dream

Finnegans Wake: Book 4 – The Final Chapter

Everyone take a nice, deep breath – this is the final chapter! Although if you were hoping for any kind of resolution or explanation, you will be disappointed. In fact, as far as final chapters go, it is a little disappointing all round.

Book 4 (which consists of just one chapter) opens with an unknown narrator calling for dawn to break and the people of the world to awaken. Some sort of deity of the dawn talks nonsense for quite a while, mainly concerning inedible yellow meat, the twenty nine schoolgirls and fish. Someone goes away and then comes back again (possibly Shaun).

Eventually, Here Comes Everybody wakes up and is surprised that he has been dreaming. It has apparently been a long, hard night but now the day is coming and will make everything right again. A conflict or battle between night and day ensues, interspersed with details about the transient nature of rivers and the various regenerations of ALP. There is then some discussion about Shaun:

‘Here’s heering you in a guessmasque, letterman! And such an improofment! As root as the mail and as fat as a fuddle!’

‘…night-shared nakeshift with the alter girl they tuck in for sweepsake.’

Shaun is then asked about the crime in the park and his involvement with ALP’s letter. His vague reply states that anything can happen after night fall and only the deers know the truth for sure. Perhaps if we could find one of these deers that might be helpful. But anyway. There is then a lengthy passage concerning the Kevin character, who seems to be a sanctimonious version of Shaun. Saint Kevin becomes a priest and travels along rivers collecting Gregorian water. As you do.

Finally, day triumphs over night and a couple of jaunty chaps named Muta and Juva pop up and talk vaguely about beetles, a king and the story of HCE and ALP. They close with:

‘Muta:  May I borrow that hordwanderbaffle from you, old rubberskin?

Juva:  Here it is and I hope it’s your worming pen, Erinmonker! Shoot.’

A king and a tramp die. ALP seems to be trapped in a miasma of fairytales and dreams:

‘That was the prick of the spindle to me that gave me the keys to dreamland.’

She is surrounded by ‘Impossible to remember persons in unprobable to forget position places.’

ALP now gives us her version of events and her thoughts on her letter. The much discussed (but never seen) letter apparently contained proof that HCE could not have committed the crime in the park, as he was canoodling with a lady named Lily under a grand piano at the time. She speaks surprisingly highly of her philandering husband – ‘Meet a great civilian (proud lives to him!) who is gentle as a mushroom…’ Although, considering her own transgressions, an assignation under a piano seems pretty insignificant. We were warned earlier about the dangers of engaging in romantic pursuits with piano-playing lodgers, perhaps HCE should have been paying attention.

The close of this chapter and, indeed, the book is given over to a plaintive monologue by ALP. She is attempting to wake HCE, who might actually be dead by this point. If he has given up the will to live, I can’t say I entirely blame him. She tries to tempt him to awaken with suggestions of going abroad and she implores him to get up and put on his new big green belt. She then rambles on about ‘two old crony aunts’, who are reminiscent of both the gossiping washerwomen (one of whom turned into a tree) and the tale of the Mookse and the Gripes from Book 1.5. ALP is not fond of these two ladies, amusingly named Queer Mrs Quickenough and Odd Mrs Doddpebble. She also appears to randomly invent the world’s favourite search engine:

‘One chap googling the holyboy’s thingabib and this lad wetting his widdle.’

I wouldn’t advise googling this, but if you do, be sure to clear your search history. Anyway. ALP derides the two women and also the Four Masters. She firmly informs the unresponsive HCE that he must buy her a new girdle, before describing how she will distract herself from his failings by imagining him as an innocent young child – ‘The child we all love to place our hope in forever.’ She is of the opinion that all men make mistakes and all people are prone to failure – ‘It’s something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall.’

As ALP considers dying, she seems to forgive HCE and also herself and calls for a river to carry her home to the sea. The final line appears incomplete, but is in fact the opening fragment of the very first line in the book:

‘A way a lone a last a loved a long the   /

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious virus of recirculation back to Howth Castles and Environs.’

Thoughts

We did it!! Oh, we have done it, dear, sweet reader – we have completed Finnegans Wake! Of course, this is a mere glancing of the intricate and complex text and does not even begin to scratch the surface of this widely-studied work. With a book where almost every sentence is open to interpretation, it is likely impossible to provide a definitive synopsis. However, the impossible has always been a favourite of mine and I shall have a crack at an overview very shortly. In the meantime, I am off to have a lie down in a dark room – hopefully with a large steak and the biggest glass of wine you have ever seen in your life.

Favourite Lines

‘(for the farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial and hatch-as-hatch can)’

The farmer and his son are keen on eggs, I see.

‘He may be humpy, nay, he may be dumpy but there is always something racy about, say, a sailor on a horse.’

I have always thought this myself.

‘Grand old Manbutton, give your bowlers a rest!’

I wonder if this has anything to do with the aforementioned bootybutton?

