Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 27, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1

It’s quite extraordinary, the sense of triumph I feel at having completed Chapter One of Finnegans Wake.  It’s daft, too, because there’s no way anyone can ‘complete’ Finnegans Wake.  Already I know that to do that I would need to take a course in Irish history, locate and read and internalise a Roman Catholic Mass missal, and learn half a dozen more languages than I’ve already toyed with.  Tindall in A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake says FW is tough if you only have one language (like he does) because the text is liberally sprinkled with Latin, French, German, Italian, Gaelic and Danish, plus ‘a little’ Russian, Czech, Finnish and Hebrew.  Oh, yes, and I should be familiar with the James Joyce bio as well.

And should I accomplish all that, even then, my Senior’s vintage memory will let me down… I was quite miffed to read in Campbell’s  A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake, Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork that:

Every reader of Ulysses will recall the ‘thirty-two feet per second, per second.  Law of falling bodies,’ which ran through Bloom’s thoughts of the entire day.  (Campbell, p.44)

Well, no, I’ve read Ulysses four times, most recently not so very long ago, and this snippet and its significance has passed me by.  I fear Joyce’s number games will pass me by in FW too, though Campbell has warned me that:

The number is now to run through the entire night of Finnegans Wake, usually in combination with eleven, the number of restart after finish.  (The old decade having run out with ten, eleven initiates the new.  See our discussion of the Kabbalistic decade for Bk II, chap 3).

Yes, it’s easy to feel intimidated by Campbell, and equally so by Tindall, but I am not discouraged yet.  Tindall, after all, had help.  He set up a bunch of graduate students to read it with him and to collaborate by sharing their languages and knowledge.  And Campbell, well, Campbell was just a genius.

I started off reading the text accompanied by the Finnegans Web wiki, but before long it departed from the words in front of me.  It was irrelevant to me whether this is because the wiki version is abridged, or just a different edition to the ‘restored’ Folio edition, (though I was surprised to see how that this site doesn’t seem to acknowledge which edition they’re using nor who their narrator is).  I gave up, and read the chapter out loud, myself.  Fortunately my library is soundproofed, or The Spouse might have thought that my incomprehensible babble presaged a stroke and sent for an ambulance…

From my pre-reading I already knew the outline of events. FW starts at Howth Castle and Sir Tristram (the invading Englishman who founded the castle) is returning from over the short sea to wage war.  There is a thunderclap signalled by a word with 100 letters (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhoun-awnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) This is the Word of God and it signals the restarting of history and the fall – of Finnegan the hod-carrier off his ladder, and the Fall of Man.  There is a wake, where a splash of Guinness brings Finnegan back from the dead.   But resurrection notwithstanding, the wake continues on anyway, following Finnegan (representing Everyman) throughout history and the landscape.

BTW There is an amusing page at Wiktionary about the thunderclap.  It correctly notes that the word is created from words meaning thunder in lots of different languages, but there is high level indignation about whether it should be included at Wiktionary as a word.  One of the complainants had never heard of Finnegans Wake and it seems that he and his pals were successful in having the entry deleted.  But the discussion has been archived, and *happy dance* it includes a list of the other 100-letter words from FW (though it incorrectly ascribes them to Ulysses).  I have copied these words here for fun and in case somebody deletes them from Wiktionary. BTW the last word has 101 letters.

  • Thunder: [[bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntro-varrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk]]
  • Thunder: [[perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthruma-thunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun]]
  • Clap: [[klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammi-hnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot]]
  • Whore: [[bladyughfoulmoecklenburgwhurawhorascortastrumpapornanennykocksap-astippatappatupperstrippuckputtanach]]
  • [[thingcrooklyexineverypasturesixdixlikencehimaroundhersthemaggerbykinkinkankan-withdownmindlookingated]]
  • Shut the door: [[lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphaln-abortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk]]
  • [[bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarumdrumstrumtruminahumptadump-waultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup]]
  • [[pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhackfallther-debblenonthedubblandaddydoodled]]
  • Cough: [[husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobix-hatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract]]
  • Norse gods: [[ullhodturdenweirmudgaardgringnirurdrmolnirfenrirlukkilokkibaugim-andodrrerinsurtkrinmgernrackinarockar]]

