I believe this is the longest single chapter of Finnegans Wake – coming in at 73 pages. There being a massive snowstorm in Chicago, however, I had nothing else to do really. 73 pages took me about 3 hours to read. Even so, it was easier to read than the preceding chapter. I was glad to see that in Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson’s A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, a book I’m reading AFTER blogging about each chapter, they declared II.2 “perhaps the most difficult in the book.” Also, at one point, they more or less admit that they don’t exactly believe their own interpretation, given the difficulty they had in establishing a firm relationship between the text, the footnotes and the two sets of side-notes. But I digress.
II.3 is a more straightforward linear narrative, with one large interruption in the middle. Its structure is best defined as A-B-A. A = progressively more drunken conversation in HCE/ALP’s bar/boat; B = televised (or perhaps radio) coverage of the story of Buckley and the assassination of the Russian general. After the end of that, we come back to the bar/boat for more and more confused, less paragraphed drunken conversation.
I. The Initial Conversation
The conversationalists are (so far as I can tell) a group of twelve patrons at the bar, plus ALP as the bartender. The topic of their conversation, naturally enough, is HCE and the fall. But now the fall is a very literal one – HCE, because somebody stole some of the wood in he steps, tripped and fell down a flight of stairs.
The guests are often identified by lists of twelve items, like jurors, disciplines, months or days of Christmas:
For the people of the shed are the sure ads of all quorum. Lorimers and leathersellers, skinners and salters, pewterers and paperstainers, parishclerks, fletcherbowyers, girdlers, mercers, cordwainers and first, and not last, the weavers. Our library he is hoping to ye public (312-313).
In addition to a “library,” the setting also seems to be a pub and a boat of some sort. The main reason for my thinking here is the number of alcoholic and nautical references here.
The tale of the fall is easy enough to read:
the dyfflun’s kiddy removed the planks they were wanted, boob.
– Did do a dive, aped one.
– Propellopalombarouter, based two.
– Rutsch is for rutterman his roe, seed three. Where the muddies scrimm ball. Bimbim bimbim. And the maidies scream all. Himhim himhim (314).
Note that in this telling, it’s not a quasi-sexual crime against “the maidies.” HCE falls, and the “three” see it, and then the women scream about it. The crowd becomes worried (“whad ababs his dopter?”), but then it seems to me HCE is fine and opens the bar for business: (“Good marrams, sagd he”).
Even so, the next pages are filled with more rumormongering about HCE’s indiscretions. During these pages, he’s represented as an explorer (“Shackleton Sulten!” (317) on a journey “as the baffling yarn sailed in circles” (320). While stories of HCE/ALP’s adventures multiply, at some point the inevitable pattern reasserts itself:
Thus street spins legends while wharves woves tales but some family fewd felt a nick in their name (330).
As this theme takes root, we hear that
Bullyclubber burgherly shut the rush in general (335).
To be fair, if I hadn’t read various essays about this book over the years, I would not have noticed the introduction of this theme, given that it relies on an accented reading (“shut” = “shot”) and a pun (“rush in” = “Russian”) but once you see it, it’s hard to ignore.
II. Buckley and the Russian General
The chatter at the bar continues as an unexpected guest walks in: “who the bullocks brought you here and how the hillocks are ye?” (337). Then things quickly transform into a trial, as the 12 patrons of the bar become twelve members of a jury.
… Order, order, order order! And tough. We call on Tancred Artaxerxes Flavin to compeer with Barnabas Ulick Dunne. Order, order order! Milster Malster in the chair. We’ve heart it sinse sung thousandtimes. How Burghley shuck the rackushant Germanon. For Ehren, boys, gobrawl! (337-338).
Then we get a stage-direction-y looking line:
A public plouse. Citizen soldiers.
Then a dialogue between TAFF and BUTT. I presumed these two were Shaun and Shem, but I had a lot of trouble making a determination and which was which. In fact, before writing this I went for a 30-minute walk, and one of the questions I thought about was – which one is Shem? The descriptions made it tough to tell; perhaps it is even meant to be unclear. At any rate, they bicker for many pages during this “trial,” and a lot of their bickering is overlaid with Russian and Japanese puns that I can tell are there but don’t know what they mean. This has something to do with the Russo-Japanese war and also with the Crimean war. I also wonder whether “Buckley” is a historical figure, but I’m resisting the urge to Google it before I write the rest of this.