‘A naked yogpriest, clothed of sundust, his oakey doaked with frondest leoves,’

This summer I shall be mostly wearing sun dust. (Also I wanted the final quote to involve nudity. And a priest.)

Finnegans Wake: Book 3.4

The penultimate chapter of Finnegans Wake sees us back on relatively familiar ground with yet another perspective on the ambiguous events from the tale. We find ourselves in the company of the slumbering Porter family, who appear to be an alternative version of the Earwickers – Here Comes Everybody’s dysfunctional brood. The Porters are portrayed as being the perfect family, although they only care about themselves.

It is nighttime and the three children are asleep upstairs. They are:

Jerry – drinks methylated spirits and wants to grow up to be a bald cardinal. Described as a badbrat’, he is reminiscent of Shem.

Kevin – Shaun has already appeared once before as Kevin and here he apparently grows up to be the ‘commandeering chief of the choirboy’s brigade’.

Isobel – No doubt representing the promiscuous Isa, Isobel is the chaste and beautiful sister of Jerry and Kevin who yearns to be a nun.

The first part of the chapter appears to depict the dream of Jerry and concerns HCE’s court case. We hear again HCE defend his crimes, this time citing some sort of medical problem, but is eventually found guilty by the jury. On leaving the court house, Jerry sees twenty nine young girls (who are never happier than when they are miserable) weeping over the departure of Shaun.

We then find ourselves the bedroom of Mr and Mrs Porter, which is situated above a pub. The description of the bedroom is wonderfully vivid, so I thought I would include the passage here, should you wish to have a peek at it:

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Mr and Mrs Porter are getting ready for bed. Mr Porter has a beastly expression and exhibits rage, whilst Mrs Porter’s expression is ‘haggish’, depicting fear. There seems to be various attempts at an amorous advance from Mr Porter, at which point Mrs Porter runs off up a staircase with only one step whilst he passes out. She heads off to the children’s bedrooms.

The Porters have a pet cat called Buttercup:

‘Has your pussy a pessname? Yes, indeed, you will hear it passim in all noveletta and she is named Buttercup.’

Buttercup is described in similarly goddess-like terms to the mighty Biddy, of whom she is a good friend. Buttercup and Biddy pass the time gossiping about the family and customers at their pub.

Anyway, Jerry wakes up and Mrs Porter tells him not to wake Kevin and Isobel. Jerry has had a nightmare where his father was a very bad man – ‘How shagsome all and beastful!’ Mrs Porter reassures him that it was all a dream and that there are no bad men in the house. She then rambles on about a myriad of things – from the church and fish to cycling and farting – before making reference to the late Finnegan and his wake.

Jerry eventually settles down and Mrs Porter returns to her bedroom. Mr and Mrs Porter then engage in a lengthy discussion about HCE, where his crimes are shown in yet another light. In this version, the ladies involved in the escapade in the park were encouraged by four men to spread rumours about him, on the basis that on the night in question he was so drunk that he wouldn’t be able to remember what had happened. The ladies are presented in most unflattering terms and appear to have had many assignations with people they shouldn’t. The particular bush where HCE lost his good name is in fact the bush of choice for local young lovers, which is interesting to know.

Talk then moves on to the court case, which was a confused affair where the judge and jury all disagreed about almost every aspect of the case. One of the witnesses requested musical accompaniment to her testimony, but was sadly refused by the Judge. They also muse upon Hosty’s ballad and the fight in the pub when HCE’s customers turned against him. Mr and Mrs Porter seem sympathetic towards HCE and blame all his problems on the fact he can’t stand up to women. After a comical lecture about living a respectable life and the evils of sex, Mr and Mrs Porter copulate quietly so as not to wake the children. The chapter ends as coitus resolves when the cock crows and dawn breaks:

‘O yes! O yes! Withdraw your member. Closure.’

Which is quite possibly the most underwhelming climax in literature.

Thoughts

Quite frankly, at this stage in proceedings I am just delighted that there is only one more chapter to go. This chapter is very much a return to form of Book 1, focusing on the crime in the park and the ambiguity of what really happened. For a while, I thought that the entire book was simply a dream conjured by young Jerry and I am still in two minds as to whether that is the implication. The Porters are a version of the Earwicker family, but who are seemingly untroubled by alcoholism and sexual deviancy. Perhaps a reminder not to judge others too harshly, as we are all human and prone to being at the mercy of our weaknesses. There are some wonderful passages laden with pathos and humour and this is one of the more straight forward sections of the book.

On to the final chapter! Will we finally discover the truth behind HCE and his bush-related endeavours? I’m not holding my breath…

Favourite Lines

‘…every muckle must make its mickle,’

You can’t expect someone else to take responsibility for your mickle.

‘So you be either man or mouse and you be neither fish nor flesh.’

I wonder what would happen if I said this to someone in real life.

‘…he being personally unpreoccupied to the extent of a flea’s gizzard anent eructation, if he was still extremely offensive to a score and four nostrils’ dilation,’

I’m not sure but I think this means that someone smells bad. Maybe.

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.

Thoughts

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!)

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