[Numbers refer to page and then lines. These are the same in all editions except Rose and O’Hanlon’s The Restored Finnegans Wake.]
We seem to begin midsentence. Danis Rose’s edition has that first word “riverrun” indented much further than the usual first-line indent, as if to emphasise the empty space before it, out of which the river of type, of words, of everything we’re about to read, comes pouring from nowhere – and brings us back, it seems, to Dublin, where, it seems, we’ve already been before.
When are we? Well, before almost anything you can name, and this para gives a few examples. Nothing at all has happened yet. All human history is still waiting.
But before anything at all, before anything the previous para could have listed as having not yet happened, there’s already a fall, with the first of the ten 100-letter thunderwords that punctuate the Wake. All stories come from that fall, and get “retaled” over and over. The name of Finnegan is mentioned, and we glimpse a vast sleeping body, “unquiring” and with a “humptyhillhead,” an empty head, spread out across the landscape. This is the legendary giant that underlies Dublin. We began at Howth, his head (Howth comes from the Scandanavian for “head”), and now seem to move towards his feet in the Phoenix Park to the west, where Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, the main character (whom we haven’t yet met), runs an inn.
The air seems to be filled with the noise of battles, where ignorant armies clash by night. Everything is in violent flux, where whatever rises falls, and whatever falls rises up again. We are about to come to a “setdown secular phoenish,” a secular Dublin version of this fall – and presumably resurrection.
This version of the fall is Tim Finnegan, the hod-carrier of the song, who loves a drink. We’re still way before history, but what he’s building while drunk seems to be the tower of Babel. Not a good combination.
Finnegan, under whatever name, is the very first: with him, history begins. Or rather, with his fall, because that’s what’s going to happen.
What brought about this fall? There are all sorts of stories about it (and the sheer hubbub of them may be like the teeming bustle of Dublin in that long parenthesis that stretches from 5.30 to 6.07), but whatever it was, he fell off the wall and died.
Finnegan’s wake, with lots of drinking.
Finnegan (HCE) is now the fallen giant we have seen on the first page. “He calmly extensolies” across Dublin, from Chapelizod near Phoenix Park to the Bailey lighthouse by Howth (“from Shopalist to Bailywick”). He is mourned everywhere, and particularly by his widow ALP, who has prepared all the food for the wake (“grinny sprids the boord”). What the mourners eat in this love feast is the very flesh of the giant himself.
The huge form of the sleeping giant is still there to be seen in the landscape today, accompanied by his faithful Anna Livia (the river), with his feet up against the wall of the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park, near the Wellington Monument. The vast mound is also the rubble of history – and a museum to the Battle of Waterloo, whose janitor is Kate, the cleaner at HCE’s inn in Chapelizod. Kate is an older version of ALP, tending the wake of history as ALP tended her husband’s wake.
Kate takes us on a guided tour through the Willingdone museyroom. She leads us through the display and its trophies, including a portrait of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo. Very soon, this becomes a sort of Benny Hill farce, with the Willingdone spying on two female camp followers (the “jinnies”) with his telescope, and threatening three soldiers (the “lipoleums”: Tom, Dick and Harry, no less). The three soldiers retaliate by conniving with the jinnies to distract the Willingdone so that they can throw a bomb at him. This is another version of the fall: but now it’s not just the misadventure of falling off a wall while drunk, it’s a matter of something that might be a bit more culpable, a prefiguring of HCE’s sin. What we’ve got here for the first time is the clear suggestion that the fall is sexual in its nature, with the Willingdone’s leering attention to the two women; and that it’s a family thing, with the three lipoleums as the sons who are going to replace the father. Freud’s myth of the primal father is not far away here.
It’s worth taking stock of how the book has moved so far. We started off with the bare fact of the fall and its thunderword. The fall happened to no one in particular, everyone at large: the sleeping giant. Then we moved to a well-known comic version of the fall, in which it’s all just a drunken accident: Finnegan. Now we’ve had it replayed as leery sexual farce, in which the sinner, Willingdone, gets his comeuppance. We still haven’t got to HCE, though his initials have been everywhere like guilty thumbprints. All these stories – and the book keeps saying that there are many of them – seem to act as a series of displacements and disavowals. They keep coming back to some sort of guilty event, stating it over and over without ever quite saying what it is, displacing it onto other personages, downplaying it with farce, obscuring it with the fog of dozens of languages and the clashes of puns. It might be useful to remember Ulysses here. Both Bloom and Stephen are weighed down by things they can barely bring to mind, or simply don’t know how to face. Bloom knows that today’s the day Molly will be meeting Boylan, and he knows it because she told him, but it’s lunchtime before he can even start digesting that bit of information. Finnegans Wake too is full of things that can’t be said, but which say themselves incessantly in the cracks of its repetitions, its displacements, its refusals to let a story go.
