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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 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!

There Is Nothing Quite So Dangerous As Bad Poetry

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They say that we are all brought into this life with a purpose, a raison d’etre, if you will. That there is a place in this world for all the creatures under the sky. This is a romantic notion and one that I have come to believe is absolutely true. For example, it appears that my place seems to be right at the very epicentre of nuisance. Now, this is rather fun when it is me that is the nuisance. External nuisance, however, is significantly less enjoyable.

I have no idea what happened. One minute, Head Porter was the toast of the town to his female companions; the next, one of them is in tears and the other one has slapped him. It would seem that Head Porter is as dumbfounded as I am, standing here dazed and bewildered.

“Is everything alright here?” I ask, feeling ridiculous even as the words leave my mouth. But it seems to calm down the slapping brunette a little.

“I suppose you’re the wife, are you?” she says in the laboured way of one who has had several too many. “There’s always a wife with men like him.”

“What? No!” I reply, as quickly as I can. “I am most certainly not ‘the wife’. I am just a friend. What’s going on?”

“He’s a beast and a pig!” roars the crying brunette.

“Now wait and hold on for a few,” Professor Duke steps deftly into the fray. “I know this fellow somewhat, and if he was a beast or pig, he’d stink a little more than he does at the minute.”

“I don’t know what’s happening!” Head Porter wails gently.

I have neither the energy nor the inclination to try to unravel the mysteries of the last two minutes with these two drunken hussies. Little good can come of it, no doubt.

“Ladies, I am sorry for any inconvenience my friend has caused you,” I say. “I think the best thing to do is take him off now for a stern talking to about beastliness and piggery. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

With that, Professor Duke and I bundle a flabbergasted Head Porter out into the street and in the direction of Old College.

Back in the Porters’ Lodge, Head Porter is still none the wiser about where his romantic overtures went wrong. The Professor and I are sat patiently drinking tea and waiting for an explanation.

“I just don’t understand it,” says Head Porter, fiddling with a pen. “Everything was going so well. They laughed at all my jokes, they said my tie was nice… the one I had my eye on was really keen on the tie, actually. Then she started telling me about the poetry she had been writing – something about existential darkness and the crushing pointlessness of existence – so, I know some poems, so I told her a poem and she just went crazy. Imagine that!”

Professor Duke and I exchange glances.

“Poetry can be ugly. What did you recite?” asks the Professor.

“Well, I say poem – it was more of a limerick. It goes – ‘There was once a fishmonger’s daughter / who found herself down on her luck…”

“Right-o!” I jump in quickly. Verses that feature a fishmonger’s daughter are rarely worth repeating in polite company. “I can see the problem here. Basically, Head Porter, it seems to me that you completely misjudge the types of things ladies like to hear during the wooing process.”

“And you’re also misjudging the type of ladies you should be wooing, I say,” says Professor Duke. “You should be a bit more selective. You know, like if you were picking out cherry suckers. You wouldn’t take the first you found. You’d make sure it was the best. Same here, I’m thinking.”

“I just thought that maybe a scatter gun approach might be a smart move,” replies Head Porter, pensively. “You know, law of averages and all that. I thought that if I ask enough ladies, one of them is bound to say yes eventually.”

“Say yes to what?” I ask, but I’m not sure I really want to know.

Head Porter chuckles and waggles his eyebrows in what I assume he believes in a saucy manner.

“Well, Deputy Head Porter – whatever I can talk them into!”

“Oh goodness…” the Professor shudders. “Romance isn’t worth it, I say. If I was you, I’d call a retreat and fall back.”

It is quite clear to me that we will not resolve the myriad of issues regarding Head Porter’s approach to love in one evening alone. There is going to be a considerable amount of work to do before he is even half-way match ready. I suddenly feel quite sorry for the women of The City. Sorry – and worried.

“Evening all!” a crisp greeting from an immaculately turned-out Night Porter rings across the Lodge. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Just passing through, old chap” I reply. “All hunky-dory, I take it?”

“A quiet evening, ma’am. Not much afoot. The Organ Scholar was in earlier, seemed a bit distracted.”

“Oh, really?” This piques my interest. “When was this?”

“About an hour ago, ma’am. He signed out the keys to the Organ Loft.”

Perfect.

It makes sense to me that the poor lad should be finding refuge in his music at a time of obvious distress. Hopefully, an hour of playing will have cleared his mind somewhat and he will be in quite the right mood to be questioned about one or two things.

“Thank you, Night Porter,” I reply, looking knowingly at Head Porter and the Professor. “Maybe I shall pop along there and see that all is well.”