Month: May 2016

Finnegans Wake: Book 1.5

This is the oddest chapter yet. The last one had murders, sex (perhaps) and drama – A bit like an Irish Game Of Thrones, but set in a pub. And a courtroom. And everyone is incomprehensible and insane. Anyway. This one seems to centre around two things: a letter and a hen. Let’s start with the letter.

It isn’t clear who the letter is to, or who wrote it. APL – wife of HCE – is the likely candidate but it is a fact that is doubted by some characters. The letter isn’t signed and for some reason ended up on a midden heap, surrounded by orange peel belonging to a child named Kevin. More on that later. As you would expect, the letter is about a great many things and the chapter opens with a two and a half page list of possible titles for this epic work of literature – Juckey And Dhoult Bemine Thy Winnowing Sheet; Weighty Ten Beds And A Wan Ceteroom; Cotchme Eye and A Nibble At Eve Will That Bowal Relieve being a small selection. There is some superb irony from Joyce throughout as the letter seems to be a reflection of this very book. When the letter is discussed, it ridicules the lack of punctuation and quotation marks and discusses at length how one should not take documents too literally but to look for other meanings. The actual content is only barely touched upon, where as most of the narrative focuses on the characters’ interpretation of the letter. Sound familiar?

The theme of the crime-not-crime continues and the general feeling seems to be that HCE is innocent of any crime, but maybe there was some rumpy-pumpy in the park after all. There are several suggestions as to what might have happened; whilst the pace is light and sing-song, there are some darker concepts touched upon regarding the responsibilities of the ladies in this matter, which are quite distasteful. The juxtaposition is striking and deliberate. However, I like the version of the tale that states that the young lady was angry because HCE ran off immediately after the deed, as he didn’t realise how fat and ugly she was without her clothes on. (It’s happened to the best of us, right ladies?)

Aside from that, it drifts around various subjects including HCE’s ancestors, the dangers of listening to gossip, prostitutes and these little gems:

Bruce has a Scotch spider and Elberfeld has calculating horses. (Who doesn’t want those?!)

Brien had a bear paw for dinner.

Annoyingly, some characters have appeared who are depicted by symbols. There is an upside F, a ‘3’ laying face down and a triangle. That’s all I know about that, for now.

And then, of course, there is the endless babbling about how the letter was discovered. Which is where the hen comes in.

An inordinate amount of focus is placed upon this hen, who is called Biddy. She is described in glowing terms and heralded as a kind of earth mother, almost goddess-like. Much reverence is given to eggs, and the laying of eggs. Kate Strong (Tip!) the widow seems particularly fascinated with Biddy and interrupts discussions several times to talk about her. There is a feeling of disgust that young Kevin left his orange peel on Biddy’s midden heap. Maybe Kevin had the letter and he dropped it there at the same time.

The last couple of pages are particularly unlikely all I can pull out is that someone suggests growing a moustache and a chap named Shem the penman comes in right at the end. Could he be the writer of the letter?

Thoughts

Funny little chapter, this. It is jaunty and amusing yet also quite dark, in places. Joyce is fond of repetition and there are a few themes to which he constantly returns, giving the impression that these are the bits he wants you to pay attention to. The attentions placed on the hen and especially the egg are reminiscent of the references to the creation stories earlier in the book, perhaps signifying origins, beginnings and the circle of life.

Themes of uncertainty and contradiction reoccur; whether it be the incident in the park, the identity of the letter’s author or the difference between life and death – we are presented with a fact which is soon contradicted by another equally earnest fact later on.  And I can’t shake the feeling that the Duke of Wellington is significant, somehow.

Favourite Lines

‘Now, patience; and remember patience is the great thing, and above all things else we must avoid anything like being or becoming out of patience.’

Especially if we are reading Finnegans Wake.

‘… flat-chested fortyish, faintly flatulent and given to ratiocination…’

This is a description of someone. I think ‘faintly flatulent’ is an under-used descriptive term, quite frankly.

