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.

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