Phew! [I’m very relieved to see that McHugh has no gloss for this.]
We’re out of the museyroom again, in a bleak landscape: a battlefield in the aftermath, where the bodies of the slain are also the vast middenheaps of history. Among all this detritus, a little bird is picking its way. Or rather, her way, because the text suggests this is another variation on ALP as caretaker. The bird seems to unearth a letter. This letter is going to be important throughout the Wake. We’ll find a number of variants on it, the last of which happens just before Anna Livia’s final monologue (615.12-619.15). An entire chapter, I.5 (104-25), will be devoted to a scholarly examination of it: the circumstances of its discovery, who wrote it, the state of the document, what it might mean. It may be a letter ALP wrote exonerating HCE, though this may just be wishful thinking, as what we see of this “mamafesta” (104.04) in its various manifestations doesn’t seem to be much more than family and neighbourhood news to a relative in Boston. It may be the Book of Kells, where the decoration is often so elaborate it almost defies one to read the text. It may be Finnegans Wake itself.
In this particular passage, we’ve only got a description of the bird fossicking around in the heaps of history’s garbage and the bloody detritus of the battlefield, and then, all of a sudden at 11.13, what appears also to be fragments of a letter. There’s no actual description of the bird picking the letter up. That’s something we piece together later. In the later chapter that will be devoted to the letter, I.5, we’ll be told that a hen scratched it up from a rubbish heap (the passage begins at 110.22) and that’s followed immediately (over the page at around 111.08) by a transcript of the letter, one of several–and it’s very like what we’ve read in this earlier passage. It’s as though the passage about the bird on pp 10-11 is a foreshadowing of this, a condensation of it. And – as perhaps befits a circular book – it snaps into its full perspective only once we’ve got something the book will give us later on. There’ll be a few instances of that in this first chapter, which functions a lot like an overture: it sounds the main themes, but they get their full development only later on.
Anna Livia, as we’ve seen, picks up the mess left by history and looks after her family (and we’re “all Livia’s daughtersons,” 215.35-36). Humpty Dumpty might have fallen off the wall, but “there’ll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care” (12.14-15) – an odd echo, perhaps of another morning to come (Molly Bloom’s “Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs”). This paragraph and the next have a somewhat uxorious sentimentality to their praise.
Over the next few pages, the landscape will gradually become softer and more bucolic. Its hillocks and mounds are now ALP’s family, scattered around the vast form of the sleeping giant HCE, and all of the battles and chaos of history are now like children’s games (to which an entire chapter will later be devoted: II.1).
So is this Dublin? “Dyoublong?” suggests it’s not quite home, and that you can be exiled even at home. In reply, we’re told to be quiet and take care: this isle too, like this book, is full of voices.
This next paragraph seems to be precisely that play of voices, with a number of hints that this may be a radio broadcast. That “How charmingly exquisite!” suggests someone who sees in all this only a quaint stage-Irishness. It’s all as pretty as a picture – to be precise, the picture that’s hanging on the wall of HCE’s Chapelizod pub. There are injunctions to hear, to listen for those echoes, and there’s also music in the air.
Now for some history from the Irish annalist Mammon Lujius.
(There are four old men who are regulars in the pub, and they’re identified with the four evangelists, among other things: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, or, collectively, Mamalujo. They’ll play an important part in I.4, where they’re the four judges who presided over HCE’s trial, now drunk and quarrelsome (94-96); in III.3, when they take us up Howth to conjure up the sleeping giant in a seance, in one of the Wake‘s great extended set pieces (in particular, from 532.06 on); and in III.4, when they’re the four posts of the marital bed, overlooking a weary sexual congress in the early hours of the morning.)
There are four things, say the annals, that we need to hold onto in everything that follows: HCE; ALP; their daughter Isabelle; and their sons Shem and Shaun locked in their sibling ribalry.
