Finnegans Wake: Book 2.3

This post contains references to some uncomfortable subjects such as rape, incest and paedophilia. Nothing is discussed in any detail, but not everyone wants to read about that stuff and I didn’t want to spring it on you. Also there is some swearing from me, just because I feel like it.

This is an absolute bastard of a chapter. For a start, it’s nearly 70 pages long, which might as well be in dog years with Joyce’s style. It is set in the bar of Here Comes Everybody’s pub. The ever-present 12 customers (who are also the jury, if you remember) provide us with one narrative, whilst two other stories are broadcast over a radio and a television, interspersed with a horse racing programme.

The story on the radio is about a Norwegian Captain who has a lobster claw and most likely represents HCE. There are random nautical adventures where people get drunk a lot, someone digs up a corpse, people get shot – that sort of thing. At some point, one of the sailors steals the Captain’s ‘whale fur trousers, but he falls into the sea, taking the trousers with him. Now lacking some trousers, the Captain asks the ship’s husband where he can get a suit made, upon which the ship’s husband introduces him to a tailor.

The tailor has a daughter who is a proper little strumpet and is no doubt supposed to be ALP.  She marries the Captain, then promptly bans him from sailing around the world and forces him to become a pub landlord. At this point, The Captain becomes HCE and starts drinking heavily. Then, someone steals his trousers from the outhouse (There seems to be an inordinate amount of trouser-theft going on here). Meanwhile, back on the ship the sailors have decided that HCE / The Captain is a rum sort of chap and decide to break into his pub. There is a confrontation where the sailors mock our hapless hero, steal a ham and go off in search of prostitutes. One of them eats a fox and dies.

There is then a weather forecast which is interrupted by Kate Strong (Tip!) who enters the bar and starts berating the customers. She then informs HCE that he is wanted by ALP upstairs and off he goes.

The story on the television is about a Russian General, who is known to be a great and powerful man but seems in danger of being brought low by either a lesser man or possibly a child. I think he might be being pursued by the Duke of Wellington, but I’m not completely sure. The Duke of Wellington is definitely involved somehow, though. And also a letter – ‘Leave the letter that never begins to go find the letter that ever comes to end, written in smoke and blurred by mist and signed of solitude, sealed at night.’ I imagine this relates to ALP’s much-discussed missive from previously.

Now things get quite confusing, so please bear with me. HCE’s daughter Isa pipes up and rambles on about men and romance before introducing two radio broadcasters, Taff and Butt (who must be Shaun and Shem). Taff and Butt give warning of a storm, before morphing into Bett and Tipp, who are presenting a programme on horse racing. Slippery Sam is present but morally absent. Taff and Butt return, becoming one person who then shoots the Russian General. Bastarding bastard thing! This hurt my head a lot.

We then return to the patrons in the bar. They are discussing HCE’s crime in the park and they believe that Shem wrote about his father’s crimes in order to discredit him. Whether they mean ALP’s letter or another great literary work is unclear. HCE returns from upstairs and his customers turn against him. Faced with the vitriol of his former friends, he then confesses to a liking for young girls and particularly his own daughter. He tries to justify the rape in the park by saying that the young girl enjoyed it and that he had no choice but to commit the act as his wife was refusing him his conjugal rights. He says he was drunk at the time and suggests to the patrons that they would have done the same thing in his position.

Unsurprisingly, a pub brawl ensues and the customers assure HCE that they will all testify against him in court. They also express their intentions to go to the newspapers and bring him down, replacing him with his sons. HCE proceeds to get very drunk on all kinds of drinks and either considers suicide or fears being hanged. He then turns into King Roderick O’Conor, the last king of Ireland (apparently waterproof) and passes out.

Thoughts

Well, this is the best I can do with this chapter. It’s an absolute bugger of a thing. And annoyingly it is fairly important, as we finally find out about what happened in the park and also a bit about how HCE and ALP met. The two stories on the radio intertwine with the events in the bar to finally bring the story to something of a turning point. The trouser thefts are a conundrum. Unusually when Joyce repeats a theme it is because it’s important, but no matter how hard I think on it, I can’t see the significance of trouser thefts. Maybe it represents HCE’s loss of dignity and public standing.

Finnegans Wake is rumoured to have the longest palindrome in literature, which thus far I can neither confirm nor deny. However, it does have the world’s worst knock-knock joke:

‘Knock knock. War’s where! Which war? The Twwinns. Knock knock. Woos without! Without what? An apple. Knock knock.’

Favourite Lines

‘…each spitfire spurtle had some trick of her trade, a tease for Ned, nook’s nestle for Fred and a peep at me mow for Peter Pol.’

A commentary on the local prostitutes.

‘…(pierce me, hunky, I’m full of meunders!)…’

Not sure when one would use this phrase, but it sounds quite good.

‘And then. Be old. The next thing is. We are once amore as babes awondering in a wold made fresh where with the hen in the storyaboot we start from scratch.’

The circle of life and… Biddy!

73 comments

    1. Yes, that struck me too. Perhaps a cautionary tale against eating wildlife? Who knows. From what I gather of Joyce, it probably means something naughty.

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