Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 10, 2017

Finnegans Wake, (1939), (2014 Folio Edition) by James Joyce #17 Chapter 16

It seems like a good idea, as I near the end of this long journey with Finnegans Wake, to go back to Joseph Campbell’s thoughts about the structure and fluidity of the book:

Appropriately, the first word of Finnegans Wake is ‘riverrun’.  Opening with a small letter, it starts the book in the middle of a sentence.  ‘Riverrun’, however, is not a beginning, but a continuation – a continuation among other things of the ecstatic, swiftly slipping, and abruptly interrupted sentence with which the volume ends.  For the book is composed in a circle; the last word flows into the first, Omega merges into Alpha, and the rosary of history begins all over again.

‘Riverrun’ is more than a clue to the circling plan of Finnegans Wake; it characterises the essence of the book itself.  For in this work, both space and time are fluid; meanings, characters and vocabulary deliquesce in constant fluxion. The hero is everywhere: in the elm that shades the salmon pool, in the shadow that falls upon the stream, in the salmon beneath the ripples, in the sunlight on the ripples, in the sun itself. Three men looking at you through one pair of eyes are not men at all, but a clump of shrubs; not shrubs either, but your own conscience; and finally, not your private conscience, but an incubus of the universal nightmare from which the sublime dreamer of cosmic history will awaken, only to dream once more. (Campbell, p.23)

Someone must have done a diagram of this, I thought, and indeed someone has:

Structure of Finnegans Wake by László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). Click the image to visit the source.

Unfortunately Signal v Noise where I found this doesn’t say where the original diagram is to be found, and comments are closed so I can’t ask.  In the absence of any attribution, I’ve assumed that it’s out of copyright.  It’s very clever: even with my limited grasp of what’s going on in FW I can see genius in the way that Moholy has shown the four Viconian Ages and the shifting identities of the main characters.

So, to chapter 16, the penultimate chapter, and circling onto the ricorso, the period of confusion after the third age has destroyed itself.  In this chapter I should see what happens after the disintegration at the end of chapter 15.  Campbell tells me that the dreams dissolve with the dawn, and that there is a moment of marital union between the drunken HCE (Here Comes Everybody a.k.a. Earwicker) and his wife ALP (Anna Lavinia Plurabelle), interrupted by a wail from Jerry (Shem), one of the twins, upstairs.  The parents have another try. There are four dumbshows, presented by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John:

all four of them, in their quartan agues, the majorchy, the minorchy, the everso and the fermentarian with their ballyhooric blowreaper (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition p. 555).

and one of these involves a sordid glimpse into a sort of Roman orgy, apparently showing the way parental love deteriorates into a sick sea peopled by monsters of incest and perversion.  What’s that about, Mr Joyce??  Campbell thinks it illuminates the darkest pits in the unconscious of the parents, and it’s also a parody of the literature of romantic love.  I guess we should have known this because the structure of the book warns us that the human age destroys itself…

Fortunately it’s all so obscure and there are so many digressions that most of us wouldn’t recognise the obscenity without Campbell to tell us so.

Tindall notes that Joyce features not very successful bedroom scenes in three of his works: the first (from Dubliners) involves Gabriel Conroy at the Gresham Hotel in ‘The Dead’; and the second, more discouraging attempt is Bloom’s failure in the famous last chapter of Ulysses.  But both of these, says Tindall offer some hope: Molly after all, says ‘yes.’  But while HCE in FW fails too

in their bed of trial, on the bolster of hardship, by the glimmer of memory, under coverlets of cowardice, Albatrus Nyanzer with Victa Nyanza, his mace of might mortified… (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition p. 558).

… there is at least proof, in the form of the children, that he has been successful at some stage…

Tindall, actually, is none too sure whether this bedroom scene is dream or real, an interruption of a dream or part of it.  Is Earwicker dreaming that ALP gets up to comfort the child? Tindall is inclined towards the whole chapter being a dream because the Four Old Men from Chapter 15 are back again and What would they be doing – and ‘whenabouts’ would they be at all – outside a dream?  Fair point.

OTOH, this bedroom seems very real.  It’s one of the clearest passages in the entire book.

