Finnegans Wake – Book II Chapter 1

I’ve now reached the part of the Finnegans Wake I’ve never read before.  It’s strange that even though I last read what I had read almost 15 years ago, it was still easier to comprehend.  I realize that now, as the first chapter of Book II really took some plodding to get through.  I admit it – for the first time since I started, there were whole pages where I had no idea what was going on – to whom the pronouns were referring, or even what actions were being described.  It felt like if you’re reading something in a foreign language you know a little of, and start skimming because you get tired of thinking so so hard about each and every word.

Book II is all about the third generation – using the Greek analogy, not the jumbled pre-Olympian gods (i.e., Cronus, Rhea, but also Uranus, Aphrodite, Helios, Chaos, etc. – yes, I know those are in several generations themselves, but that’s sort of how it works in Finnegans Wake too – the Finnegan generation is more vaguely defined and probably itself spreads out over many generations), not the Olympian gods (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades), but the one after that – for the Greeks, that means Apollo, Artemis, Ares, etc.

Here’s how I see things so far in Finnegans Wake

Finnegan = Uranus/Cronus

HCE = Zeus; ALP = Hera

Shem = Apollo; Shaun = Ares; Issy = Artemis

Those “=” should be read as “includes but is not limited to” – as in “Finnegan includes but is not limited to Uranus” because Finnegan also includes figures from whole hosts of other traditions, many of which I don’t even know are being referenced.  HCE, for example, is also Christ, the Kings of England, the Pope, Adam, Abraham, and many many more.

Book II is the story of Shem, Shaun and Issy (who is sometimes one person and sometimes 28+1 = 29, like leap-years’ Februaries).  The story of these three has been told already, but it was told from the perspective of HCE and ALP.  Now, their three (or 31) children are both the subjects of the stories as well as (somehow) the perspective from which they’re told.  I’m not entirely clear what that means, but the point is Book II has a different “feel,” one that somehow makes the experience of childhood/son/daughter-dom more primary.

We can break this LONG (41 page) chapter into a few chunks – first, a movie-credits-cum-play-cast-of-characters type thing, next, Shem’s failed pursuit of Issy, then Shem’s departure, a confusing intercession by HCE and ALP, The consequent rule of Shaun, a confused sexualized conflict involving Shem, Shaun and Issy, the end of the play/preparations for the childrens’ bedtime (including prayers).

I.  The Cast of Characters

The chapter begins like the transcription of a publicly posted sign  –

Every evening at lighting up o’clock sharp and until further notice in Feenichts Playhouse.  (Bar and conveniences always open, Diddlem Club douncestears.) … The Mime of Mick Nick and the Maggies, adopted from the Ballymooney Bloodridon Murther by Bluechin Blackdillain (authorways ‘Big STorey’), featuring:

That’s all pretty straightforward by the standards of this book.  “Feenichts” = Phoenix – like the Park in dublin where HCE’s crime was committed, also Fee-nichts (German), i.e., free.  “Mick, Nick and the Maggies” means Shem, Shaun and ambiguously plural Issy.

The cast of characters is also a nice review of the principal motifs of the book so far –

“GLUGG (Mr. Seumas McQuillad)” – i.e., Shem the Penman (see the “quill”?)

“THE FLORAS (Girl Scouts fro St. Bride’s Finishing Establishment…), a month’s bunch of pretty maidens” (220).  I.e., Issy’s 28 sisters.

“IZOD (Missy Butys Pott… a bewitching blonde who dimples delightfully…)” – Issy, shifting towards Iseult.

“CHUFF (Mr. Sean O’Mailey)” – i.e., Shaun the Postman (note the “mail”)

“ANN (Miss Corrie Corriendo…)… their poor little old mother-in-lieu” – i.e., ALP

“HUMP (Mr. Makeall Gone…)… cap-a-pipe… the cause of all our grievances… having partially recovered from a recent impeachment” – HCE, but note that HCE has also morphed into a “cap-a-pipe”, though originally, he was spotted BY a “cad with a pipe.”  Like I said, as generations go along, the older ones get blurred.

“THE CUSTOMERS… a bundle of a dozen of representative locomotive civics…” (221) – the 12 jurors/12 regulars at HCE’s pub.

“SAUNDERSON (Mr. Knut Oelsvinger… )… unconcerned in the mystery but under the inflounce of the milldieuw and butt of KATE (Miss Rachel Lea Varian…)”

I’m confused about two these last two are.  I’m tempted to make them into members of the oldest generation (Finn and his wife?)  “Kate” has appeared as a name through earlier.  Or- they could be members of the as-yet-unintroduced LATER generation (the humans).  SAUNDERSON could be “Son of Shaun”, if we inserted an H.

“Time: the pressant” (221).  I have no explanation for the misspelling of “present.”

II.  Shem and Issy

Shem is “Glugg” through most of this chapter.  Glugg is taken by the sight of his sisters – “how pierceful in their sojectiveness were those first girly stirs… could not … Glugg … catch her by the calour of her brideness!” (222-223).  This leads to Shaun’s intersession – cast always as the noble defender of women’s honor – “Arrest thee, scaldbrother! came the evangelion, sabre accusant, from all Saint Joan’s Wood to kill or maim him” (223).

