Finnegans Wake: Book 2.2

This is an absolute bugger of a chapter, I don’t mind telling you. We are faced with the usual soundscape of narrative that we have come to expect, but it is further complicated by equally baffling margin and footnotes by three different narrators and also some fairly complicated-sounding mathematics. The maths might be straightforward, to be fair, but the combination of Joyce’s style and my abject failure to grasp anything numerate prevents me from being anything other than baffled. Nevertheless, I shall do my best.

The narrative appears to be laid out like an exercise or study book, with the main body of text supported by notes:



I believe the margin notes to be made by Shem and Shaun, who are here known predominantly as Kev and Dolph. I can’t tell whose notes are whose but the righthand ones seem to be taking things much more seriously than the lefthand. The footnotes appearing at the bottom of the page are written by a girl, possibly called Isa, who is a sister or close relative of the two boys. If any of these notes actually relate to the main text, I’m buggered if I can see how.

It seems to follow on from the last chapter and the children have come in from playing and are soon to have tea. In the meantime they are studying a range of subjects including history, science, astronomy, grammar, geography and geometry (more about that later). At the same time they are discussing their father – Here Comes Everybody – running the pub and the drunks he serves. There is some feeling that his regulars are turning against him following the rumours of what happened in the park. There are references to Alice In Wonderland, and dreams and sleep are also talked about, particularly relating to Anna Livia Plurabelle:

‘For as Anna was at the beginning lives again yet and will return after great deap sleap rerising…’

Eggs and the now-legendary Biddy the hen are a popular topic also.

The boys are focused on the importance of finding truth and answers (both in their studies here and life in general) whilst Isa muses about love and young men. There is an epic footnote (which could almost be a chapter in itself) which begins with her proclaiming a love of words and literature, but quickly becomes a surprisingly frank account of her sexual fantasies and an angry, graphic demand for her virginity to be taken in quite a specific way. I find this disturbing not only because the age of Isa is ambiguous, but towards the end of the rant, we are very much given the impression that the man to which she is making the demand is none other than her father, HCE.

At various points, pub worker Kate Strong (Tip!) pops up to defend HCE and also castigate the twelve customers who seem to be perpetually drinking in the bar. Ships and sailors are once again touched upon (at one point we seem to be simultaneously on both a ship and a pub crawl) and there are references to the earlier parts of the story involving the park and ALP’s letter.

Eventually, Shaun and Isa take to berating Shem over his lack of intellectual prowess. Shaun decides to teach him something, urging him to get out his compasses. I think then Shaun begins the lesson, which goes on for ages and is written in derivatives of English, French and Latin. I recognise mathematical terms but really I have no idea what is going on here at all. The upshot of all this is that Shem finally draws a diagram, which Shaun and Isa deem to be a picture of ALP’s lady parts.


Yep. Clearly a fou-fou.

I get their point, but one would have to have a particular type of mind to arrive at that as a conclusion. Anyway. There follows much talk about the qualities of the feminine intimates and the diagram is admired enthusiastically. It is suggested that it represents ALP herself; her character and history – and maybe women in general. The boys conclude that in the end, sex and love come to nothing and that the sin is worse than the sinner.

Shem gets angry that he has been tricked into drawing a vagina and strikes Shaun, who responds by taking nearly two pages to compliment him on his punch. They then all drink a pint of Jamesons and praise Biddy’s hair. All three return to their homework where they have to write an inordinate amount of essays, which have the kind of outlandish titles you might expect. The chapter ends with them writing a ‘Night Letter’ to their parents and the patrons of the pub. What they are trying to say, I wouldn’t like to presume but it comes across as a sort of threat.




This is a horrific delight of Joycean contradiction, with some of the most beautiful and humorous prose in the book so far. There are numerous sections of Wonderland-esque imagery which are truly stunning. However, the darker side of this chapter cannot be ignored and Isa’s epic footnote in particular is somewhat disturbing. Let’s give Joyce the benefit of the doubt and assume that the youngsters are in their mid to late teens, in which case discussions about sex would be expected (although not quite so graphically among siblings, in my experience. But that’s just me). Isa’s carnal desires are incredibly violent for a young woman and her intention for her father to take her virginity in such a manner is uncomfortable reading.

The placing of these salacious revelations I believe is significant; the footnote is of epic proportions and in very small writing, which may put off many readers from investigating it properly. It is almost as if Joyce is indulging in a kind of confessional that he is partially trying to hide. The religious figures in the book are often portrayed as being deviants and some of the previous references to the possible rape are a little unpalatable to a modern reader. I am no psychologist but this chapter left me with the impression that Joyce harboured some very dark desires that for some reason he felt compelled to share.