House of the cederbalm of mead. Garth of Fyon. Scene and property plot. Stagemanager’s prompt. Interior of dwelling on outskirts of city. Groove two. Chamber scene. Boxed. Ordinary bedroom set. Salmonpapered walls. Back, empty Irish grate, Adam’s mantel, with wilting elopement fan, soot and tinsel, condemned. North, wall with window practicable. Argentine in casement. Vamp. Pelmit above. No curtains. Blind drawn. South, party wall. Bed for two with strawberry bedspread, wickerworker clubsessel and caneseated millikinstool. Bookshrine without, facetowel upon. Chair for one. Woman’s garments on chair. Man’s trousers with crossbelt braces, collar on bedknob. Man’s corduroy surcoat with tabrets and taces, seapan nacre buttons on nail. Woman’s gown on ditto. Over mantelpiece picture of Michael, lance, slaying Satan, dragon with smoke. Small table near bed, front. Bed with bedding. Spare. Flagpatch quilt. Yverdown design. Limes. Lighted lamp without globe, scarf, gazette, tumbler, quantity of water, julepot, ticker, side props, eventuals, man’s gummy article, pink. (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition pp. 558-559).

Tindall also has interesting things to say about the lack of narrative structure in this chapter:

…this chapter is an arrangement, closer to music, poetry, the cinema, and dream than the three simpler chapters that precede it. Chapter XVI is a sequence of matters, put side by side without apparent connection, that differ, one from another, in feeling, rhythm, diction, sense and tone. That Joyce had the movements of a musical composition in mind is suggested by reference to two of his favourites, the Elizabethan lutanists William Bird (556.17-18) and John Dowland (570.3)  Chapter XVI also brings to mind the structure of the long modern poem – The Bridge, for example, where matters alien to one another in rhythm, shape and tone are juxtaposed without transitional device. (Tindall, p.286)

Never heard of them?  Neither had I.  This is William Bird…

and this is John Dowland:


And The Bridge?  I think this one by Hart Crane (1930) is the one that Tindall means:

The Bridge comprises 15 lyric poems of varying length and scope. In style, it mixes near-Pindaric declamatory metre, free verse, sprung metre, Elizabethan diction and demotic language at various points between alternating stanzas and often in the same stanzas. In terms of its acoustical coherence, it requires its reader, novelly, to follow both end-paused and non end-paused enjambments in a style Crane intended to be redolent of the flow of the Jazz or Classical music he tended to listen to when he wrote. Though the poem follows a thematic progress, it freely juggles various points in time. (Wikipedia, viewed 10/12/17)

But I have to say that this chapter doesn’t seem any more chaotic than usual!

In amongst the confusion I found this, which I rather liked:

Retire to rest without first misturbing your nighboor, mankind of baffling descriptions. Others are as tired of themselves as you are. Let each one learn to bore himself. It is strictly requested that no cobsmoking, spitting, pubchat, wrastle rounds, coarse courting, smut, etc, will take place amongst those hours so devoted to repose. Look before behind before you strip you. Disrobe clothed in the strictest secrecy which privacy can afford.


This is a homelet not a hothel.  (Penguin Modern Classics Kindle Edition pp. 585-586).

I wish some of my neighbours would retire to rest without misturbing me!

Well, that’s the end of Part III.  My Folio edition says I have 30 pages to go, and then I’m done!


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. Thirty pages to go! This has been so pleasurable. Thank you. I place FW at one end of a continuum with The Da Vinci Code at the other end – when people ask me to try to demonstrate the difference between ‘literary’ fiction and ‘mass-market’ fiction.


    • Ha ha! Well soon I will have read both!


  2. Fascinating to witness your progress through this labyrinth. Funny you should bring in Dowland; a friend sent me the following link to a modernised version of an Allemande by him – ‘My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe’, played on surf and other modern guitars; I add another link to a conventional lute-based version of the original tune. Both very pretty. Here’s the modern one, by a chap called John Bisset:

    And here’s the traditional version (couldn’t find the Julian Bream he mentions):


  3. I went back to review of the final chapter of Ulysses which you will not read again you say until you finish FW which you soon will. Whatever will you do to replace it?


    • I already have a book lined up. It’s called The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke. It is weird and strange but not long!


      • Will miss FW when it ends, but glad you have a new project for us to look forward to.


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