Month: June 2016

Finnegans Wake: Book 3.2

Shaun returns to reality (if you can call it that) from the donkey’s dream, going by the name Jaunty Jaun, a man know ‘far and wide, as large as he was lively, was he noted for his humane treatment of any kind of abused footgear,’ . He seems a little roughed up or worse for wear. He passes a policeman who has fallen asleep, drunk, at his post and eventually comes across his sister Izzy (Isa from previous chapters) and 28 schoolgirls from St Brigid’s School sitting under a tree. They are apparently learning ‘their antemeridian lesson of life.’ 

Jaun greets the schoolgirls with a doff of his hat (with a reinforced crown) and they all make a great fuss of him – all except the prettiest girl. The girls jiggle his fat, feel his manhood and declare him to be sixteen years old, which is rather forward of them in several respects. In return, Jaun makes various comments on their appearances (some quite harsh, others salaciously approving) and advises them to read up on Irish legends.

It appears that Jaun is planning on going away and speaks fondly of his sister Izzy, declaring that he will miss her terribly. He then goes on to discuss a sermon he heard given by Father Mike and implores the girls to gather around and listen. It is quite a lengthy sermon, as it turns out. It starts off innocuously enough, with instructions to keep the Ten Commandments, go to church on a Sunday and not to eat pork on a Friday. There is practical advice about cooking (the importance of food is greatly stressed) and keeping a clean house, plus some very useful tips on handling an alcoholic husband – which if they end up marrying any of the characters from this book could come in very handy. Jaun preaches the importance of remaining chaste and virtuous, but expresses this in such a suggestive manner that you very much get the impression that he prefers the company of somewhat less virtuous ladies. To further this point, he gives some quite detailed and graphic advice on lovemaking, although one wonders how a chubby sixteen year old has accumulated such esoteric knowledge. Other highlights of the sermon include:

‘Never lose your heart away till you win his diamond back’ (I think this is tip for card games)

Warnings about posing nude for artists

Don’t sleep with a piano player, especially if he is your lodger

‘Never park your brief stays in the men’s convenience. Never clean your buttoncups with your dirty pair of sassers.’  Wise words indeed!

There is also what appears to be a swipe at his mother, ALP, when he explains at length the error of cheating on a husband with a great many men and becoming pregnant. Jaun generally speaks highly of his mother in both this chapter and the one previous, but his hatred of his illegitimate half brother Shem is evident throughout the book.

Eventually, Jaun announces that he is hungry and needs to go. He asks the girls to wait for him until the grame reaper’ comes, but Izzy has other ideas. She implores him not to leave and starts talking about priests. Another of the girls declares her love for Jaun, but sadly cannot pursue her feelings for him as she already has a boyfriend who is more gifted in the trouser department. Unimpressed, Jaun has a drink and starts shouting. He tells the girl that she can have Dave the Dancekerl instead. Jaun is very fond of Dave:

‘I bonded him off more as a friend and as a brother to try and grow a muff.’

As luck would have it, Dave comes around the corner carrying some pate and three white feathers. Jaun proceeds to sing his praises, although there are a few snipes about his physical appearance – Dave is far more slender than Jaun and I think he is a bit jealous about the fact.

Jaun insists that he must board a ship immediately and all the girls weep with despair. Then, a worrying thing. These words appear:

‘But the strangest thing happened.’

Considering the unlikeliness of the book so far, one can only wonder with ever-increasing dread what it might mean by ‘the strangest thing’.  As it turns out, I don’t have much of an idea, unfortunately, except that Jaun chokes, spits and curses. A great deal of randomness ensues and Jaun possibly dies. We end on this note:

‘The silent cock shall crow at last. The west shell shake the east awake. Walk while ye have the night for morn, lightbreakfast-bringer, morroweth whereon every past shall full cost sleep.



This is a very amusing and quite naughty chapter on the whole but the overall feeling is one of hypocrisy. The boastful Jaun / Shaun presents himself initially as a wise and pious fellow, to whom the young ladies should pay great attention. But he immediately abuses his position by endlessly detailing the behaviours he at first advised them to avoid. Joyce has a marvellous sense of irony and makes flagrant use of juxtaposition to create some very dark humour. On the upside, the final lines suggest that someone is on the way with some breakfast, so it’s not all bad.

Favourite Lines

‘I’ll tear up your limpshades and lock all your trotters in the closet, I will, and cut your silk-skin into garters.’

Now, there’s a threat if ever I heard one.

