|About this Recording
NA596012 - JOYCE, J: Finnegans Wake (70th Anniversary Edition) (Abridged)
James Joyce (1882–1941)
Finnegan’s Wake in 1939 it would have been anticipated as a novel of great importance. After all, the author of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses had been working on it for 17 years. What’s more, Joyce, with his talent for generating both publicity and an atmosphere of mystery, had already published short sections of the Work in Progress as separate stories, apparently with the idea of giving his public a ‘taster’ of what was to come—and also providing some much needed income along the way.
These ‘tasters’ may, as Anthony Burgess suggests,[Note 1] have led his public to expect a work of almost childlike charm. ‘The Ondt and the Gracehopper’ is a parody of a fable by La Fontaine (The Ant and the Grasshopper) written in difficult but amusing language reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. ‘The Mookse and the Gripes’—one of the most difficult passages in the novel—is also deceptive because of its fairy-tale style. It begins: ‘Eins within a space and a weary wide space it wast, ere whoned a Mookse…’, and it ends: ‘But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, oh weh! I’se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!’ Such charm may allay the unease of the reader who on first reading (but possibly also on second and third) might find it hard to decipher the precise meaning of these fables.
Another section published separately—in which two washerwomen gossip about the exploits of Anna Livia Plurabelle—(‘Otell me all about Livia! I want to hear all about Anna Livia! Well, you know Anna Livia…’)—is imbued with such musicality and so many delicious watery puns, including references to hundreds of the world’s rivers, that a reader may be less concerned to know the precise background to the gossip. For the language takes us with it, and as the washerwomen turn into tree and stone on the river bank and night falls, the poetic conclusion is satisfying in itself: ‘Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!’
As Samuel Beckett wrote, in his essay Dante…Bruno. Vico…Joyce:[Note 2] ‘His writing is not about something; it is that something itself…When the sense is sleep, the words go to sleep…When the sense is dancing, the words dance.’
And yet the novel certainly is ‘about something’, and on its publication there must have been rather widespread dismay when enthusiastic fans of Ulysses discovered how difficult Joyce had made it for them to discover what that ‘something’ might be. Now, at least there was a title—Finnegan’s Wake—and from this title alone a number of deductions could be made. One could assume that these words had more than one connotation. In this case all the analyses lead in a similar direction. Finnegan, a common enough Irish name, contains within it the suggestion of an end and a beginning (Fin/again). It might also recall the popular children’s round concerning Michael Finnegan: ‘…he grew whiskers on his chin again; the wind came up and blew them in again; poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again…’
Certainly, an end is implied in the notion of a wake—where the lamentation (or merrymaking) beside the corpse is intended to escort the soul to its afterlife; but a beginning, too, for after sleep, we wake. And some readers may be familiar with an old popular Irish American ballad called Finnegan’s Wake, which had been a favourite of Joyce’s brother Stanislaus when, as youngsters, they joined in the family musical evenings.
The fall and resurrection of Finnegan the hod-carrier is a kind of modern myth with obvious resonances in Joyce’s novel. Clear references to the song, and paraphrases from it, are to be encountered throughout the book: ‘Wan warning Phill filt tippling full, his howd feeled heavy, his hoddit did shake…’ But at the same time, the mythical hero of this novel is another ‘Finn’—the legendary Irish giant Finn MacCumhal. According to Richard Ellman, Joyce later informed a friend: ‘He conceived of his book as the dream of old Finn, lying in death beside the river Liffey and watching the history of Ireland and the world—past and future—flow through his mind like flotsam on the river of life.’[Note 3]
Nothing less than the history of Ireland and the world, then, is the subject of Joyce’s novel. But there is yet another incarnation of hero Finn—a rather more immediate fictitious protagonist—one Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, publican, a lumbering fellow with a stutter, a hump on his back and a rather disreputable past, for he may have been involved in some sexual impropriety in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. His pub, the Mullingar, beside the Liffey at Chapelizod, is also home to his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle, their two sons (Shem and Shaun) and their daughter Isobel (or Isolde).