Yes, I digress…


Strangely, from page 4 Bygmester Finnegan has a coat of arms, and a different name: he is now Wassaily Booslaeugh of Riesengeborg, and he’s a giant.  This makes no sense until I remember the introductory stuff about the framing Joyce used.  Just as Ulysses is framed by Homer, FW is framed by a text from 1725 called La Scienza Nuova [The New Science] by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico.  His philosophy of history “proves” that man’s history, created under the laws of divine providence, proceeds cyclically through three ages, the divine, the heroic and human.  (Tindall, p. 8)  Part I of FW (8 chapters) is framed around the Viconian Divine Age, and Finnegan a.k.a. Wassaily Booslaeugh in this part of the book conforms to its characteristics.

(Mind you, it’s a whole lot easier to recognise Homer when you see him, than it is to recognise the meanderings of some Italian chap from 1725.  Even if you haven’t read Ulysses, you’ve heard at least some of the stories, especially if you play video games).

#PressingOn.  This is my summary of the three Viconian ages, with Campbell’s names for them in brackets:

  • The Divine Age (theocratic) (Eden, Egypt and the darkness after the Fall of Rome) is signified by the language of mutes (grunts, gestures, hieroglyphs, coats of arms and fables).  Thunder announces it, and it produces religion and family.  It’s Part I of FW.
  • The Heroic Age (aristocratic) is signified by lords and vassals, wars and duels.  Its language is alphabets, metaphors and proverbs.  It produces marriage. It’s Part II of FW.
  • The Human Age (democratic) is signified by burial.  It produces cities, laws, civil obedience and eventually popular government.  Its language is vulgar speech, abstract discourse, and (in FW) radio and TV.  It’s Part III of FW.

A ricorso (chaotic) (period of confusion) occurs after the third age has destroyed itself until like a phoenix, it rises again.  It’s Part IV of FW.

My first laugh-out-loud moment came when it dawned on me that the ‘mourners’ were in a museyroom (i.e. a museum) dedicated to Wellington.  (Dublin has a massive obelisk dedicated to Wellington, in Phoenix Park.  This museyroom is a combination of the Magazine Fort and the monument).  An old woman is doing the guided tour, and she refers to Napoleon as Lipoleum, distorted by female lip and flooring, to be walked on by Wellington boots.  This excerpt is best read aloud, with the most authentic approximation of an Irish accent that you can manage.

This the way to the museyroom.  Mind your hats goan in.  Now yiz in the Willingdone Museyroom.  This is a Prooshious gunn.  This is the bullet that byng the flag of the Prooshious.  This is the ffrinch that fire on the Bull that bang the flag of the Prooshious.  Saloos the Crossgunn!  Up with your pike and fork! Tip.  (Bullsfoot! Fine!) This is the triplewon hat of Lipoleum.  Tip.  Lipoleumhat.  This is the Willingdone on his same white harse, the Cokenhape.  This is the big Sraughter Willingdone, grand and magnetic, in his goldtin spurs and his ironed dux and his quarterbrass woodyshoes and his magnate’s gharters and his Bangkok’s best and goliar’s galoshes and his pulluponeasyan wartrews.  This is his big wide hrase. Tip.  (p.7)

Things you need to know to get the joke:

  • the Prussians fought against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) too.
  • Napoleon had a two-cornered hat, not a tricorne, but he won power three times, by rigged plebiscite in 1799, by coronation in 1804 and by popular acclaim in 1815 when he returned from Elba.
  • Wellington had a horse called Copenhagen.
  • There is a bull on the Prussian coat of arms.
  • Wellington was a man who was willing and a man who got things done.  His nickname was the Iron Duke.
  • The repeated word ‘tip’ suggests that this old junk might just as well be taken to the dump.

Goliar?  Well, the Brits took all the credit for the victory at Waterloo but perhaps an Irishman might want to give the credit to the Prussians who turned up at the last minute and saved the day?

Another clever name play is Cromcruwell.  Well, he was cruel, especially in Ireland…

This made me chuckle too: junipery or febrewery, marracks or alebrill.  (Juniper is what gin is made from; and arrack is a kind of booze).