‘And is that any place to be smuggling his madam’s apples up? Deceitful jade. Gee wedge! Begor, I like the way they’re half cooked.’

I don’t know what it means but it made me laugh.

‘Dress the pussy for her nighty and follow her piggy-tails up their way to Winkyland.’

Quick trip to Winkyland, anybody?


Finnegans What? A Guide By An Idiot

Available now on Amazon

Finnegans Wake: Book 3.1

Following the rather grim close of Book 2, we find Book 3 in a much jollier mood. The upbeat narrator of this first chapter is a donkey owned by the Four Masters. We open with the donkey falling asleep at midnight as a church bell sounds. The donkey dreams that he sees Shaun, dressed like an earl and looking fabulous. He is a fan of Shaun and extols his skills as a great postman. Shaun then embarks on an epic eating spree, starting with a breakfast that includes a steak stolen from a black bat. There follows dinners of many courses and every kind of victual you can’t imagine. Shaun gets bigger and bigger and is very pleased about the fact.

The donkey then hears Shaun speak – he appears to be addressing a crowd and waving an axe. Shaun brushes his teeth before talking at length about how great he is and how he alone was entrusted to deliver ALP’s letter. He is then questioned by an unspecified amount of anonymous sycophants, who are as obscure in their inquiries as you would expect. They begin by asking who gave him the letter to deliver, to which he offers a prompt denial of ever being anywhere near the letter, actually he isn’t a postman and in fact he works in a factory. The simpering inquisitors are unconvinced and politely call him a liar, forcing him to eventually admit to delivering the letter. When they press him further about the contents of the letter, Shaun distracts them by complaining about bad pastry before launching into a series of brilliantly random excuses as to why he does not know details of the letter.

Shaun creates a distraction by berating his brother Shem, who is now confirmed as the author of ALP’s letter. He claims Shem forced ALP into saying awful things about her husband HCE in order to discredit him. Shaun declares the letter to be all lies, and poorly written lies, at that. This is just one of many insults thrown at poor Shem, which are frequently very funny. A couple of my favourites:

‘You know he’s peculiar, that eggschicker, with the smell of old woman off him, to suck nothing of his switchdupes.’

‘He’s weird, I tell you, and middayevil down to his vegetable soul.’

‘Then he was pusched out of Thingamuddy’s school by Miss Garterd, for itching.’

Interestingly, Shaun also claims that Shem has been forbidden from mating by HCE.

At some point, Shaun appears to find himself in a barrel floating in a river. Not sure quite how or when this becomes a thing, but it’s quite important nonetheless.

A further distraction is a very elaborate saucy tale involving a grasshopper, which quickly becomes a weird kind of insect erotica, and is absolutely one of the most bizarre things I have ever read. Shaun also sings a song about the grasshopper, whilst stuffing his face with more unlikely-sounding food.

The questioners praise his story telling skills, before asking him again about the letter. Shaun responds by speaking highly of his own writing and comparing himself to Oscar Wilde. Eventually, Shaun tells us when the letter was written:

‘When she slipped under her couchman. And when he made a cat with a peep.’

And also this:

‘Letter, carried of Shaun, son of Hek, written of Shem, brother of Shaun, uttered for Alp, mother of Shem, for Hek, father of Shaun.’

Looks like the brothers share a mother but HCE is the father of Shaun only. Perhaps this explains the animosity between them.

Unrelenting in their quest for the truth about the letter, the questioners press for more details, to which Shaun responds with delightful ramblings and manages to avoid giving any answers at all. He then falls out of the barrel and into the river, being swept away to either his death or Biddy’s house, possibly both:

‘Wisha, becoming back to us way home in Biddyhouse on way or either anywhere we miss your smile.’

Shaun then simultaneously dies and leaves the donkey’s dream.


This is a great chapter! It is a jaunty merry-go-round of the beautifully put questions, fabulous rambling excuses and tall tales involving a myriad of eclectic characters and long-awaited information relating to HCE and family and also ALP’s letter. We wander quite firmly into Monty Python territory here, with great pieces of witty absurdity and surreal humour. I have noted far more ‘favourite lines’ than is reasonable to list here. If you only attempt one part of Finnegans Wake, I heartily suggest having a crack at this chapter. There is the usual mush of the undecipherable but there are also plenty of bits that are highly enjoyable with only a little bit of wrestling.