‘She is ladylike in everything she does and plays the gentleman’s part every time.’

A nice little line that actually makes some sense.

Finnegans Wake: Book 1.4

This chapter finds our eponymous hero Here Comes Everybody seemingly having a dream that he is dead, or a dream that he is Finnegan (who may or may not be dead, despite the fact he has clearly had a wake). Could be both. There is mention of traitors at the wake and HCE is conscious of enemies, either real or imagined (in this book, it makes no difference!) There features the usual array of incomprehensible rambling that talks about coffins, urns, death in general and a watery grave.

The other main component of this chapter is the court case – which I am fairly sure is actually a court case this time as it mentions being back in the Old Bailey in March. The person on trial is someone called Festy King, who I believe to be an incarnation of HCE. Joyce further adds to the confusion surrounding the crime by talking of ‘solving the wasnottobe crime’ and describes someone as being ‘associated with the tar and feather industries…’ So not only am I not entirely sure what the crime was, but it is also difficult to tell whether the crime happened at all, or was a heinous attempt to besmirch the Earwicker name. Previously, I thought that a couple of the jury might had died, which is maybe reinforced by Festy being removed at the request of ‘a few live jurors’ (as opposed to dead ones). But who knows, really.

Anyway, Festy apparently then murders all the English and leaves the court. The end bit is very confused – it says that the trial is over but then describes four judges returning from their chambers and demanding to see a letter. Not just any letter – a letter that was found by a hen. So, not too specific, then. The chapter closes when HCE’s wife, ALP, turns up and recites a poem. Maybe.

Amidst all this, we learn some other interesting things:

Anthony has an unlicensed pig which is later admired by some ladies in a pub. (I am really hoping that ‘unlicensed pig’ isn’t a euphemism).

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These pigs are licensed. Probably.

I think a sailor might have been murdered. It could have been Cian, who was murdered in Finntown, but they could be separate people.

If someone steals your ham, you should garrotte them. Not bad advice, to be fair.

I think I have identified the ambiguous tour guide from the ‘museyroom’ in 1.1 – a widow named Kate Strong, whose presence I have now worked out to be distinguished by the word Tip! being scattered throughout the dialogue. We also learn that she is some kind of scavenger so I am pretty confident that she did earlier steal something from either the museyroom or a shop. Anyway, she might have been in the park at the time of the crime.

Back at the wake, a beggar talks to a miner, who is holding a worm.

Someone threatens someone else with a stick and they fight for a considerable time.

King Crowbar impersonates a climbing boy (nope, me neither).

Thoughts

This section was comparatively straightforward, I thought. There does seem to be something approaching a tangible narrative, at least. And my thoughts on characters being interchangeable and indistinct seem to be backed up a little with the line ‘Later on, after the solstitial pause for refreshment, the same man (or a different and younger him of the same ham)…’ so I am heartened to know that it really doesn’t matter who anyone is. There seems to be a lot of murdering going on, too, which is exciting.

Favourite Lines

‘So more boher O’Connell! though rainy-hidden, you’re rhinohide. And if he’s not a Romeo you may scallop your hat.’

The mention of a hat always pleases me but do you suppose that ‘you’re rhinohide’ is an insult or a compliment?

‘That a head in thighs under a bush at the sunface would bait a serpent to a millrace through the heather.’

I think this is a rude bit.

Finnegans Wake: Book 1.3

I feel I am getting a bit of a handle on this delightful tome now; the trick is not trying too hard to understand absolutely all of it (or even most of it) rather wait until those rare moments of clarity pop up and read around those. It also helps to look out for the letters HCE appearing in sequence – these bits relate to our main character Here Comes Everybody, or Harold / Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker as he is also known. Talking of characters, there seem to be an endless amount of them. I think some of them are the same person and also some people are lots of other people too. Who anybody is just doesn’t seem important. Which is just as well, because three chapters in and I haven’t definitively identified anyone apart from HCE.

