This part of the text is way easier-going than the first chapter. I think to some extent the first chapter is an overture to the book (just like the first 3 lines are an overture to the chapter). And the thing with overtures is, since you’re not familiar with the themes they contain, they usually feel compressed and confusing. Then you watch the whole musical, and then you go back and listen to the overture again, and it all makes sense. Our experience in reading a book is usually different, because we don’t expect an overture, we expect exposition. We expect to be brought in, but for almost everything Joyce wrote, we’re not brought in, we’re just all of a sudden put there. Only later do we understand where “there” is.
Look at the first line if “The Sisters” (the first story in Dubliners): “There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.” The English teachers of the world want to write “him? vague antecedent.” In a way, the first chapter of Finnegans Wake is just one HUGE pronoun with a vague antecedent. The book is the end of something but we read it at the beginning. We don’t know who “he” is any more than we did when reading “Sisters.”
Anyway, the second chapter is far less problematic. We can easily break it into three sections.
I. Introduction to HCE and first description of his crime – 30-34
The voice in this section sounds like that of the historian from the first chapter. You can hear it as the chapter opens:
Now (to forebare for ever solittle of Iris Trees and Lili O’Ranogans), concerning the genesis of Harold or Humphrey Chimpden’s occupational agnomen (we are back in the presurnames prodromarith period, of course just when enos chalked halltraps) and discarding once for all those theories from older sources which would link him back with such pivotal ancestors as the Glues, the Gravys, the Northeasts, the Ankers and the earwickers of Sidlesham in the Hundred of Manhood or proclaim him offsprout of vikings who had founded wapentake and seddled hem in Herrick or Eric, the best authenticated version, the Dumlat, read the Reading of Hofed-ben-Edar, has it that it was this way.
Now I’m not saying this is like reading the first page of Harry Potter – the above is a massive, convoluted and over-sub-structured sentence – but it’s way easier to parse than most of the first chapter. There are far fewer portmanteau words. It’s recognizable as academic parody. The clauses each rebut objections from would-be alternate histories. There are biblical references (“genesis,” “enos”), archeological parodies (“presurnames prodromarith period”), and manuscript tradition readings (“the best authenticated version, the Dumlat…”). The overall effect is of a melding of several fields of academic study (theology, literature, history) into one uber-academic voice.
We are told how in the beginning it came to pass that like cabbaging Cincinnatus the grand old gardener was saving daylight under his redwoodtree one sultry sabbath afternoon, Hag Chivychas Eve, in prefall paradise peace by following his plough for rootles in the rere garden of mobhouse, ye olde marine hotel when royalty was announced by runner to have bene pleased to have halted itself on the highroad along which a leisureloving dogfox had cast followed, also at walking pace, by a lady pack of cocker spaniels.
Again, the Bible is still with us (“in the beginning,” “prefall pradise peace”) but also again Roman history (Cincinnatus, the farmer-turned-general-turned-farmer). This chunk shows you how “characters” are generally identified in the text – they’re overloaded into other phrases. So when we find out that it is currently “Hag Chivychas Eve” (whatever that is), we’re also alerted to the presence of the character HCE at the same time. The issue with this text – more often than not anyway – isn’t its unreadability per se, it’s the fact that it’s hyper-efficient. Words serve multiple purposes at one time. Here “Hag Chivychas Eve” is a phrase establishing TIME and one establishing the PERSON who’s being talked about at that time. Or maybe instead of a PERSON, it’s a mood, motif, tone, theme, etc. Again, a dye-mark.
Things continue in the historian’s tone – lots of euphemisms and circumlocution, and eventually some sort of mild event perhaps involving “a pair of dainty maidservants” (34) happens –
a first offence in vert or venison which was admittedly an incautious but, at its wildest, a partial exposure with such attenuating circumstances… as an abnormal Saint Swithin’s summer and, (Jesses Rosasharon!) a ripe occasion to provoke it (34).
That’s about all we get by way of explanation for “the hubhub caused at Edenborough” (end of first chapter).
II. The Transmission of the Events of the Crime
The overriding conceit in this chapter is that whatever actually did or did not happen, news of it spread. The audience wanted something so much to have happened that the details didn’t matter. This is, more or less, what Strauss claims in The Life of Jesus – messianic expectations created the Son of God out of Jesus of Nazareth. The “crime” develops just like a game of telephone. The tone of this section is still that of the academic, but things break down as the pages go by, with politely constructed phrases and subordinate clauses collapsing into gossipy jibberjabber. Academic history degenerates into popular journalism.
So far as what “happens” (I’m always wary of saying that something “happens” in this book) the transmission of the story goes through at least four phases.
