As we approach the end of this phenomenal work of insanity, the chapters seem to get longer and more dense. There’s a lot going on in this one and – as usual – it is pretty obtuse. But we’ll give it a go.
Shaun (here referred to as ‘Yawn’) wakes up wailing on a hillock (well, we’ve all done it):
‘His dream monologue was over, of cause, but his drama parapolylogic had yet to be, affact.’
He appears to have a raging hangover and is in a proper state. Then, three kings from the East Midlands show up, accompanied by the Four Masters from previous chapters. It could be that the three kings and the Four Masters are the same people somehow. Who knows. The donkey is with them, lurking at the back, when they come across Shaun laying among the poppies. After an inordinately complex conversation, they decide to wake Shaun so that they can question him.
Shaun awakes and there ensues a typically confusing conversation that swings back and forth between many topics. It is often ambiguous as to who is speaking and Shaun seems to become HCE at times. A discussion about an orangery soon turns into talk of letters and in particular, the famous missive that may or may not have been written by ALP:
‘This nonday diary, this allnights newsreel.’
Shaun is accused of causing scandal about the letter, and even of writing it. He responds by saying that someone is impersonating him, blaming his half-brother Shem. The Masters challenge Shaun over his claims to be a good and pious man and remonstrate with him about his poor treatment of Shem. Shaun offers an unconvincing account of fraternal love, then has some kind of vision which causes him to have a funny turn.
There is also a missing boat – it is orange – and it is possible that the Duke of Denmark ate it.
The Masters and Shaun then embark on epic discussions about ALP, the wake, HCE’s pub and various things that may or may not have happened. Eventually, they all get excitable and start shouting over each other. Some kind of spirit or ghost pops up (could be HCE but might also be the Prank Quean from Book 1) and talks about the infamous events in the park. HCE is declared a drunk and bad husband, also ‘As mad as the brambles, he is.’ The spirit then talks of kissing HCE, which makes the Masters somewhat cross. There is also some anger about a shapeless hat, but I’m not sure how that’s relevant.
We then seem to be back at the wake of dear Finnegan, where the priest is sober but everyone else is drunk and wanting to fight. Mr Magraw beats someone up while HCE goes in search of ALP, feeling amorous. She rebuffs his advances which HCE finds very unfair as she is apparently not refusing the affections of others, particularly Big Arthur. The infamous pub crawl is relived with gusto, as well as many other events from the book. Eventually someone gets shot and Shem is also murdered.
One of the Four Masters challenges the other three to a fight. HCE gets annoyed at being questioned and launches into a defensive and whining account of his whole life. This is effectively another retelling of the entire book, but from a point of view much more sympathetic to HCE. Essentially, ALP, women and drink are blamed for his shortcomings and the Masters eventually concede that he is ‘more sinned against than sinned’.
HCE then appears to be conversing directly with ALP, forgiving her for her adultery:
‘Still to forgive it, divine my lickle wiffey, and everybody knows you do look lovely in your invinsibles,’
He also tells her that she should never have entered his dream. There appears to be an attempt at copulation (amusingly referred to as a game of hunt the orchid) but ALP keeps interrupting proceedings by gossiping and talking general nonsense. She discusses the departed Finnegan:
‘His thoughts that wouldbe words, his livings that havebeen deeds,’
and we learn that he was fond of women and drink. Quite frankly, you are hard pushed to find anyone not fond of women and drink around here.
There is a final, plaintive protest of innocence from HCE (including an interesting defence for the crime in the park, revolving around the effect excess alcohol has on a gentleman’s trouser performance), mainly blaming Shem and Shaun for spreading rumours, his friends for turning against him and ALP for breaking his heart.
As we end the chapter, dawn breaks and the donkey and Biddy wake up.
This is a very sketchy outline of what is an extremely long and complex chapter. There is so much going on here and we get HCE’s life story at least twice, from differing perspectives. I have to say that it’s not the most fun chapter, despite there being lots of points of interest, mainly due to its density and the fact that it goes on and on. And we are not really any closer to knowing anything concrete about the characters or the events that involve them. However, the detailed retelling of the pub crawl is very entertaining and seems to get more violent and obscene with each recount.
‘…not even to the seclusion of their beast by them that was the odd trick of the pack, trump and no friend of carrots.’
Is anyone really a friend of carrots? Really?
‘The old order changeth and lasts like the first. Every third man has a chink in his conscience and every other woman has a jape in her mind.’
Sort of interesting, don’t you think?
‘Who kills the cat in Cairo coaxes cocks the Gaul.’
Let that be a lesson to you.
‘God bless your ginger, wigglewaggle! That’s three slots and no burners.’
Just loving the thought of a ginger wigglewaggle.