Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 30, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (Folio Edition) by James Joyce #5 Chapter 4

I didn’t mention it in my previous post (because to mention everything would make this too tortuous a project) but there was a puzzling reference to the theft of a coffin in Chapter 4.

Always and ever till Cox’s wife, twice Mrs. Hahn, pokes her beak into the matter with Owen K. after her, to see whawa smutter after, will this kiribis pouch filled with litterish fragments lurk dormant in the paunch of that halpbrother of a herm, a pillarbox? The coffin, a triumph of the illusionist’s art, at first blench naturally taken for a handharp (it is handwarp to tristinguish jubabe from jabule or either from tubote when all three have just been invened) had been removed from the hardware premises of Oetzmann and Nephew, a noted house of the gonemost west, which in the natural course of all things continues to supply funeral requisites of every needed description.  (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle edition (p. 66, Loc 1873).

I assumed that this was the coffin that would have been used for Finnegan’s body had he not been resurrected by a splash of Guinness in Chapter One.  I should have known better.  Campbell tells me that this coffin alludes to the prehistory of HCE (Earwicker).

Like the Finnegan of the vaudeville song, he suffered a fall, was laid out for dead, and remained in a heavy coma while a noisy quarrel raged among the survivors.  He may be expected to revive.  (Campbell, p81)

Needless to say I am still mystified. It is a relief to know that Campbell says this is the conclusion of the prehistory of HCE, and he goes on to neatly summarise the rest of the chapter:

It falls into three distinct sections.  The first (79-81) publishes the recollections of an old woman, Kate, who professes to be the widow of the great man.  The second (81-96) presents the evidence of a posthumous trial, in which there appeared, as witness and accused respectively, two young men betraying the traits not of HCE himself but of his sons, Shem and Shaun.  Here, for the first time, appear the patterns which are later to become characteristic of these two.  Since the boys enter the stage with a court scene, in which the old history of their father is rehearsed, it is clear that they have inherited not only fractions of the character but even something of the life history and guilt of the fallen patriarch.  The final section of this chapter (96-103) deals with the problem of the disappearance of the body from the grave, its possible reappearance anywhere, and the condition of the plucky little widow, ALP).

Already I have forgotten who ALP is, and I have to look her up in the introduction.  She is the ever-changing Anna Livia Plurabelle. who since her husband Earwicker (HCE) is struggling with Original Sin, and metamorphoses into Adam, Noah, Lord nelson, mountain or a tree she is at different times going to show up as Eve, Isis, Iseult, a passing cloud or a flowing stream.  She apparently gets her say in Chapter 5, so I’d better not forget about her again.

BTW#1 It is mildly annoying that my Folio edition – because of the generous size of its pages – has departed from the page numbering that everyone else apparently uses.  My Chapter 4 starts on page 60, all the others start on page 75.

Tindall’s Guide refers back to the structure from the Viconian Divine Age (see my notes re Chapter One).  He says there are six parts:

… first, a brief introduction (75-76), second, a long meditation on death and burial (76-80), third another story of the Cad (81-86), fourth Earwicker’s trial before four judges (86-96), a fox hunt and flight into exile (96-101) and last, a hymn to A.L.P. and the river (101-02).

From these conflicting summaries, you wouldn’t know that Campbell and Tindall are reading the same book, eh? More usefully, Tindall goes on to talk about the reversals that are everywhere, signifying renewal.

Crowbar” becomes “Rabworc” (86.8, 13); sleeping and dawn become “the dorming of the mawn” (91.24); 1132 becomes 3211 (95.14); and as true as there’s a tail on a cat becomes “as ture as there’s an ital. on atac” (89.35).