In the novel’s flotsam and jetsam dreamworld, however, Earwicker, and the rest come and go in a shifting landscape which sometimes defies logic. Their presence is often signalled by the appearance of their initials, HCE and ALP. So we encounter Earwicker, for example, as ‘Howth Castle and Environs’, or ‘Ahand from the cloud emerges’; and Anna Livia appears as ‘Amnis Limnia Permanent’ or ‘And the larpnotes prittle’. it is no coincidence that their pub is in the Dublin suburb of Chapelizod, an anagram of HCE, ALP and Izod (Isolde). The sons, Shem and Shaun, are twins and yet opposites. Shem, like Joyce himself, is a ‘penman’, an artist and man of ideas. His brother Shaun is more practical and less imaginative—a postman, antagonistic towards his more famous brother, who he considers a charlatan and degenerate.
On one level these brothers are indeed James and his brother Stanislaus, who was of the opinion that Finnegan’s Wake represented ‘the witless wandering of literature before its final extinction’.[Note 4] On another level, though, they represent all archetypal opposites—active and passive, positive and negative, Yin and Yang, East and West—as well as, for Joyce, the doctrine of the 16th-century philosopher Giordano Bruno of Nola, which sees unity in the reconciliation of opposites. Bruno the Nolan is encountered several times in Finnegan’s Wake, sometimes playfully confused with the Dublin booksellers Browne and Nolan.
A more important philosophical background to Joyce’s dream history, however, is the Neapolitan Giambattista Vico, who divided human history into recurring cycles—theocratic, aristocratic and democratic ages followed by a ‘ricorso’, or return. These four recurring divisions of time allow us to see history as circular, like the seasons of the year or the human life cycle—birth, marriage, death, burial and resurrection. Thus, Joyce structures his entire book in this way—three large chapters and a shorter fourth one (Ricorso), while individual sentences often refer to the Viconian cycle: ‘The lightning look, the birding cry, awe from the grave, everflowing on the times’/ ‘good clap, a fore wedding, a bad wake, tell hell’s well’. According to Vico, each cycle is initiated by a thunderclap (a big bang?), and Joyce borrows this idea, transforming the thunderclap into a series of 100-letter words.
Central to the entire edifice of Finnegan’s Wake is Dublin itself—along with the Liffey and Howth Head—just as in Ulysses. Seen from across the bay of Dublin, looks like a person asleep or laid out for a wake. Some refer to it as the sleeping princess, but for Joyce it is the sleeping (or dying) Finn MacCumhal. The River Liffey, Anna Livia, is like the cycle of life itself. From its source in the Wicklow Hills (marked on almost every map nowadays) it trickles and grows past HCE’s pub and the Phoenix Park, with its monument to Wellington the Iron Duke, bringing life to the city of Dublin (Baile-atha-Cleath) and water to the Guinness Brewery (‘Guinness is good for you’, as Joyce regularly reminds us). From the city she passes out into the sea where she can be absorbed before being taken up into the atmosphere to fall again as rain on the Wicklow Hills.
Famously, Finnegan’s Wake begins and ends in mid sentence: ‘Away a lone a last a loved a long the’—leading us back to ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s…’
Notes by Roger Marsh
A note about the abridgement
A complete recording of Finnegan’s Wake would require 16–20 compact discs. What we offer here amounts to about a quarter of the book (in terms of quantity) but does, I hope, convey a sense of the complete narrative by retaining as much as possible of what is essential and indispensable, but omitting particularly troublesome passages and five whole chapters—one from Book 1, and two each from Books 2 and 3. While there is always a sense of guilt at tampering to this extent with an author’s intentions, I have been consoled by two factors. First, Joyce himself allowed part publication of the novel prior to its final appearance in full, in the form of the Tales of Shem and Shaun and Anna Livia Plurabelle, as well as the extracts which appeared in Eugene Jolas’s periodical Transition.
Second, and more convincingly perhaps, this recording is aimed primarily at those readers who have never been able to make much headway with Finnegan’s Wake (which is most readers) and for whom even Burgess’s Shorter Finnegan’s Wake may seem a hard task. Five hours, I would suggest, would seem enough as a first introduction. At the same time, however, I am sure that hearing this material read with understanding will be something of a revelation, even to those who already have some familiarity with the book. For them, and for new readers, the accompanying script of the abridgement will enable a comparison of the spoken word with the written word.
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