Favourite Lines

‘Neither a soul to be saved nor a body to be kicked.’

Beautifully tragic.

‘… who wants to cheat the chocker’s got to learn to chew the cud.’

Conversation is to be encouraged.

‘There is comfortism in the knowledge that often hate on first hearing comes of love by second sight.’

For those who don’t believe in love at first sight, perhaps.

What The Professor Said

With the plans for the slightly controversial new training scheme for the Porters well under way, I am finding myself at a bit of a loose end. I say ‘slightly controversial’ as the Porters are not happy at all about becoming ‘security professionals’. I suppose I can sympathise somewhat. These chaps came to Old College to see out the last of their working days (ideally by doing as little as possible), not to embark on new ventures. Particularly not new ventures that involve restraining techniques and conflict resolution. Even so, I am a little disappointed at their lack of a sense of adventure.

As happens often when I haven’t much to occupy me in The Lodge, I am patrolling the grounds of Old College. I say patrolling; that is a generous term for the superfluous ambling that has led me to the perimeters of the gardens and not much further. I feel a little guilty about using my time so gratuitously, but not much. It is nice to have time to have a think.

My mind is turning over the words of Professor K. Although it felt like he was talking in riddles, I feel certain he gave me all the information I need to pursue my interest in whatever mysteries Old College has to offer. I suspect they will not be half as interesting as I imagine, but it is certainly a pleasant distraction. Having assembled in my head all the information gathered so far, I have reasonable grounds to suspect that the following is true:

Something was discovered in the ground when The Porters’ Lodge was rebuilt some fifty years ago.

It was something bad; no one wants to talk about it.

Whatever is was, it is still having repercussions of some description all these years later.

The Master lied about ‘ghosts’ in College. What else could he be lying about?

What’s Head Porter’s problem?

That’s a point, Head Porter was been notably conspicuous by his absence recently. I rarely see him these days. This is not a bad thing, from my point of view; I am far happier left to my own devices. But I thought The Fellowship might have said something about it, particularly one of The Bursars. Is it normally acceptable for the Head Porter to be practically invisible? Maybe so, Old College has certainly done much to challenge my views of ‘normal’.

A thought strikes me. Professor K had made a pointed comment about reading – and the importance of a thirst for knowledge. Of course! There must be reams and reams of written history about Old College, it stands to reason. If I want to know more about the history of the place perhaps all I need to do is look further than the end of my own nose.

I mentally kick myself for not coming to this conclusion before. I am surrounded by learning and study and didn’t for one minute think that it might apply to me. Idiot. Self-recrimination out of the way, I believe that the best place to start would be The Old Library. I do not carry these keys as a matter of course, unwieldy as they are, so a quick detour to The Porters’ Lodge is required. Whilst I’m there, I make a cup of tea to accompany me in The Old Library. From what I gather from the students, studying is thirsty work.

As I have mentioned before, The Old Library is probably my favourite part of College. Despite my lack of formal education, I do like books. I am also very fond of old things, so this tucked away little dusty oasis of papery antiquity is just perfect. As I make my way carefully up the wrought iron spiral staircase, I am not exactly sure what I expect to find, or even what I should be looking for. If nothing else, it will be a nice way to while away an hour or so.

The lock requires a certain amount of jiggling and persuasion to convince it to release, but once I have wrestled the ornate and cumbersome door open, the wonderful smell of wood, paper and leather greets me like an old friend. The floor is warped and uneven and I am grateful that this job requires me to wear sensible shoes. I wonder where to start looking; this is not a library that is intended for everyday use and therefore does not seem to have a clearly defined index or labelling system. I’ll just have a little wander round and see what I can find.

Ah! There is the stunningly illustrated manuscript of Paradise Lost. It is in a glass case, so I can’t really read it, but just to be able to look at it feels like quite an event in itself. I have, of course, read Paradise Lost, but I’m guessing the copies we had at school were a lot newer than this one.

With all of these strange goings on recently, I idly wonder if The Old Library has any ghosts lingering? This is in the oldest part of College, after all. I am rather morbidly considering how many people might have died in this room over the centuries. It is quite surprising how recent events have changed the way I am thinking about Old College. This fascination with people dying all over the place is probably quite unhealthy.

