Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 18, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (1939), (2014 Folio Edition) by James Joyce #12 Chapter 11

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Have I mentioned before that reading the crib about Chapter 10 in A Skeleton Key to “Finnegan’s Wake”: James Joyce’s Masterwork Revealed (by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson) was daunting?  That’s nothing!  This is what Tindall has to say about Chapter 11 in A Reader’s Guide to “Finnegans Wake” :

Earwicker’s apology in the third part and closing time in the fourth are clear enough – as simple as anything around here; but the stories in the first two parts are the obscurest part of the Wake. Joyce himself (Letters, III, 422) called his story of the tailor a “wordspiderweb”.  Nothing more intricate or more forbidding to assurance and comfortable reading.  The reader – if I may change metaphor in midweb – finds himself, in the tale of the sailor, all at sea, or when landed now and again, unable to see the wood for the trees or even the trees in the wood.  The causes of confusion are plain.  Now in the period of deepest sleep, we dream of drunks, whose exchanges, even in periods of lighter sleep, might tax our sobriety.  The problem is who among those drunks is telling the story of the sailor and who the story of the Russian General.  (Tindall, p.188)

Ok. Nicely discouraged, I took notes…

The chapter is set in the pub, with Earwicker presiding at the bar, and the radio is blaring. There are four parts:

  1. The Sailor and the Tailor (twins of a sort) have a quarrel.
  2. So do Buckley (Butt) and a Russian General.
  3. Earwicker makes an apology and a boast.
  4. It’s closing time at the pub: the drunks go home and Earwicker has a fall.

There are lots of interruptions, including calls for drink, pauses for giving change to the drinkers, visits to the urinal and gossip about the host.  There is Pidgin English (which Tindall reminds me is the language of business) and (apparently) the Days of the Week in Finnish ( never found them).  There are many refrains, including from Do Ye Ken John Peel, Take Off that White Hat and The Charge of the Light Brigade.  This is one example from p.334 in Penguin Kindle Edition, line breaks are mine:

Yes, we’ve conned thon print in its gloss so gay/how it came from Finndlader’s Yule to the day/
and it’s Hey Tallaght Hoe on the king’s highway/ with his hounds on the home at a turning.

[I didn’t mention, did I, that my computer’s CD player has *pout* died, and I can no longer play the Naxos recording of FW, to give me the rhyme and rhythm of refrains like this.  The Offspring was supposed to come this week and upgrade everything to Yikes! Windows 10 and all new architecture, but he has succumbed to the flu so I am bereft.]

Campbell is more helpful in this chapter.  He says, first of all that:

The setting is the tavern of HCE [ a.k.a. Earwicker].  The radio is blaring, and the customers are pushing each other about, swapping yarns, and drunkenly joking.  It becomes gradually apparent that all the yarns and radio broadcasts taken together add to something like the ancient story of the shame of HCE [i.e. the accusations of his indecent assault of the two girls in the earlier chapter].  The yarns cut across each other, and yet carry forward the inevitable tale. (Campbell, p195)

And he also says that there are nine interwoven strands which I’m paraphrasing and adding to here:

(A) A Tavern Brawl underlying the entire action;
(B) The story of a Norwegian Captain and his enquiries concerning a Tailor in the town and a suit that he’s ordered.
(C) A (very obscure, very grubby) radio skit of the brothers Butt and Taff with a punchup and then a reconciliation between them
(D) Butt’s tale of his shooting the Russian General (another manifestation of Earwicker) at the Battle of Sevastopol, which Tindall says is another representation of a son killing his father.

During the intermissions there are news reports:

(E) The Steeplechase
(F) A TV account of four Mullingar Events (but see below* re Tindall and the invention of TV)
(G) An account of the Annihilation of the Atom
(H) A radio review of the Dismemberment of a Hero, and

an endless Tale of a Tub recounted by the host himself.

Thus armed, I read the chapter. 58 pages of total confusion!

This is the first couple of paragraphs:

It may not or maybe a no concern of the Guinnesses but.

That the fright of his light in tribalbalbutience hides aback in the doom of the balk of the deaf but that the height of his life from a bride’s eye stammpunct is when a man that means a mountain barring his distance wades a lymph that plays the lazy winning she likes yet that pride that bogs the party begs the glory of a wake while the scheme is like your rumba round me garden, allatheses, with perhelps the prop of a prompt to them, was now or never in Etheria Deserta as in Grander Suburbia, with Finnfannfawners, ruric or cospolite, for much or moment indispute.

Whyfor had they, it is Hiberio-Miletians and Argloe-Noremen, donated him, birth of an otion that was breeder to sweatoslaves, as mysterbolder, forced in their waste, and as for Ibdullin what of Himana, that their tolvtubular high fidelity daildialler, as modern as tomorrow afternoon and in appearance up to the minute, (hearing that anybody in that ruad duchy of Wollinstown schemed to halve the wrong type of date) equipped with supershielded umbrella antennas for distance, getting and connected by the magnetic links of a Bellini-Tosti coupling system with a vitaltone speaker, capable of capturing skybuddies, harbour craft emittences, key clickings, vaticum cleaners, due to woman formed mobile or man made static and bawling the whowle hamshack and wobble down in an eliminium sounds pound so as to serve him up a melegoturny marygoraumd, eclectrically filtered for allirish earths and ohmes.

 Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition pp. 309-310).

All I can say about that is that I can make no sense at all of the second paragraph but that (primed by my pre-reading) I can see that the tolvtubular high fidelity daildialler with its supershielded umbrella antennas for distance is the radio blaring.  And that’s what a lot of my reading of this chapter was like: decoding small bits of it, but making no sense whatsoever of the plot or its sequences without the help of my trusty guides.  Here’s an example that got my attention because of its relevance to the present day, but I’d never have known it without the translation beforehand:

Campbell, p 223 Finnegans Wake, Penguin Classics Kindle Edition p.346
How successful American businessmen are making resolutions never to grow old or raise salaries or become spiritually complicated or donate money to encourage philosophy. How Old Yales boys is making rebolutions for the cunning New Yirls, never elding, still begidding, never to mate to lend, never to ate selleries and never to add soulleries and never to ant sulleries and never to aid silleries with sucharow with sotchyouroff as Burkeley’s Show’s a ructiongetherall.

There’s a six-page paragraph that doesn’t make it any easier either.

My admiration for the illustrator of the Folio edition grows, though he says entirely different things about this chapter because he’s chosen to illustrate the last part of it, possibly because it’s the easiest to interpret…

This is closing time in the tavern: the landlord, Earwicker, has drunk his customer’s leftovers, sucking up ‘whatever surplus rotgut… was left by the laze lousers in the different bottoms of the various different replenquished drinking utensils’.  Earwicker’s manservant, Sackerson, is holding the key to the tavern door: ‘Ere the sockson locked at the dure.  Which he would, shuttinshore.  And lave them to sture.’ Finally he calls out, ‘Tide, genmen, plays’ (‘Time, gentlemen, please’).  The group of customers ‘all pour forth’ from the tavern.  Each of the four singing old men (‘the fore olders’) are walking out of the frame in different directions: ‘North’, ‘Soother’, ‘Eats’ and ‘Washte’.

There is also a strip of sixteen composers’ portraits across the top of the illustration, brought into the text in the form of wordplay.  The first three, from left to right, are Rossini (‘rosescenery’), Haydn (‘haydyng’) and Meyerbeer (‘mere bare’). (John Vernon Lord, Notes to the Illustrations’ in the Folio edition of Finnegans Wake, p xxxiii).

Was Beethoven mentioned somewhere in this chapter?  I didn’t find it if he was…

Here’s the picture on Pinterest, though I can’t tell whether it’s a Folio Society Pinterest page or whether the person who posted it there has breached copyright.

PS There are two more of those 100-letter thunder claps.  (I think) Campbell says that this one (on p314 of the Penguin Kindle Edition) refers to HCE’s fall :


and this one (on p332 of the Penguin Kindle Edition) takes place at the consummation of a marriage between Hanigan and Hunigan (I think!) but I have no idea who they are because as usual in FW identities are shifting all over the place.

whackfalltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled and

These thunderbolt words form the left and right hand frames of the illustration in the Folio edition, to see it, click the Pinterest link above.

*Far be it from me to argue with Tindall who has been so helpful, but I think he might be wrong about the timing of the invention of television.  He notes, on more than one page, that Joyce seems to be making allusions to “teilweisoned” broadcasts of programs and “verbivocovisual” TV which often offends eye and ear alike.  But Tindall says, there was no TV at the time of Earwicker’s dream or Joyce’s writing.  (p.197) I’m not so sure.  I don’t know exactly when Joyce wrote this chapter or exactly where he was in different years after he left Dublin for Europe, but I know that FW was first published in 1939 and Wikipedia tells me that the history of TV begins in the late 19th century, that there was a demonstration of a crude TV by Rignoux and Fourrier in Paris in 1909 and a more impressive demo by Baird at Selfridges in London in 1925.  Who’s to say that Joyce didn’t know about these demonstrations and decided to use the concept in FW, eh?

So on to Chapter 12 – and it had better be easier than this one!

*Any numbers when quoting from FW refer to line numbers in the text so that readers can find their way whichever edition they are using.


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

Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics), introduction by Seamus Deane, Penguin, 2015.  (I’m using the Kindle edition ASIN B00XX0H95S, just to make quoting easier because typing the text is such a provocation to AutoCorrect).)



  1. Stead’s The Salzburg Tales (1934) also mentions television though I couldn’t see in those Wikipedia entries when broadcast tv began in Europe.


    • Maybe, but I’m thinking along the lines of Joyce being ahead of the pack, having perhaps read about the trials in the press and having the imagination to predict what they could mean, long before broadcast TV actually became available to the public.


  2. Ye gads – oh well – for me it was all about just keep going anyway. LOL I applaud your efforts – I think you have put an enormous amount of work in on this project. How long do you work on it at a time?


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