Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 5, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (1939), (2014 Folio Edition) by James Joyce #16 Chapter 15

Well, after a gap of a fortnight due to my struggles with Existentialism, I am back here with Finnegans Wake and starting to entertain ambitions to be done by the end of the year.  Tindall says Chapter 15 is one of the easier ones though this may be contingent on being a hardened reader as noted in my previous post.

Before I started, as usual, I read the chapter summaries of Tindall and Campbell, but this time found Campbell’s a neater summary 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 Earwicker.

After the solemnities of the Theocratic Age and the pomp of the Aristocratic, Shaun represents the frank vulgarities of the demagogue (Bk. III, chap. 1).  After the pious seed-sowing of the Patriarchs and the gallant love-play of the heroic Lords and Ladies, Jaun is simply a Victorian lady-killer bachelor, prurient, prudent, prudish, and didactic (Bk. III, chap. 2). In the present chapter we find him already exhausted, grandly sprawling across a hillock in County Meath, which is the umbilical centre of the Green Isle of the World.  Known now as Yawn, he has carried into full decline the ageless dynastic line of his fathers.  (Campbell, p.287)

He is interrogated by Four Old Men, starting with questions about his relationship to a criminal (i.e. his father who has been accused of sexual assault).  Significantly, Campbell makes it clear that Shaun is being evasive while he is being questioned:

He evades with indirections and sophistries, pretends that he cannot speak English, and seizes upon irrelevant aspects of the question under discussion.  By the stubborn quality of his resistance we gather that he is being threatened in the profoundest part of his soul.  (Campbell, p. 293)

Campbell goes on to say that these Four Old Men represent an archaic form of Catholicism dating back to Medieval Europe and the Catholicism of the Book of Kells.  Through the Four, Campbell says, Joyce is forcing Shaun to acknowledge the pretensions not only of Henry VIII, but also of Henry VII…

(Well, I know how Henry VIII used religious reform for political reasons, but what did Henry VII do?  Perhaps someone can enlighten me?)

There are also many allusions to British imperialism in Ireland, India and elsewhere. (New South Wales (Noo Souch Wilds) even gets a mention!)

Campbell divides the inquest into seven stages:

  1. Words of Yawn himself
  2. Words of ALP [his mother]
  3. Exagmination
  4. Silence
  5. Confustication
  6. Brain Trust Questions Kitty the Beads [LH: these are younger investigators, reminiscent of the BBC radio Brains Trust]
  7. Brain Trust Hears from HCE himself

Tindall shows Yawn to be a slothful no-hoper too, while offering lots of helpful detail to interpret the chapter.  When I get started I find that I am charmed straightaway by discovering the word metandmorefussed which has to be the best pun ever for ‘metamorphosed’.  Sleepy Shaun, formerly floating down the Liffey in a barrel is now metamorphosed into Yawn and he’s resting on a mound like a psychiatrist’s couch so that he can be interrogated by the four old men (who have previously been Earwicker’s judges, customers in his pub and the annalists of Tristan).  And it will come as no surprise to you who are still sticking with me on my journey that lurking within Yawn are many selves, a host of a multitude.  Tindall warns me that within each layer of selves there are members of the family: Isabel, Anna and Kate, and Earwicker too of course.  As he says a little later on, Earwicker’s favourite son and successor has himself has been at different times Kevin, Shaun, Chuff, Taff, Tristan, Yawn or What’s His Name …

To name is to fix, define or identify; and nothing in the Wake is certain enough for naming.  (Tindall, p.255)

Yes.  Indeed.

The four judges have other identities too.  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, Munster, Leinster and Connaught).  Then they are also the four ages of Vico: Matthew the divine age; Mark the heroic age (Lyons = leonine, gettit?); Luke from Dublin is the human age, and John the ricorso. These variations have surfaced before, and while I confess to being pleased to recognise some things from previous chapters, Tindall seems to lose patience a bit …

… the Wake like life itself, repeats the same old things again and again.  Their endless variations are funny sometimes, sometimes instructive, tiresome sometimes, sometimes poetic.  (Tindall, p. 269)

Joyce himself might have sensed this exasperation because towards the end of the chapter he writes:

That’s enough, genral, of finicking about Finnegan and fiddling with his faddles.  (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition p. 531).


