Regular readers of this blog will recognise the name of Bill from The Australian Legend because he often comments on my posts, and because I regularly link to his reviews of 20th century Australian literature. Well, *envious sigh* Bill is in Paris at the moment – and look what he found at a street stall! How on earth did anyone ever translate Finnegans Wake into French?!!!
Whatever do the French make of this passage, for example, however it’s translated?
For he kinned Jom Pill with his court so gray and his haunts in his house in the mourning.
I don’t know why I know this is a playful allusion to an old hunting ballad. Maybe I learned it at school, or maybe it was a song that my mother sang. I found this explanation of its origins, but it doesn’t explain how the song made its way to America.
Anyway, it comes in the first part of chapter two which concerns the genesis of Harold or Humphrey Chimpden’s occupational agnomen ( we are back in the presurnames prodomarith period, of course, …) (p. 24), that is to say, when Joyce is having fun telling us his hero’s name. It takes two pages for him to reveal his initials, HCE, offering the nickname Here Comes Everybody (and identifying him as an Everyman), and another page before we discover that his name is Earwicker.
Well. It seems that our hero is in trouble. He is being slandered of having behaved with an ongentilmensky immodus opposite a pair of dainty maidservants. Whether he has actually ‘misbehaved’ isn’t clear and neither is what he has supposed to have done. The maids themselves are
where not dubiously pure, visibly divergent, as warpt from wept, on minor points touching the intimate nature of this, a first offence in vert or venison which was admittedly an incautious but, at its wildest a partial exposure. (p.27)
The narrative says he’s guiltless, but that matters not to the gossips and slander-mongers of Dublin. Earwicker meets a Cad With a Pipe who asks him the time and foolish Earwicker misunderstands him and launches into a denial of the rumours that the Cad hadn’t yet heard:
upon the Open Bible and befu before the Great Taskmaster’s eye (I lift my hat!) and in the presence of the Deity Itself andwell of Bishop and Mrs Michan of High Church of England as of all such of said my immediate withdwellers and of every living sohole in every corner wheresoever of this globe in general which useth of my British to my backbone tongue and commutative justice that there is not one tittle of truth, allow me to tell you, in that purest of fibfab fabrications. (p.29)
Well, if I may appropriate a bit of Shakespeare, methinks he protesteth too much. And obviously The Cad doesn’t believe him, and he tells his wife. She tells the priest Mr Brown (who is (inexplicably also a Nolan) who passes it on to a teacher having a day at the races (the Encourage Hackney Plate) and before you know it, the accusation was poured forth […[ to an overflow meeting of all the nations in Lenster. And that brings forth a ballad, and here it is, sung by the Dubliners recounting Earwicker’s fall from grace:
(Not exactly the same as the lyrics in the book but close enough.)
Campbell tells me that chapter three will be about Earwicker’s trial and incarceration….
- A Reader’s Guide to “Finnegans Wake” by William York Tindall, Syracuse University Press, 1969; and
- A Skeleton Key to “Finnegan’s Wake”: James Joyce’s Masterwork Revealed, by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, Collected Works Edition, New World Library, 2005
- Finnegans Wake (Modern Classics) read by Jim Norton with Marcella Riordan, Naxos AudioBooks 2009