Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 15, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (1939), (2014 Folio Edition) by James Joyce #13 Chapter 12

A quiet Sunday at home is just what’s needed for the next instalment of Finnegans Wake…

Well, if Tindall and Campbell were right about the difficulty of Chapters 10 & 11, I think/hope I might be over the hump. Chapter 12 is much shorter for a start, and this, ‘the Wake at its lightest’  was the first to be published … but although Tindall later declares that the Wake is the funniest book in the world, I note with alarm that on page 213 he expresses his frustration:

But I do not know what to make of the recurrent ‘sycamores’ nor do I give a fig.

Ah well, we press on, but we are a long way from the light-hearted fun and games of chapter one…

The short summary in A Skeleton Key to “Finnegan’s Wake”: James Joyce’s Masterwork Revealed (by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson) gets me started:

HCE [Earwicker], dreaming on the floor, sees himself as King Mark, cuckolded by young Tristram [a.k.a. Tristan], who sails away with Iseult.  The honeymoon boat is circled by gulls, i.e. the Four Old Men, who regard the vivid event from their four directions.  HCE, broken and exhausted, is no better now than they. (p.20)

The four old men are together ‘Mamalujo’ and separately, the four gospellers, Matt Gregory (Matthew), (Marcus Lyons) Mark, (Lucas Tarpey) Luke and Johnny MacDougal (John).

They were the big four, the four maaster waves of Erin, all listening, four. There was old Matt Gregory and then besides old Matt there was old Marcus Lyons, the four waves, and oftentimes they used to be saying grace together, right enough, bausnabeatha, in Miracle Squeer: here now we are the four of us: old Matt Gregory and old Marcus and old Luke Tarpey: the four of us and sure, thank God, there are no more of us: and, sure now, you wouldn’t go and forget and leave out the other fellow and old Johnny MacDougall: the four of us and no more of us and so now pass the fish for Christ sake, Amen: the way they used to be saying their grace before fish, repeating itself, after the interims of Augusburgh for auld lang syne.

(Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition p.384).

Repetitively, they ramble on about the Celtic tale of the adulterous love between Tristan and Iseult (who of course represent the various multiple characters 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 the narrative, such as it is.]

Signifying a fresh beginning by reversing the usual order, John, who is last in the Bible, comes first, and then Luke, Mark and Matthew, and Joyce as before also uses the imagery of water, but this time it’s the perils of the sea with drownings and wrecks.    He also references Wagner’s Tristan and Iseult, which is lovely to listen to as you read.  Here it is, with Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic:

The illustration for this chapter is gorgeous.  I can’t show it for copyright reasons, but you can see it here on a less fastidious Pinterest page with Tristan and Iseult canoodling in the sailboat, with massive gulls hawking aggressively above them and the Four Old Men looking down from the sky.  The style derives from the Book of Kells and is also rather like those enchanting medieval religious artworks that we see on old altarpieces.

‘Light’ or not, there are parts which are incomprehensible.  Thanks to a warning about the reversals I know that Kram of Llawnroc is Mark of Cornwall; and Wehpen is nephew, a tactful lover. But much of this defeats me:

Where the old conk cruised now croons the yunk. Exeunc throw a darras Kram of Llawnroc, ye gink guy, kirked into yord. Enterest attawonder Wehpen, luftcat revol, fairescapading in his natsirt. Tuesy tumbles. And mild aunt Liza is as loose as her neese. Fulfest withim inbrace behent.

Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition (pp. 387-388).

But there are compensations  I liked this little play on the word psychological on p. 396 (Kindle edition):

Could you blame her, we’re saying, for one psocoldlogical moment?

On to Chapter 13 and Part III!


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. Oh, mild Aunt Liza, this is marvellous. And thank you for the link to the image on Pinterest. All psocoldlogical.


    • I love that word! It’s part of my vocab forever!


  2. You do very well to both read it and write it up in one evening – a slow night on the telly?


    • We don’t really watch TV…
      But if I didn’t write it on the same day as I read it, it would be hopeless. This is what I do:
      I spread everything out on the table next to my computer on my desk so that I can easily swivel from reading the book/s round to the screen and keyboard.
      I read Tindall’s chapter about FW. I do some rudimentary notes directly onto the blog.
      I read Campbell’s chapter about it. I do some more rudimentary notes, but only about things that are different or additional to Tindall.
      I take a deep breath and start reading FW. I backtrack often. I also go back to either notes or the cribs or my previous posts if I lose track. I Google things like the Wagner. If I find something I really like or want to share, I open up the Kindle edition and find the same passage and copy/paste it into the blog post.
      When I think I’ve understood as much as I’m ever likely to, I tidy up the blog draft in the hope that it will make sense to anyone reading it, and possibly be interesting too, to people who are not reading FW themselves.
      The consoling thing is, you can’t get FW wrong, and even the experts lose patience with it too.


      • We’re all interested! And sounds like you’d do less work for a PhD (and get paid $30,000).


  3. […] As mamalujo they are the gospellers Matthew Gregory, Marcus Lyons, Lucas Tarpey and John McDonald from Chapter 12) and they also represent the four provinces of Ireland (north, south, east and west i.e. Ulster, […]


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