Some jokes are just plain provocative:  Having plodded through pages and pages of sentences with mostly made up words, there is a moment of relief for the reader when there appears to be one where every word is almost a real word.  But hmpf! it doesn’t make sense either:

In the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality.  (p.15)

The rhythm and the nested relative clauses of this sentence reminds me of the old English nursery rhyme:

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cat that killed the rat
That ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.  And so on….

I’ve read this chapter twice, and some bits of it three and four times, and  know I could read this chapter again and again and again… but I’ll never finish at that rate, so on to Chapter 2!




  1. It’s going to be a very slow read if you a) have to understand (some of) it; and b) must then explain it to us. But keep going! I’m loving it.

    • This is the way I did Ulysses. There was a readalong which scheduled a chapter each month, and I joined in and blogged my ‘disordered thoughts of an amateur’ as I went along. It was a good way to do it because I read lots of other things in between to give the brain a rest.
      Writing about it afterwards is how I sort it out in my head. Who was it who said, ‘I write so that I know what I think’?

  2. Wow! I am suitably awed and impressed – I don’t think I could *ever* read this book! :)

    • No, don’t be impressed! Anyone can pick up Joyce and find bits they like and understand. Becky commented (in my previous post) that she just did that and skittered over the too-hard-basket bits, and loved it.

  3. Well, you’re now on a pedestal as far as I’m concerned, and you’re a better woman than me. I just couldn’t do it, and I admire you for giving it a go. My husband is much better read than me, and will force himself to read something labelled a ‘classic’ purely because it’s a classic, even if he can’t make sense of it. But even he, however, gave up on Finnegan.
    I really appreciate this insight into it, though, and maybe I can read it vicariously through you! :)

    • Louise, I wouldn’t ever tell anyone they should read this, but I think that a writer especially would love it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t ‘get it’, reading it aloud – even just a sample bit here and there – gives the sense of music and rhythm, and there’s lots of easy wordplay that would enchant an author. Many authors (e.g. Toni Morrison) have been playing with joining words together in creative ways ever since Joyce, even if they don’t know they’re following him.
      Take ‘pulluponeasyan wartrews’ for example. You only have to split it into syllables to see what it means, and how cleverly it makes you think about the business of getting dressed in war, and why you might need trousers you can pull up and on in a hurry.

      • I’ll be like a kid with my veggies, and have to force it down! Thanks, Lisa. :)

        • *chuckle* that’s a very good analogy, because didn’t we all grow to love our vegies as we grew older?

          • Yes, most of us did, and I haven’t given up hope for my 14-year-old son.
            I’ll think of Finnegan’s as my literary vegetables, full of vitamins and minerals, and needed for my growth and development. ;)

      • And before Joyce too… Like one of my all-time favourite poets Gerard Manley Hopkins. Love, love his words and rhythm.

        Oh, and good on you re Finnegan. Would love to do it the way you are but just couldn’t find (make, I suppose, to be honest) the time, right now anyhow.

        • Well, my life is fairly settled right now, whereas you are very busy with your parents…

          • That’s true… But somehow I can’t see a future that isn’t heavily committed to something or other, which is just me! I get caught up in things! But, it will be great to have my parents settled which should be by the end of April.

            • It will be a load off your mind:)

              • It will, Lisa, as I know you understand.

  4. The comment “You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din” springs to mind. Like the others I will let you explain it all to me – I’m sorry may be heresy but with so many books to read before I die Joyce is way down the list. :)

    • Gunga Din… that’s Kipling, isn’t it? My parents used to use that expression too!

  5. Yep, you’re braver than me too! I plan to read Ulysses though and am slightly awed that you’ve read it 4 times!

    • Ulysses is my desert-island book. I reckon I could read it a dozen times and still love it.

  6. Instead of the TBR, this one is in the THB (too hard basket). I will read your reviews happily though :)

    • I will try to find some writerly bits just for you Karenlee, because I reckon you would love some of it:)

  7. I know I just wouldnt be able to get to the end of chapter 1 even without throwing this into the nearest rubbish bin. Come on, I have to understand multiple languages and all that history just to know what JJ is talking about?