We need to keep hold of these, because we’re going to find them everywhere in what follows, throughout history and throughout all the tales that get told here. For example:
Here we have four extracts from the annals. As the last paragraph but one suggested, they do indeed correspond (in order) to: HCE (who has already been compared to a whale: that “brontoichthyean form” of 7.20, and all of the slippages of “wall”), ALP, Issy and the two boys. The extracts come in pairs: first the parents, then the children, with the pairs separated by “(Silent.)” The males get the date of 1132 A.D., and the females 566 A.D.
The dates are significant in Irish history. In 1132, Dermot MacMurrough became king of Leinster, in which Dublin is situated; he burnt the abbey of Kildare, west of Dublin, and raped the abbess. In the north of Ireland, St Malachy was made archbishop of Armagh, with the brief of reestablishing the dominance of the Roman liturgy after the drift away from it that had followed the Viking invasions since the 9th century. In 566, Ainmuire mac Sétnai (from the Uí Néill dynasty, claiming descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages) was crowned High King of Ireland. These events will be echoed in various ways throughout the Wake, and the numbers even more so. As Leopold Bloom knows, 32 feet per second per second is the acceleration of falling bodies; 11, on the other hand, is the count starting again after the first decade: fall and resurrection. Campbell and Robinson’s Skeleton Key offers a number of numerological suggestions, though they don’t lay much stock on the actual dates.
That “(Silent.)” is now the “ginnandgo gap between antediluvious and annodominant” – which is to say, not only between B.C. and A.D., but also between A.D. and A.D. It’s where we can’t follow: what must have happened there is anybody’s guess. Much later, right at the other end of the book, as the first light of day comes into the sleeper’s room, we will have the query, “Where did thots come from?” (597.25). It’s both a question about where thoughts come from (out of the silence of the unconscious) and a Wakean rephrasing of what Freud calls the sexual theories of children: “Where did tots come from?”
The last few paragraphs have in effect been a sort of reader’s guide to the Wake. They tell us to look for the family everywhere, in all sorts of disguised versions as their story gets told and retold: HCE, after all, is “Here Comes Everybody” (32.18-19) and “Haveth Childers Everywhere” (535.34-35). And they also tell us that there are gaps and silences everywhere in these accounts, as if their very proliferation is there to hide what can’t be said, but which always threatens to show itself between the lines of that excess.
We lift our eyes from the book we have been studying, that Liber Lividus (blue book: “bluest book in baile’s annals,” 13.21-22), and look around at the now idyllic landscape. The last sentence of this paragraph, which begins on 14.35, is the first of several variations we’ll find throughout the Wake on a sentence from the French writer and historian Edgar Quinet’s 1857 Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité. It will be quoted later on in full, in the original French and without distortion, in the Night Lessons chapter, II.2, when the children are doing their history homework (281.04-13):
Today, as in the time of Pliny and Columella, the hyacinth disports in Gaul, the periwinkle in Illyria, the daisy on the ruins of Numantia; and while around them the cities have changed masters and names, while some have ceased to exist, while the civilizations have collided with one another and smashed, their peaceful generations have passed through the ages and have come up to us, fresh and laughing as on the days of battles.
15.12-15.27 and 15.28
The idyll is continued in this paragraph. The tone is pastoral at times, with its “bold floras of the field” calling to “shyfaun lovers,” but the battles of the past and their “bluddle filth” (10.08-09) are still to be read in the ambiguities of the words: “And they fell upong one another: and themselves they have fallen.” In a blending that will be repeated often in the Wake, these unions of lovers are also the marriages and the interbreedings of the many peoples who have inhabited or overrun Ireland in the past. The passage mixes languages in what Oulipians would later call homophonic translation: “What ails tongue coddeau, aspace of dumbillsilly?” for example, is a homophonic version of “Où est ton cadeau, espèce d’imbecile?” (“Where is your present, fool?”).
We are about to meet one of these invaders, who is standing somewhat apart from the others and drinking out of a skull. After trying him in several homophonised languages, we find out he’s a Jute, and launch into an odd conversation. (In one of his manifestations, this is Sackerson, the old man who serves behind the bar at the Earwickers’ pub.)
Mutt and Jute, after the comic-strip characters Mutt and Jeff, are native and invader, though which is which seems to swap during the course of the exchange. Mutt has a stammer (which as we’ll see marks him out as a version of HCE), possibly brought on by his love of the bottle (so he’s Finnegan too). Jute has great difficulty in understanding him, and is about to bid him good day when Mutt calls him back by drawing his attention to some of the history that can still be read in the landscape, including the form of the sleeping giant. The newcomer is thunderstruck.
