Title: Finnegans Wake
Author: James Joyce
File Size: Single PDF File (7.39 MB)
Finnegans Wake is a work of fiction by Irish writer James Joyce. It is significant for its experimental style and reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years and published in 1939, two years before the author’s death, Finnegans Wake was Joyce’s final work. The entire book is written in a largely idiosyncratic language, which blends standard English lexical items and neologistic multilingual puns and portmanteau words to unique effect. Many critics believe the technique was Joyce’s attempt to recreate the experience of sleep and dreams. Owing to the work’s linguistic experiments, stream of consciousness writing style, literary allusions, free dream associations, and abandonment of narrative conventions, Finnegans Wake remains largely unread by the general public.
Despite the obstacles, readers and commentators have reached a broad consensus about the book’s central cast of characters and, to a lesser degree, its plot, but key details remain elusive. The book discusses, in an unorthodox fashion, the Earwicker family, comprising the father HCE, the mother ALP, and their three children Shem the Penman, Shaun the Postman, and Issy. Following an unspecified rumour about HCE, the book, in a nonlinear dream narrative, follows his wife’s attempts to exonerate him with a letter, his sons’ struggle to replace him, Shaun’s rise to prominence, and a final monologue by ALP at the break of dawn. The opening line of the book is a sentence fragment which continues from the book’s unfinished closing line, making the work a never-ending cycle. Many noted Joycean scholars such as Samuel Beckett and Donald Phillip Verene this cyclical structure to Giambattista Vico’s seminal text La Scienza Nuova (“The New Science”), upon which they argue Finnegans Wake is structured.
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 genre.
Finnegans Wake comprises seventeen chapters, divided into four Parts or Books. Part I contains eight chapters, Parts II and III each contain four, and Part IV consists of only one short chapter. The chapters appear without titles, and while Joyce never provided possible chapter titles as he had done for Ulysses, he did title various sections published separately (see Publication historybelow). The standard critical practice is to indicate part number in Roman numerals, and chapter title in Arabic, so that III.2, for example, indicates the second chapter of the third part.
Given the book’s fluid and changeable approach to plot and characters, a definitive, critically agreed-upon plot synopsis remains elusive (see Critical response and themes: Difficulties of plot summary below). Therefore, the following synopsis attempts to summarise events in the book which find general, although inevitably not universal, consensus among critics.
The entire work forms a cycle: the last sentence—a fragment—recirculates to the beginning sentence: “a way a lone a last a loved a long the / 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.” Joyce himself revealed that the book “ends in the middle of a sentence and begins in the middle of the same sentence.” The introductory chapter (I.1) establishes the book’s setting as “Howth Castle and Environs” (i.e. the Dublin area), and introduces Dublin hod carrier “Finnegan”, who falls to his death from a ladder while constructing a wall. Finnegan’s wife Annie puts out his corpse as a meal spread for the mourners at his wake, but he vanishes before they can eat him. A series of episodic vignettes follows, loosely related to the dead Finnegan, most commonly referred to as “The Willingdone Museyroom”, “Mutt and Jute”, and “The Prankquean”. At the chapter’s close a fight breaks out, whiskey splashes on Finnegan’s corpse, and “the dead Finnegan rises from his coffin bawling for whiskey and his mourners put him back to rest”, persuading him that he is better off where he is. The chapter ends with the image of the HCE character sailing into Dublin Bay to take a central role in the story.
While Part I of Finnegans Wake deals mostly with the parents HCE and ALP, Part II shifts that focus onto their children, Shem, Shaun and Issy.
II.1 opens with a pantomime programme, which outlines, in relatively clear language, the identities and attributes of the book’s main characters. The chapter then concerns a guessing game among the children, in which Shem is challenged three times to guess by “gazework” the colour which the girls have chosen. Unable to answer due to his poor eyesight, Shem goes into exile in disgrace, and Shaun wins the affection of the girls. Finally HCE emerges from the pub and in a thunder-like voice calls the children inside.
Chapter II.2 follows Shem, Shaun and Issy studying upstairs in the pub, after having been called inside in the previous chapter. The chapter depicts “[Shem] coaching [Shaun] how to do Euclid Bk I, 1”, structured as “a reproduction of a schoolboys’ (and schoolgirls’) old classbook complete with marginalia by the twins, who change sides at half time, and footnotes by the girl (who doesn’t)”. Once Shem (here called Dolph) has helped Shaun (here called Kev) to draw the Euclid diagram, the latter realises that he has drawn a diagram of ALP’s genitalia, and “Kev finally realises the significance of the triangles [..and..] strikes Dolph.” After this “Dolph forgives Kev” and the children are given “[e]ssay assignments on 52 famous men.” The chapter ends with the children’s “nightletter” to HCE and ALP, in which they are “apparently united in a desire to overcome their parents.”