Clearly my efforts to solve the anagrams in cryptic crosswords seem now not to have been wasted time!  I must remember that HCE becomes ECH as well…

I am starting to like Tindall’s Guide better than Campbell’s because he so often, so honestly, admits to being baffled. Discussing the tesseract, (a tessera is a curvilinear rectangle and a tesseract is an octahedroid) and Joyce’s claim that his symbol for the Wake is a square or a cube, Tindall says Make of this what you can.  I make little or nothing – but as Samuel Beckett says, nothing is better than nothing. (p. 93)

Tindall is also helpfully straightforward in examples like this:

Though comparatively rational, the constable’s evidence suits the irrational trial that follows.  Of a kind with Bloom’s trial in the Circe episode of Ulysses, Earwicker’s trial is from dream itself.  Evidence makes no more sense that that of the trial in Alice in Wonderland.  The charge is no more certain that that against Kafka’s K.  What is worse, the witness, the lawyer, and the prisoner at his bar, a shifty lot, unaccountably merge and, after merging separate.

By now I don’t have any doubt that if I were not reading the relevant chapters of both Tindall and Campbell before reading the chapter in FW, I would be floundering, not least because the Naxos audio book has for some reason omitted all of Chapter 4.  Just listening to the text in an Irish accent on this audio book has made many words much more comprehensible.  ‘Rowmish devowtion’ immediately makes sense if you hear the ‘ow’ in ‘Rowmish’ pronounced not as ‘how’ but as in Romish i.e. devotion to the Church of Rome, eh?  But alas, I’m on my own in Chapter 4, though #HappyDance I did work out ‘rhumanasant’ as ‘reminiscent’ by myself.

And I discover that Earwicker’s coffin – wastohavebeen underground heaven, or mole’s paradise – was an indestructible edifice indeed!

carefully lined the ferroconcrete result with rotproof bricks and mortat, fassed to fossed, and retired beneath the heptarchy of his towerettes, the beauchamp, byward, bull and lion, the white, the wardrobe and bloodied, so encouraging (insteppen, alls als hats beliefd!) additional useful councils public with hoofd off-dealings which were welholden of ladykants te huur out such as the Breeders’ Union, the Guild of Merchants of the Staple et, a.u.c. to present unto him with funebral pomp, over and above that a stone slab with the usual Mac Pelah address of velediction, a very fair-worded instance of falsemeaning adamelegy.  (Pengguin Modern Classics Kindle edition) (p. 77, Loc 2032).

Coffin or no coffin, Kate Strong finishes her meandering tale and the trial (which Campbell says is posthumous) takes place.

The prisoner, soaked in methylated, appeared in dry dock, appatently ambrosiaurealised, like Kersse’s Korduroy Karikature, wearing, besides stains, rents and patches, his fight shirt, straw braces, souwester and a policeman’s corkscrew trowswers, all out of the true (as he had purposely torn up all his cymtrymanx bespokes in the mamertime), deposing for his exution with all the fluors of sparse in the royal Irish vocabulary. (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle edition (pp. 85, loc 2155).

There seems to be some evidence that in disguise he attempted an escape but was ambushed – but Tindall reminds us not to believe a word of this, and the cross-examination barked at the witness is hilarious. Referring to the two young women who led Earwicker to his alleged downfall, there’s another 100-letter word using lots of different languages to form ‘prostitute’.   And then it’s all over and the four judges, Untius, Muncius, Puchus and Pylax retire to mull things over and chat about a bunch of other cases, as weird and wonderful as this one was.

BTW#2 Did I mention that I have started learning Irish using Duolingo, naïvely perhaps, to help with decoding FW?  I still can’t speak a word of Irish, but I may have learned something useful already. There is a Celtic feature called Eclipsis which involves adding one or two letters before a word in some situations… for example, the letter ‘g’ can be added before a word beginning with ‘c’ to form ‘gcailín (the possessive adjective form of ‘cailín’ which means ‘a girl’).  They do this with some prepositions + the definite article too, with some words starting with a vowel and after the numbers 7 – 10.  I wonder if this can account for the way Joyce adds seemingly irrelevant letters to words all over the place?

So on to Chapter 5!



  1. I’m confused! I had Finnegan’s Wake beside my bed for a year or so, but I think you’ve persuaded me not to attempt it.

  2. If anyone thinks I am ever going to try to read Finnegan’s Wake, they are sadly mistaken!

  3. Just as well you are reading it for us Lisa!

  4. LOL, my faithful readers, perhaps you should just skip these posts until I get FW out of my system….

    • I’m sure we all enjoy reports of your progress from deepest Africa, sorry, Ireland, we just never going to go there ourselves!

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