Interrupting the bickering from time to time is the voice of a TV/radio announcer, often including advertisements, first on 341:
[Up to this curckscraw bind an admirable verbivocovisual presentment of the worldrenounced Carholme Event has been being given by The Irish Race and World. The huddled and aliven stablecrashers have shared fleetfooted enthusiasm with the paddocks dare and ditches tare while the news was coming ground…]
Eventually Butt confesses:
We insurrectioned and, be the procuratress of the hory synnotts, before he could tell pullyirragun to parrylewis, I shuttm, missus, like a wide sleever! Hump to dump! Tumbleheaver! (352).
Just that “Hump” confirms for the reader that The Russian general is just another incarnation of HCE, and presuming that Butt is either Shem or Shaun (I leaned towards Shem most of the time), then this is not just a murder, it is a parricide. In fact, it’s a fairly direct (by the standards of the book anyway) retelling of the Oedipus story. A man confused about his own identity kills his father unaware.
The text becomes relatively chaotic at this point (Butt repeatedly expresses great excitement at having committed this act) – one great phrase of the TV announcer mentions “the abnihilisation of the etym” – “etym” meaning “atom” and also “etymology.”
As this digression moves to a close, the “etym” is rejoined, as “BUTT AND TAFF… now one and the same person, their fight upheld to right…samuraised twimbs” (354) exit the stage.
III. Return to the Pub
Shutmup. And bud did down well right. And if he sung dumb in his glass darkly speech lit face to face on allaround (355).
Rumor-mongering about HCE resumes, and soon it’s time to eat: “Soups on!” (356). The four scholars’ voices butt in here a bit. Then ALP begins to defend HCE and her family, as water imagery sets in, either from the boat sailing way, a flood coming, everyone getting more and more drunk, or all of the above. Along the way we do learn, that, as back in I.3, HCE is safe and sound still: “he, that hun of a horde, is a finn as she, his tent wife, is a lap, at home on a steed, abroad by the fire” (362).
ALP spends some time muttering about the various Shem/Shaun incarnations, like the Mookes and the Gripes (now “Mucias and Gracias” (364), or “Marx and their Groups” (365)), and also talking about her “little love apprencisses, my dears, the estelles, van Nessies von Vixies von der pool”, i.e., ambiguously plural Issy.
The four scholars make a more definite appearance – “Our four avunculusts” (367), and along with the jury, engage in some fact-finding that grows less and less firm as ALP’s water-language takes over – “The humming, it’s coming. Insway onsway” 371).
The final pages become more and more flowing as both water and drunkenness take over -“Cut it down, makes, look slippy! They’ve got a dathe with a swimminpull” (377). At last, the story shifts to talking about HCE and his plans for cleaning up the bar as they’re all going home:
… what did he do, poor old Roderick O’Conor Rex, the auspicious waterproof monarch of all Ireland, when he found himself all alone by himself in his grand old handwedown pile after all of them had gone off with themselves to their castles of mud… he just went heeltapping through the winsplith and weevily popcorks that wer ekneedeep round his own right royal round rollicking toper’s table… thruming through all to himself and with diversed tonguesed through his old tears and his ould plaised drawl… (380-381).
He drinks their dregs of course:
was left by the lazy lousers of maltknights and beerchurls in the different bottoms of the various different replenquished drinking utensils left there behind them on the premisses by that whole hogsheaded firkin family… of several different quantities and qualities amounting in all to, I should say, considerably more than the better part of a gill or naggin of imperial dry and liquid measure… (381-382).
The nautical imagery finishes things out:
So sailed the stout ship Nansy Hans. From Liff away. For Nattenlaender. As who has come returns. Farvel, farerne! Goodbark, goodbye! Now follow we out by Starloe! (382).
This chapter lies at the center of the book, and Buckley and the Russian general, the parricide of HCE by Shem/Shaun (who previously had only destroyed HCE’s reputation by writing and singing about him) seems central to the book as a whole.