The Four Old Men arrive…

… by the first quaint skreek of the gloaming and they hopped it up the mountainy molehill, traversing climes of old times gone by of the days not worth remembering; inventing some excusethems, any sort, having a sevenply sweat of night blues moist upon them. Feefee! phopho!! foorchtha!!! aggala!!!! jeeshee!!!!! paloola!!!!!! ooridiminy!!!!!!!  (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle edition pp. 474-475).  fhoahlm

Tindall, bless him, is a bit put out by these strange words:

Although the first three of the seven words suggest a fearful giant [LH: Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum from Jack and the Beanstalk?  But why??], the sequence is puzzling.  Of no common tongue, the words may be Swahili or Eskimo for all I know, or, like the ‘nebrakada femininum’ of Ulysses (242), the nonsense of a spell or incantation.  (Tindall, p257)

Well may we say

Are we speachin d’anglas landadge or are you sprakin sea Djoytsch?! (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle edition p. 485).

It occurred to me that maybe this was one of those codes where you select the letter that corresponds to a number, so using the number of exclamation marks (they must mean something, right?) the first letter of Feefee and the second of phopho and so on, but this leads to fhoahlm, which …um… no … doesn’t seem to clarify anything at all.

Tindall, writing in 1996, did not have the (dubious) benefit of Google Translate.  It confidently identified foorchtha as Dutch; aggala as Corsican; paloola as Finnish; ooridiminy as Somali, (all without actually translating the words into anything) and #excitement! jeeshee also as Somali and translating it as ‘check it out’.   I’m not sure that this exercise has left me any better off, and anyway I’m leaning towards horrid ignominy for ooridiminy which would suggest that these four bode ill for Yawn a.k.a. Shawn.  

The inquisition of the inquisitive four takes the form of a fishing, a hunting, a séance, a trial in court, an analysis in depth, and the sounding of an ocean.  (Tindall, p.253) They are looking for an epiphany but what they get is Earwicker’s trousers falling down.

When Earwicker finally gets to have a say in this chapter, he boasts about the rebuilding he’s been doing: because it’s the Viconian human age in this section of FW, the rebuilding follows war in Amtsadam, Dublin, Brussels and so on.  He sings ‘Home Sweet Home’ before refuting the charges of indecency but he apologises for other grubby misdemeanours.  The chapter concludes with Earwicker bragging that he has built universities and churches and a democratic government, not to mention Coney Island and five of the seven wonders of the world, and many of the loveliest streets in Dublin.

Click here to see the illustration in the Folio edition.  You can see Yawn sleeping in the middle, and the four men down on the left hand side.  There are three Kings from a pack of cards representing the kings who visited a manger to see an infant, and there are the large buildings erected by HCE.

On to Chapter 16!

Update, the next day: something has been niggling away in my brain in connection with Feefee! phopho!! foorchtha and Tindall’s suggestion of a fearful giant.  Joyce references Swift a lot in FW and Gulliver’s Travels features Gulliver as a fearsome giant when he’s among the Lilliputans.  Shaun/Yawn lying on a mound reminds me of those anthropomorphic paintings that I saw in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Old Masters) in Brussels…


Landscape man

These are anonymous C16th paintings and are obviously in the Public Domain now.  But the museum is closed for renovations till 2019 so I sourced these images from The Public Domain Review.


… but they are not the only examples of this type of art. See ‘The Art of Hidden Faces’ at the Public Domain Review. What is Shaun if not an example of hidden faces among the complex layers of his persona, eh?


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. I totally enjoy these posts though I’m not sure I understood much of what Joyce was getting at in today’s (his fault, not yours!). Henry vii was pre reformation so not sure about his ‘pretentions’ except to the crown itself – he was nowhere near first in line and only held on by right of arms (Bosworth Fields and all that).


    • Well, I’m guessing that Joyce is putting a Catholic PoV that Henry had pretensions to be a religious reformer when really he was just an opportunist. But yeah, Henry VII? No idea…


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