Although I suspect Shaun is an unreliable narrator, he does confirm some aspects relating to the letter and the family and also reveals a lot about his own boastful and decadent character. We are again presented with the themes of dreams, rivers and the legendary Biddy – symbol of the circle of life. Cheerful stuff all round.

Favourite Lines

‘I’ve no room for that fellow on my fagroaster, I just can’t.’

Always a disaster when there’s no room on the fagroaster.

‘We shall not come to party at that lopps, he decided possibly, for he is not on our social list.’

Shaun is selective about where he parties.

‘To The Very Honourable The Memory of Disgrace, the Most Noble, Sometime Sweepyard at the Service of the Writer.’

There is just something very majestic about this, somehow.

(On a completely different note – a lovely chap has painted a picture of me, look!) 


Finnegans What? A Guide By An Idiot

Available now on Amazon

Finnegans Wake: Book 2.4

This chapter is a sort of dream sequence, quite possibly of our now shamed hero Here Comes Everybody, as we left him unconscious on the pub floor at the end of Book 2.3. There seems to be little connection to the main story, but that is probably true about most of the book anyway. It opens with a poem about a chap named Mark, who loses his shirt and trousers in a dark park. He appears quite full of himself and is described in the poem:

‘You’re the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah’s ark

And you think you’re the cock of the walk.’

But apparently he isn’t the cock of the walk, that accolade goes to Tristan, a young fellow who is wooing a beautiful maiden, Isolde. Whilst they go about the general business of being lovers – including canoodling on a fifteen inch love seat – they are watched secretly by four dirty old men, known as the Four Masters. They are:

Matt Gregory – wears a ‘saltwater hat’ and is a ‘queenly man’

Marcus Lyons

Luke Tarpey – possibly Welsh

Johnny MacDougall – wears half a tall hat. The other half he lost to someone called Lally, who also took other belongings from him.

The Four Masters seem to represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John whilst also being related to the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. They are old men, all divorced by their ‘shehusbands’, who reminisce endlessly about their own past conquests and the many lovers who have left them. As they spy on Trstian and Isolde, they repeat themselves constantly about their memories, which revolve around women, education, the great flood, auctioneers and drinking.

The theme of repetition is presented as the Four Masters (and mankind in general) being destined to repeat the same mistakes:

‘…when hope was there no more, and putting on their half a hat and falling over all synopticals and a panegyric and repeating themselves…’

They eventually implore the Almighty to release them from this cycle so that they are able to die – which they eventually do (‘happily buried’), having forgotten all their memories.

Meanwhile, we are presented with some sort of alternative creation story and tales of a lot of people dying at sea. The education system is mocked and there is a bearded Queen who has various dealings with Roneo and Giliette. These two undoubtedly reference Romeo and Juliette, but I can’t help thinking it would be better if it was Gillette; not only could the bearded Queen sort out her face fuzz, but she could claim to be ‘the best a man can get’. Anyway.

HCE laughs at Welshman Tom Tim Tarpey and four middle-aged widowers, who are no doubt the Four Masters.

A woman plots to kill a man (possibly HCE) with a pair of borrowed curling tongs.

Biddy is writing her memoirs, which are being serialised in Grocery Traders Monthly magazine! (Someone should really write some fan fiction based around this, I think).

The chapter – and, indeed, Book 2 – ends with a poem about Tristian and Isolde, in which he proposes to her and she accepts. But somehow the suggestion of an undisclosed tragic ending to their tale looms large.


I have various thoughts about what this is all about, but they are pure conjecture. Repetition is a device that has been employed liberally by Joyce since the beginning and there are two purposes for this of which I am certain. The first is to draw the reader’s attention to aspects of the tale which are important. The second, I believe, is to evoke particular feeling and atmosphere within the reader. Often the words of a passage are irrelevant and it is the soundscape they create upon the tongue and mind where the meaning is found.

There is no concrete reality or true narrative in Finnegans Wake, making it impossible to tell unconscious from conscious thought and truth from gossip, rumour and myth. In some ways this makes it the most realistic of novels as real life is endlessly interwoven with our different perspectives and understandings of people, events and the world at large. It makes for bloody complicated reading, though.

Favourite Lines

‘The new world presses. Where the old conk cruised now croons the yunk.’

Even if I knew what a conk and a yunk were, it still probably wouldn’t make much sense.

‘…and he was so sorry, he was really, because he left the bootybutton in the handsome cab and now, tell the truth unfriend never,’

I would be sorry to misplace a bootybutton, for sure.


Finnegans What? A Guide By An Idiot

Available now on Amazon