This chapter seems to be a mishmash of various things all happening at once, quite possibly across different timelines and with varying versions involving an epic cast of people, some of whom  flit between life and death with surprising nonchalance. In Finnegans Wake, not only does it not matter who you are, being alive or dead is also irrelevant. I am beginning to think that Joyce’s characters are related to Schrödinger’s cat.

Best guess for the opening passage is that a play and actors are being discussed. But there is also a suggestion that false rumours are abound – I am confident that these relate to whatever HCE did or did not get up to in the park. After that, things get pretty confused and several threads are randomly over-lapped and I have to pick my way through the bits I can comprehend. There is no linear storyline whatsoever.

Hosty pops up again – it seems he was the composer of the song that closed 1.2 and is described as a musical genius with a good voice. He might have served in the Crimean War, but that could be someone else.

Paul Horan has been jailed. I don’t know if this is a recent thing or even who he is or what crime he committed.

Sordid Sam (sounds pleasant) died on Halloween night, it says painlessly but also suggests he was hit over the head. But don’t worry, dear reader, he keeps cropping up in the text so for him, death isn’t the handicap it might have been.

A whole host of persons are discussed at length but I couldn’t really tell you what’s going on. They are from different countries and periods in history; your guess is as good as mine as to how they relate to anything else going on, if at all.

Further reference is made to boats and HCE and some kind of evil. Sailors and fishermen feature prominently.

Someone buys a stetson for one and a penny.

There looks like some kind of court case going on (however I later think that this could just be people gossiping in a pub) and I think two of the jury might have died. There is what is described as a ‘snappy comeback’ from a chap in the ‘shoutybox’ which I think is the dock:

“Paw! Once more I’ll hellbowl!! I am for caveman chase and sahara sex, burk you! Them two bitches ought to be leashed, canem! Up hog and hoar hunt! Paw!”

If that was the comeback, I wish I could work out what said to him.

I now have three theories on what HCE might have done to cause so much discussion:

He raped his friend’s wife, making her pregnant with two girls.

He committed manslaughter.

He ran away from a ship in the middle of the night.

But really, the parts that led me to these conclusions could be relating to anyone or could be irrelevant entirely. Still. I am trying.

A tall man carrying a parcel is accosted by a man with a gun, who threatens to shoot him (over a woman), then threatens to shoot his aunt. An altercation ensues, before the following text says that none of this is true, the man isn’t tall and there is no woman. So… Okay. No word on the aunt, but I’m assuming she’s okay.

An American turns up at the pub wanting a drink, then proceeds to insult HCE for quite some time – “…weathering against him in mooxed metaphores from eleven thirty to two in the afternoon without even a luncheonette interval…” which is quite something. There then follows a great rambling list of all the insults hurled at HCE which, although imaginative, do not sound like insults at all. A small sample of the less strange ones are bogside beauty, york’s porker, tight before teatime, archdukon cabbanger and Mister Fatmate.

The chapter ends with a musing about raindrops.

Thoughts

I am finding myself enjoying this book immensely. Not only is it quite unlike anything I have read before, it is also a great deal of fun. The fun is mainly in trying to make sense of any little thing and then the joy experienced when I manage to comprehend something. I imagine a lot of people might not find this fun and it has actually given me a headache on a couple of occasions. But I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in bloody ages. Anyway – it is now obvious that there is no linear storyline, no definitive characters and no discernible time line. So many topics are touched on and things alluded to that they are impossible to list. Or even really identify conclusively.

Favourite Lines

“By the siege of his trousers there was someone else behind it – you bet your boughtem blarneys – about their three drummers down Keysars Lane (Trite!)”

‘By the siege of his trousers’ is now my favourite phrase and I shall be employing it wherever possible.

“Nonsense! There was not very much windy Nous blowing at the given moment through the hat of Mr Melancholy Slow!”

Probably about a lesser-known Mister Man. It also mentions a hat, which especially pleases me.