Finnegans Wake – Book I Chapter 4

Chapter three ended with HCE safely back in his home (“Humph is in his doge” – 74) in spite of his trial on ambiguous charges.  Chapter four is, more or less, a restatement of chapter 3, so far as I can tell, just in a different time and place.

I.  HCE’s Reemergence

Chapter four begins, seemingly, on the assumption that actually, HCE died and was buried, but of course there’s a problem with “the teak coffin… a protem grave” (76).  There is a cluster of explosive/ballistic vocabulary in the next few pages, the implication seeming to be that though he was buried, he “exploded from a reinvented T.N.T.” and so was up out of the ground walking around.  The pages following describe rumors of his wanderings, as he becomes a mythic folk-hero – a “Massa Ewacka” who haunts the lands of slaves, who tell stories about him.  Eventually one “Kate Strong” (78) describes where he lies for good.

II.  Conflict at the Inn and Its Resolution

One of the guiding assumptions for a lot of people’s readings of this book is that HCE is some sort of innkeeper/bartender.  I’ve seen no direct evidence for that yet, but – after the hubhub about HCE’s death/escape/whatever subsides, we get a relatively clear line on 81 – “the boarder incident prerepreated itself.”  There is a whole host of argument, all seeming to revolve around a robbery attempt that HCE was victim to at his pub.  This re-visits some of the ground covered by the Mutt/Jute conflict in chapter 1 – a clever pun on sports and religion caught my eye: “there were some further collidabanter and severe tries to convert for the best part of an hour” (language/collision/rugby/holy wars all seem mixed up in here).  After this there are some resolution paragraphs – “having ratified before the god of the day their torgantruse which belittlers have schmallkalled the treatyng to cognac” (83) and again, stability returns:

… open to buggy and bike, to walk, Wellington Park road, with the curb or quaker’s quacknostrum under his auxter and his alpenstuck in his redhand, a highly commendable exercise, or, number two of our acta legitima plebeia, on the brink (beware to taulk a man of his will!) of taking place upon a public seat… and all the more right jollywell pleased, which he was, at having other people’s weather (85).

III.  The Festy King – HCE Re-Tried

But to return to the atlantic and Phenitia Proper.  As if that were not to be enough for anyone but little headway, if any, was made in solving the wasnottobe crime cunumdrum when a child of Maam, Festy King, of a family long and honourably associated with the tar and feather industries… was subsequently haled up at the Old Bailey on the calends of Mars, under an incompatibly framed indictment of both the counts… (85)

Stability never lasts for long in this text – as soon as you get a handle on things, some other confusing forces beset it (and you).  Here, another incarnation of HCE – seemingly years or eons later, named The Festy King, is put on trial at “The Old Bailey” (England) on “the calends of Mars” (I think the date on which the Roman year began).  Again, the charges are not specified though of course, again, on multiple occasions, two girls are involved.  He was also “ellegedly with a pedigree pig (unlicensed) and hyacinth”) (86), which, admittedly, sounds pretty bad.  Over pages 86-89, all the family members make their appears – “high chief evervirns”, a “cad”, “Isod’s towertop”, and “(mute and daft)” (Mutt and Jeff? –> Shem and Shawn).

A very jumbled version of HCE’s defense again is presented, not exactly clearly, nor is it clear by whom it is presented (“The prince in principel should not expose his person?”) and the witnesses against him are impugned – “Not unintoxicated, fair witness?  Drunk as a fishup” (89).  At any rate, “the four justicers laid their wigs together… but could do no worse than promulgate their standing verdict… whereonafter King, having murdered all the English he knew, picked out his pockets and left the tribunal scotfree” (93).

IV.  ALP and the Letter

“And so it all ended.”  The trial resolved, more talk of a letter advanced – “The letter!  The litter!  And the soother the bitther!” 93).  The language turns feminine again, and we hear the foregoing trial summarized as “the solid man saved by his sillied woman” (94).  A sort of mini-echo-trial is conducted again, by the four who are now more historians than  judges (“and so they went on, the fourbottle men, the analists…”) 95, and HCE, with the help of ALP, escapes.  Then again tales of his escape disseminate themselves – “Morse nuisance noised.  He was loose at large and (Oh baby!) might be anywhere” (99).

Talk moves on to ALP – “do tell us all about.  As we want to hear allabout.  So tellus tellas allabouter” (101).  “Tellus” = Latin for “earth” and also English for “tell us.”  So there’s land all around her (because she’s the water) and also people want to know all about her.  The chapter ends with a flood of ALP imagery:

Nomad may roam with Nabuch but let naaman laugh at Jordan!  For we, we have taken our sheet upon her stones where we have hanged our hearts in her trees; and we list, as she bibs us, by the waters of babalong (103).

Naaman was a leper washed in the Jordan and healed.  We have “taken our sheet” (i.e., written and also defecated) on the stones that she washes off.  And all the rumors and everything else, in jumbled polyglot language, become “the waters of babalong” – ALP is both the Waters of Babylon and also the destroyer of the Tower of Babel.

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