This long paragraph is an elaboration of Mutt’s invitation to read the landscape, “rede … its world” (18.18-19). But now it makes explicit the parallel that’s been implicit since the very first word, “riverrun.” This landscape, the body of the sleeping giant, is the very “claybook” (18.17) we’re reading, the page across which a river of type runs in its “allaphbed” (18.18): the “meandertale” (18.22) of Finnegans Wake itself. We can make out some familiar figures – HCE, ALP, the two warring sons, the daughter, the battles, the soldiers from the museyroom episode, and the Fall (via the serpent) – but this time they are all emerging out of a series of plays on the names of the letters of various alphabets and the “snake wurrums” (19.12) of script.
The most basic elements of this script are bare marks, like axe-strokes on a tree, or a tally: one, two, three. Everything seems to emerge from this level, including the outlines of the main personages (the parents, the sons, the daughter) and the “meanderthalltale” (19.25) of their interrelations. These bare marks do nothing more than mark out or differentiate, and in doing that they “say too us,” every “tim, nick and larry” or “sue, siss and sally” of us (19.27-19.29), following in the wake of the script that furrows out everywhere across this landscape.
Everything will follow from these bare marks set off against a background. Just as the Wake begins before any of the events of recorded history, and before there’s even anyone there for these events to happen to, so too is this proto-writing something that’s prior to pen and paper. It’s as rudimentary as the marking of a bone or a pebble, but from it comes everything: Gutenberg, the law (“cromagnom charter,” 20.07), scripture (“alcohoran,” 20.09-10), all of it still bearing that primal uncertainty: “hides and hints and misses in prints” (20.11). And at last, out of it emerge the main personages of the Wake itself: “Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies,” in this “book of Doublends Jined” with its “threescore and ten toptypsical readings” (20.12-16).
The previous paragraph is a key moment in this introductory chapter: one thing the Wake is about everywhere is this emergence of the rudiments of personages and a story – or many stories – from the darkness, and of meaning from the empty marks of these axe-stroke runes. This paragraph now reminds us that for all that, there’s still a long way to go, and “the park’s so dark by kindlelight” (20.20). One thing we should always keep in mind, though, throughout everything that’s to follow, is that it’s all about “what you have in your handself” (20.21): that is, the copy of the Wake you’re reading, with its drama of the gradual, slow, incomplete and always partly obscure emergence of a subject (handself) out of that darkness, and of the entire family. The paragraph ends with the trigrams of the parents, to lead us into the next section of the text, which will be all about the rivalries of the parents: “Hark, the corne entreats! And the larpnotes prittle” (21.03-04).
Now we get the story of the Prankquean. In many ways, it’s a counterpart to the earlier Museyroom story, where the farcical replay of the Battle of Waterloo (and just about every other battle in the history books) served as a screen for the sleeping father’s anxieties about the sons and their usurping of his dominance. This time, though, we have an attempt to find a reason, or rather an anxious rationalisation, for that hostility. The uxoriousness with which Anna Livia has been treated up until this point now inverts itself into blame. Why would sons turn against their father? It must be the mother’s fault…
The Prankquean story is based is on an incident in the life of Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ni Mháille, c 1530-1603), a pirate and queen of the Máille clan. Around 1576, O’Malley called on the Lord of Howth at his castle – the “Jarl van Hoother” (21.10), as he is here. The Lord refused to offer her hospitality, sent a servant to tell her that the family was having dinner, and ordered the castle gates closed. In retaliation, O’Malley kidnapped his heir, his grandson Christopher. Here, Christopher is doubled into two sons, Tristopher and Hilary, and a daughter, who is referred to only as “the dummy.” The story thus has the three-part structure and symmetries familiar from so many fairytales (and yes, there’s a link there to a diagram of some of them). The Prankquean kidnaps each of the boys in turn, and returns them “convorted” or “provorted” (21.29, 22.16) into very different children: sad Tristopher has become a “luderman” (21.30), a rogue or a player, and happy Hilary has become a “tristian” (22.17). On her third visit, this time with plans to kidnap the daughter, the Jarl confronts her in his wrath. The sound of this – it’s also the steward closing the castle doors, and the hired help closing the Chapelizod pub door for an afterhours drinking session – is the second of the book’s hundred-letter thunderwords (23.05-07). The story ends (as fables do) with a reassuring moral, which in this case is a version of the motto of the City of Dublin: “The citizens’ obedience is the city’s happiness” (23.14-15). It would seem to reaffirm the domestic order that has been the subject of such anxiety throughout. But is that just whistling in the dark? For all of the Jarl’s bluster, the Prankquean would seem to have claimed his daughter after all (23.13-14), and had her way with the boys.