I am quite enjoying my own little private tour, but haven’t found anything very useful. I decide to take a seat at the back by the medical books and, at the very least, enjoy my tea. I remember from Junior Bursar’s Guided Tour several months ago that the medical books are quite interesting, so I heave a random one out from its resting place on the shelf and pop it on the reading table to peruse while I finish my tea.

As I shuffle my chair closer to the table, my foot makes contact with something very solid. I shuffle back quickly and see to my dismay that my highly polished practical shoe is scuffed. Bugger. I hope whatever I kicked has come off better than my shoe.

I bend down to see a fairly large wooden chest, tucked under the table and right up against the wall. The aged oak panels suggest it is pretty old and the lack of ornament or decoration give the impression that this is designed to be serviceable rather than aesthetic. Well, the obvious thing that springs to mind is – what’s in it? There are metal handles on either end and I give the one nearest to me a tug. The chest doesn’t move an inch, it is very heavy. I shift myself into a squatting position and wrap both hands around the handle. Using all the strength in my arms and legs I manage to move it by maybe three inches. The build up of filth and the contrasting conditions on the floor around the chest indicate it hasn’t been moved for a very long time.

The benefit of being small is that I can wriggle into tiny places. Under the desk I go and decide to see if I can open the chest from where it sits. To my immense surprise, there is no lock or fastening of any description; just a flip top lid. It opens easily, although the underside of the table prevents me from opening it very far. Squinting through the gap I can see there are a lot of very old-looking books stacked neatly in the chest. This looks interesting.

I scoot out from under the table and drag it out of the way of the chest. With the lid fully open, I can see an impressive-looking collection of very, very old books. Well, I might as well have a peek.

I carefully lift the first book that comes to hand out of the chest and rearrange the table so I can read in comfort. As I delicately open the cover and slowly turn the pages, I wonder if I should be wearing gloves of some kind. I don’t have any gloves with me, so it’s a bit of a pointless thought. The book appears to be the records and accounts of an enigmatic-sounding organisation called The Order Of The Lesser Dragon.

To be honest, I am struggling to understand a lot of what is written here as it is in what I can only assume is old English (or, ‘Ye Olde English, to give it its improper name). From what I can gather, The Order Of The Lesser Dragon was a wealthy gentleman’s society, in a similar vein to the Masons. They seemed to have had a lot of meetings and spent quite a bit of money on wine and cheese. The names of the past members appear to be listed periodically throughout the book, alongside the roles they played within the organisation.

This is all very interesting but I do wonder what this book is doing in The Old Library. Did The Lesser Dragons have something to do with Old College? Ah… here we go. There’s a whole bit here about them setting up an academic institution… it’s really difficult to understand most of it… but I recognise the names of ‘Apple Tree Court’ and ‘Old Court’. That’s a bit odd. If it’s a brand new building, why name it Old Court? This is obviously the record of an embryonic plan for Old College! There must be some explanation here about the naming of it, but it really is very hard to comprehend. There are lists and records of the artisans and craftsmen and their costs and materials. Some of the labourers appear to have been paid in mead! Fantastic!  And what’s this? A long list of names… some of them seem very unlikely… There’s one chap here called Faldo! Who were these people?

Oh. I am able to decrypt this rather unhappy excerpt relating to the list of names. They were peasants, ‘sacrificed’ using some kind of ancient protection rites and cast into the foundations of Old College. This is unpleasant and a little unexpected. Mind you, now I think about it, I do recall something of this nature from my history lessons many years ago. For some reason I thought it was just bridges; I remember learning that people were buried in the foundations of bridges in the belief that it would stop them falling down. It must have been same principle used here. I do quite like that these Lesser Dragon chaps had the decency to at least make a list of the unfortunate sacrifice-ees and credit them in this weighty tome. That seems more than fair, in the given circumstances.

I expect the peasants are still there! Tucked up for all time beneath the ancient walls; eternal watchmen for Old College.

Oh. My. God.

Well. I think I may have solved the ‘mystery’ of what was discovered under The Porters’ Lodge, half a century ago. It must have been a fairly grisly unearthing, a whole pile of human bones. And a real pain in the backside, too, as I am sure there are all sorts of rules and regulations concerning the discoveries of human remains. I wonder what they did with them? I will have to find time to have another chat with Professor K. But not now, I think to myself sensibly. I’ve already spent far too much time away from The Lodge.

I replace the books and make sure I leave The Old Library as I found it. As I hurry back to The Porters’ Lodge I hope I haven’t missed too much.  I will have to take this up with Professor K as soon as I get a minute. He was right, though. A thirst for knowledge certainly is a wonderful thing.