I am listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 130 as I type this because David Greetham in my beautiful Folio Edition of this (in)famous work reminds us that this composition confounded critics and audience alike, and that the smartest ones said at the time that they needed to listen to this ‘monster of a work’ more than once to make sense of it:
‘… we do not want to judge too hastily: perhaps the time will come when what appeared to us at first to be obscure and confused will be recognised as being clear and well constructed.'(the music critic (un-named) for the Leipzig Allgemaine Musikalische, 10 May 1826).
Finnegans Wake is not a book for the faint-hearted, but it has been beckoning me ever since my fourth reading of Ulysses, and – inspired by Tony at Messenger’s Booker and his painstaking reading of Bottom’s Dream, and further prompted by Irish Reading Month at 746 Books – I have made a start…
I have come to the book prepared. I have listened to a lovely abridged Naxos audio book edition read by Jim Norton with Marcella Riordan, which gave me a sense of the musicality of the work, and I have acquired two useful guides:
- A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake by William York Tindall, Syracuse University Press, 1969; and
- A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake, Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork, by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, Collected Works Edition, New World Library, 2005
So far, I have read
- the Introductions in the Folio edition, comprising:
- a note on the New Edition by Seamus Deane
- the Preface by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon
- the Introduction by David Greetham, and
- (surprisingly useful) the Introduction to the Illustrations by John Vernon Lord;
- the Introduction to Tindall’s Reader’s Guide; and
- the Introductions in Campbell and Robinson’s Skeleton Key, comprising
- A Foreword and Editorial Note to the Collected Works Edition
- the Foreword by Campbell and Robinson
- the Preface to the Compass Edition 1961
- the Introduction to a Strange Subject, and
- the Synopsis and Demonstration.
Campbell tells me that some allusions can be deduced from a detailed map of Dublin, so I went hunting at Google and found
- a 1938 ordnance survey map of Dublin
- a Finnegans Wake Google literary map,
- the MIOTAS website with photos of places mentioned in the book, and
- a Wiki which includes the text and a splendid narration.
And I’ve read page one!
PS Another find! Waywords and Meansigns: an unabridged Finnegans Wake, read to music. I couldn’t stand Edition 1, but I like the second edition! There’s no doubt that hearing words aloud helps to make sense of them…