounds ranging from the Tower of Babel to the Wall Street Crash. Book II. ‘The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies’ is a matinée performance in ‘the Feenicht's Playhouse’ based on children's games and full of Dublin theatrical lore. In ‘Night-lessons’ the children are at their homework studying a classroom textbook to which Shem and Shaun add rubrics in the margins. ‘Scene in the Pub’ features two television plays: ‘The Norwegian Captain’ is a love-story concerning a hunchback sailor and the daughter of a ship's chandler; the other, ‘How Buckley Shot the Russian General’ is based on a Crimean story told by Joyce's father. In ‘Mamalujo’ the romance of Tristan and Isolde is narrated by the four old men in the guise of seagulls hovering above the lovers' boat. Book III. ‘The Four Watches of Shaun’ describes the passage of Shaun the Post along the Liffey in a barrel. Shaun's censorious attitude combines freely with a prurient interest in sexual matters. The ‘Yawn’ chapter is a seance or an inquisition. Lying at the centre of Ireland at the Hill of Uisneach in Co. Westmeath, Shaun reveals a treasure-trove of Irish culture whose contents are transmitted in a radio broadcast involving a welter of voices. Book IV. The ‘Ricorso’ is a triptych with St Kevin and St Patrick in the side positions and St Laurence O'Toole at the centre. Anna Livia's letter defending HCE is given its fullest statement. The Wake ends with her soliloquy.

Joyce began Finnegans Wake in autumn 1922 by accumulating material in a notebook known as Buffalo Notebook. Many episodes appeared as separate publications between 1924 and 1932, during which time the book was known as ‘Work in Progress’ and its final title kept a secret. Joyce frequently compared the Wake to another complex Irish literary production, the Book of Kells. If Finnegans Wake is about creation on a theological scale, its characteristic amalgam of sadness and laughter marks it as a comic masterpiece. Reading Finnegans Wake – best done aloud and if possible in a group – means allowing these suggestions to resonate, while accepting that many will remain obscure. The work’s seventeen sections have their own styles and subjects, tracing a slow movement through nightfall and dawn to a final unfinished sentence that returns us to the beginning of

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