The Dublin motto reminds us that the relationship between HCE and ALP is also that of the city and the river on which it stands. (The later séance on Howth in III.3 will give us a long and spectacular development of this: 532.06-554.09.) The next two paragraphs will each, in different ways, be both elegy to and eulogy of the great sleeping giant and all he has wrought, phrased in terms of those monuments still there to be read in the landscape.
The first of them is filled with vague rumour and misgivings, confirming those suspicions that the moral at the end of the Prankquean tale has hardly been the last word on the matter. “Audiurient,” we “evesdrip” (23.21-22), trying to make out half-heard whispers (“She he she ho she ha to la,” 23.24-25), hushed gossip (“the wave of hooshed,” 23.27), sniggering (“the wave of hawhawhawrd,” 23.28) and conflicting versions of what may or may not have happened (“the wave of neverheedthemhorseluggarsandlistletomine,” 23.28-29).
By contrast, this next paragraph is more like a wish-fulfilment. It’s the way the sleeper might like to be remembered: instead of all the anxieties and faults and misdeeds that have haunted the various fragments of story so far, we have “that mighty liberator, Unfru-Chikda-Uru-Wukru” (24.06-07), at honoured peace. But at the very end of the second paragraph, just as in the song “Finnegan’s Wake,” someone accidentally spills whisky (“Usqueadbaugham!“, 24.14) on the corpse, which revives.
The word “wake” turns into its opposite: “Soul of the devil, did you think me dead?” (24.15).
From this point on to the end of the chapter, we seem to be hearing the voices of the twelve regulars at the pub, mourners at the wake. They are reassuring the revived corpse that all is fine and there’s no need for him to worry about anything at all. In fact, he’s better off the way he is, isn’t needed at all here, and really should just go back to sleep again. They give him all sorts of reasons for this, and they don’t really hang together. It’s a good example of the kettle-logic Freud points out in The Interpretation of Dreams (“There wasn’t a hole in the kettle when I gave it back to you. The hole you’re complaining about was there when I borrowed it. Besides, I never borrowed a kettle from you in the first place.”): the inconsistencies suggest that the anxieties these reassurances are intended to quell are still alive and well.
First of all, it’s not a good time to be walking abroad. You never know who you’ll meet (and that “sick old bankrupt” and the “slut snoring with an impure infant on a bench” (24.22-24) even suggest ugly possibilities best left unexplored by the sleeper), and of course the weather’s awful. We, who fondly remember you, will make sure that you continue to get all the proper obsequies. Your fame is spreading, and everyone is always talking of you with admiration; you’re a legendary figure.
And everything’s fine at home, too. The family is well provided for. The boys are at school, and already showing signs of what they’ll become: Kevin (Shaun) is loved by all and playing postman’s knock, but Jerry (Shem) has a bit of the devil in him, “making encostive inkum out of the last of his lavings and writing a blue streak over his bourseday shirt” (27.10-11). Issy, the daughter, has two aspects (and a lot of the sleeper’s anxiety seems to find its focus there): she’s a Child of Mary (a Catholic girls’ association), but she’s also let down her skirts and is a bit of a gadabout.
At this point, tellingly, the corpse makes a new effort to rise, and the onlookers have to hold him down.
The mourners reassure him that they’re keeping an eye on things. Most of this paragraph deals with ALP, the only family member they haven’t yet told him about, and it too is a rather ambiguous reassurance. They recall HCE’s lively wooing of her, and how “she was flirtsome then and she’s fluttersome yet. She can second a song and adores a scandal when the last post’s gone by” (28.15-17).
And now to the final reason the sleeper should stay asleep: his replacement is already on his way. Just like the sleeper, he has a wife, two boys and a girl, he runs a pub in Chapelizod, and there are already stories that he was seen doing something scandalous in Phoenix Park. Humme the Cheapner, Esc (29.18-19) has arrived, a foreigner, and he will be “ultimendly respunchable for the hubbub caused in Edenborough” (29.35-36).