    • Well, it’s a bit like a cryptic crossword. You have to draw on multiple kinds of knowledge to work those out, and there are legions of people who enjoy doing them just for fun.
      But what I was trying to explain was that I don’t have the prerequisites, and Tindall didn’t either which is why he read it with a group of other people and they all shared what they knew. JJ spent 14 years playing with this book, and yes, lots of people – including his fans and some really, really clever people – thought it was rubbish.
      But if you like playful writing, and are prepared to go with the flow and not worry about trying to make sense of the tough stuff, it’s the Mt Everest of books to play with :)
      #SuddenThought It’s like the nursery rhymes we chanted when we were little. We had no idea what they meant either but we loved them.

  8. Go Lisa! You keep wrangling and we’ll keep watching on. I’m so impressed at your stickability and ambition. And I keep wondering how Joyce got to be so enormously knowledgeable. And now and then I wonder, In which bits was he just having us all on and the scholars are still scrabbling to decipher what is only a joke? Or is that just my cynicism and smallness speaking??

    • LOL I suspect he was just playing with some bits.
      I think he probably found the knowledge he needed the same way you do research: if you or I wanted a 100-letter word to represent, say, joy, all we’d need to do would be to have the dictionaries of other languages to do it, and we would use at least one from a well-known language to get people started off on the right track, e.g. joie (French) gioia (Italian) freude (German) and so on. And what better way to express the overwhelming feeling that joy is: what one word can any of us ever find to express the moment that swamps us when our child is born?

  9. Christ alive, I salute you. (I also think there’s something to be said for just barreling through, at least on the first go-round, and coming back to it armed with scholarship once the general shape of the thing is clear. I’ve definitely done that with other work before.)

    • Ah well, I did just ‘barrel through’ when I listened to the abridged audio book the first time, and I am just barrelling through with a lot of this as well. But this would be a very long post indeed if I wrote about the bits I don’t understand as well.
      Though… in the days of the internet, there’s probably a forum somewhere where people are doing just that, in a modern version of what Tindall did: posting up bits and pieces and eliciting clarifications from other people also reading it.

      • Hadn’t thought of that, but yes, probably there is a group somewhere doing just that!

  10. My hat is off to you. I am enjoying watching you dissect this book. All the best!tra

  11. Absolutely LOVED your post – and the sound of the book (literally – thunder! Wow!). Gives me inspiration to experiment with language and read it. So many possibilities, aren’t there. And what’s not to like about a book you have to keep returning to.

    • I think most authors would love it:)
      Now, do tell, are you working on another book to knock my socks off with? I think of just_a_girl every time I see young teenage girls mooching about on their own with a come-hither look on their faces…

  12. What a great post! And I’m very impressed that you’ve read Ulysses 4 times!!

    • Don’t be impressed. Anyone can do it… Joyce said himself that he didn’t write it for scholars.

  13. […] Guide refers back to the structure from the Viconian Divine Age (see my notes re Chapter One).  He says there are six […]

  14. […] great Joyce to be as human as the rest of us, but I’d forgotten all about Vico long ago.  (See my post from Chapter 1 if you are keen). I think I’ll save adventures with Vico for if I ever read FW for a second […]

  15. […] of FW) and recording Irish sinning in the annals of Irish history.  [Apparently they parody Vico (see my post about Chapter 2) but I have parted company with the Viconian Big Picture and am just trying to come to grips with […]

  16. […] HCE a.k.a. Earwicker.  Reminding me that the four parts of FW are the Vico’s Four Ages (see Chapter One if, like me, you need reminding about what they are), he says that this part is the human […]

  17. […] of what transpires in this chapter and what Joyce is on about.  Alluding to the Viconian Ages (See Chapter one if mystified), he explains that Shaun is a long-winded sentimentalist who merely parodies his father […]

  18. […] and because we have reached the second chapter of Part 3, we are in Vico’s Human Age, (see Chapter One) looking for signs and symbols of burials, cities, laws, civil obedience or popular government; […]

  19. […] limited grasp of what’s going on in FW I can see genius in the way that Moholy has shown the four Viconian Ages and the shifting identities of the main […]

  20. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  21. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  22. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  23. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  24. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  25. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

  26. […] Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #2 Chapter 1 […]

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