A. The Cad with the Pipe – After the crime, whatever it was, “he met a cad with a pipe” (35) who asked what time it was. Maybe this “cad” is Shem? It feels more like Shaun. Or maybe it’s just a cad with a pipe who wants to know what time it is. HCE sort of stutters and appears defensive –
Hesitency was clearly to be evitated. Execration as cleverly to be honnisoid… unwishful as he felt of being hurled into eternity right then… told the inquiring kidder, by Jehova, it was twelve of em sidereal and tankard time… (35)
The cad, sensing something in HCe’s tone, suspects something bad has happened, and from here the legend spreads.
B. The cad tells everyone – “Our cad’s bit of strife… broker of the matter among a hundred and eleven others” (38). One of those 111 is “this overspoiled priest Mr. Browne” – to whom “the gossiple [was] so delievered in his episteolear.’ A gossipy priest hears a rumor and “in his secondary personality” (i.e., as a private citizen) goes and tells more people. The “Gossiple” (Gospel-gossip) spreads. From here, things go to “Treacle Tom” (39), and then most significantly to one “Hosty.”
C. Hosty is described – “Hosty (no slouch of a name), an illstarred beachbucker, who, sanse rootie and sans scrapie, suspicioning as how he was settling on a twoodstool on the verge of selfabyss, most starved, with melancholia over everything in general…” (40). Hosty is most definitely a manifestation of Shem, the opportunistic starving artist. But now he’s got his story – not that he really knows it – but it feels important to him and those who would listen. Hosty is celebrated in the next few pages – he becomes “the rejuvenated busker” (41) as “the rhymers’ world was with reason the richer for a wouldbe ballad…” about “the vilest bogeyer but most attractionable avatar the world has ever had to explain for” (42), i.e., HCE.
D. Hosty composes and performs his song – “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly” (44-47). He performs in front of a Simpsons-style collection of townspeople, enumerated, of course, in extended catalog, among whom “two bluecoat scholars… a deuce of dianas… four broke gents… and so on down to a few good old souls… a jolly postoboy…” (43) – it’s reminiscent of Joyce’s parodic catalogues of the “Cyclops” episode in Ulysses. It also connects in my mind to Book 2 of the Iliad, in which all the ships of the Greek army are catalogued, most of whom are probably amassed to fight for something they don’t fully understand or care about – another vague crime (Paris and Helen’s elopment) that may or may not even be one.
III. The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly
The ballad itself is about “Humpty Dumpty” (44), how he was “one time our King of the Castle… fafafather of all schemes for to bother us” – and it also celebrates (sort of) its compsoer, “Hurrah there, Hosty, frosty Hosty, change that shirt on ye.” It’s cluttered with references to HCE’s British/Scandinavian heritage, and is written for and by Irish people whose umbridge at oppression is satisfied by a fun song about it. It’s only barely about his crime (by this time everyone assumes everyone else knows that it is, and of course it doesn’t even need to be specified) “It was during some fresh water garden pumping… that our heavyweight heathen Humpharey/Made bold a maid to woo…” (46). There’s also some concern about his family – “‘Tis sore pity for his innocent poor children/But look out for his missus legitimate!” (47).
Towards the end, we get a stray line:
Suffoclose! Shikespower! Seudodanto! Anonymoses!
Sophocles/suffocate, Shakesepeare/power, Dante Seutonius, and Moses (and anonymous). The ballad becomes all of their ballads, it becomes the theme of art – that of art’s co-productive politics.
It ends with a clever stanza:
And not all the king’s men nor his horses
Will resurrect his corpus
For there’s no true spell in Connacht or hell
(his) That’s able to raise a Cain.
Right back where the chapter started, with Genesis (“able to raise a Cain”). In short, this is the archetype of a fallen political figure – and its depiction that only adds to that political figure’s power. The details of the story both captivate the audience and disgust them, but they also take pleasure in that disgust, even identify with the guy. This reminds me of nothing more than the saga of Bill Clinton (“He’ll Cheat E’erawan”), Monica Lewinski (one “dainty maidservant”), Hillary Clinton (“the missus legitimate”) and Chelsea (“his innocent poor children”) – who inspite of having committed apparently unspeakable crimes (though were so tough to parse that we needed to know “what ‘is’ is”), still left office with like a 65% approval rating.
What’s best about this chapter is how Joyce’s word and phrase overloading ends up making archetypes visible and recognizable – they wouldn’t be so, and they wouldn’t be seen AS ARCHETYPES if they weren’t presented in such a fashion. The characters are absurdly universal, but somehow in that universality a particular quality emerges – it’s the opposite of what you expect in a novel. In a novel, you’re usually given the particular character and then you see their universal qualities (think Bloom-as-everyman in Ulysses). HCE, the temptresses in the park, the Cad with the Pipe, the gossipy priest Browne, and the hack-balladeer Hosty – they’re all both cardboard cutouts of people and also people themselves, characters we feel like we’ve encountered in every other book we’ve ever read.