We hear echoes of I.7’s tale of Shem the Penman – “ah ho!  This poor Glugg!” (224).  He keeps pursuing the girls but keeps failing, and then eventually they declare a winner (sort of): “Ring we round, Chuff!” (225).

All the girls, except Issy, who is sad at Shem’s departure – “Poor Isa sits a glooming so gleaming in the gloaming” (226).  Tristan and Iseult is a common configuration for Shem and Issy.  Shem leaves “for carberry banishment care of Pencylmania, Bretish Armerica” (228).   Once here the writes songs and poetry about “the whole plighty troth between them, malady of milady made melodi of malodi, she… her knave arrant” (229).

III.  Confusing Intersection by HCE 

Some ambiguous crimes are committed in his exile, but “by Jove Chronides, Seed of Summ… he rehad himself… Mid esercizism?  So is richt” (231).  If I’m right about this whole generations thing, “Jove Chronides”, Jove son of Cronus, is HCE.  He “rehad” himself, i.e., Shem, and thereby, effectively, an exorcism has taken place.  Still, Shem remains in exile.

IV.  The Rule of Shaun

But, Sin Showpanza, could anybroddy which walked this world with eyes whiteopen have looked twinsomer than the kerl he left behind him?  Candidatus, viridosus, aurilucens, sinelab? (234)

“Sin Showpanza” = Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s sidekick (presumably Shem is Quixote himself).  “Twinsomer” = “twin who is hansomer” – “candidatus” means white, “viridosus” means “manly”, “aurilucens” means gold-shining (all in pseudo-Latin).  I have no idea what “sinelab” means.  That’s all indicative of Shaun’s presence – he’s without-sin, everyone’s favorite golden boy.

Under Shaun’s rule, the temptress girls are reconfigured as virginal priestesses – “hymnnumber twentynine.  O, the singing!  Happy little girlycums…” (234).  The incestual lust attendant in the earlier Shem/Issy subplot is sublimated into the purity of maidenhood of all her sisters.  They say a lengthy prayer to Shaun, and his age stretches on for eons (“the races have come and gone and Thhyme, that chef of seasoners, has made his usualy astewte use” – 236).

The connection between Shem and Joyce is made explicitly by Shaun being addressed as “dear sweet Stainusless” (Stanislaus being Joyce’s more professionally minded brother, here changed into “stain-us-less” – someone who doesn’t taint the sisters’ virginity).  They pray to his anti-Shem-ness – “unclean you art not.  outcaste thou art not.  Untouchable is not the scarecrown is on you.  You are pure.  You are pure.  You are in your puerity” (237).  Pure vs “puer” (Latin for boy) suggests that Shaun’s purity is just because he hasn’t reached maturity.

V.  Shem’s Return and a confusing Sex/Conflict Section

It begins somewhere around “These bright elects, consentconsorted, they were walzing up their willside with their princesom handsome angeline chiuff” (239).  They reassure themselves that “poor Glugger was dazed and late in his crave, ay he, laid in his grave” (240).  The slip tells all – he’s not “laid in his grave” he’s just “late in his crave.”  He hasn’t re-arrived yet to fulfill his “crave.”

“But low, boys low, he rises, shrivering, with his spittyful eyes and his whoozebecome woice” (240).  Shem rises out of a river and we’re back to a state of conflict.

Here’s another strange intercession by HCE and ALP – maybe we’re watching from the gods’ perspective for just a few pages?  They’re envisioned as “pesciolines in Liffeyetta’s bowl have stopped squiggling about” (245).  From the divine perspective, they’re just tiny fish in a fishbowl.

The all the ambiguous sexual violence begins – “she’ll prick you where you’re porudest with her unsatt spleagle eye” (248).

“With a ring dig dong, they raise clasped hands and advance more steps to retire to the saum” (249).

“Twice is he gone to quest of her, trhrice is she now to him.  So see we so as seed we sow” (250).

“Turning up and fingering over the most dantellising peaches in the lingerous longerous book of the dark” (251).  This last melds sex and reading, and Finnegans Wake itself – the “book of the dark” is a common critical extraction to summarize the feel of the whole of the book.

“Come, thrust!  Go, parry!  Dvoinabrathran, dare! The mad long ramp of manchind’s parlements, the learned lacklearning, merciless as wonderful” (252).

Through this section there is a brief reprise of HCE’s crime and arrest – “attach him!  Hold!” (255).

VI.  The End of the Play

“Home all go.  Halome.  Blare no more ramsblares, oddmund barkes!” (256).

We now see that “play” has a triple meaning.  Drama, children playing, and incest.  And because this last term is so intricately involved, sending the children “home” does little good.

Things come an end more formally on the next page:

The play thou schouwburgst, Game, here endeth.  The curtain drops by deep request” (257).

Things end on a calmer note – “Now have they children entered into their habitations… that thy children may read in the book of the opening of the mind to light and err not in the darkness which is the afterthought of thy nomatter” (258).

So the chapter seems to end in a prayer directed to HCE and ALP, the parents of the sons and daughters who have just filled the pages of this perhaps most confusing of chapters yet.

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One Response to Finnegans Wake – Book II Chapter 1

  1. Martin Møller says:

    Kate seems to be the maid of the house, she also appears to be the hen that found the letter.

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