Finnegans Wake – Book II Chapter 4

After the 70+ page penultimate chapter of book II, its final entry is only 15 pages.  The drunken carousing and the tale of Buckley and the Russian general subside, and everyone in the family goes to bed.  We’re left with (mostly) the four old commentators (here as the four gospel authors, and, I think, the four parts of a Christian service).  What they’re talking about is less clear, though as I inadvertently caught a glimpse of the editor’s Table of Contents in my edition, it said something about “the four” observing “their lovemaking.”  That seems reasonable enough.  There are lots of word-patterns associated with all five members of the family, so I do not really know who’s making love with whom.  The story of Tristan and Iseult lingers in the background, which suggests Shem, Shaun and Issy.

I divide the chapter into five sections – introduction, Johnny/gathering, Marcus/word, Lucas/meal, Matt/sending.  The four gospel-authors’ nicknames appear relatively clearly, as the start to paragraphs (on pp. 386, 388, 390 and 393, respectively).  The phases of Christian worship are not explicitly marked on the text, but there are references to those parts within the four named sections, and at this point in he book, a confused religious service seems right for the mood.  The book of the parents and the book of the children draws to an end, and so in the twilight of the history of those first two sections, we get worship, conducted by the four.

I.  Introduction

I had trouble fixating a lot on what the meaning of this section was.  There is a lot of chatter about the four, starting right from the chapter’s first line (also the line which led to the naming of series of subatomic particles):

Three quarks for Muster Mark! (383)

We also get introduced to a predominating theme:

All the birds of the sea they trolled out rightbold when they smacked the big kuss of Trustan with Usolde.

Birds are sign of the holy spirit of the Christian trinity; “Tristan and Isolde” is a more pagan European folktale.  We hear that the four were “listening in, as hard as they could.”

II.  “Johnny”/Gathering

Look how this paragraph starts:

Johnny.  Ah well, sure, that’s the way (up) and it so happen there was poor Matt Gregory (up), their pater familias, and (up) the oterhs and now really and (up) truly they were four dear old heladies and really they looked awfully pretty and so nice and bespectable… (386)

The “up” refers both to the upstairs of HCE’s household, as well as an usher leading people into church in their Sunday best (“really they looked awfully pretty”).  There’s more chitchat about the family – “And mild aunt Liza is as loose as her neese” (388).

III.  “Marcus”/Word

During the “Word” phase of a service, there is Bible reading, and then a sermon.  I don’t have a real strong claim to there being a sermon going on here, except a wandering voice that sounds somewhat priestly: “And now, that reminds me, not to forget the four of the Welsh waves, leaping laughing, in their Lumbag Walk… they were all sumarily divorced” (390) – like a priest who doesn’t know when to stop his sermon.

IV.  “Lucas”/Meal

This section includes lots of discussion of HCE’s crime – “old chronometer, all persecuted with ally croaker by everybody, by decree absolute, through Herrinslide, because he forgot himself, making wind and water, and made a Neptune’s mess of all of himself” (391).  This somewhat echoes the benediction read by clergy as communion the bread and wine is consecrated.  “On he night he was betrayed, he said take and eat, this is my body…” sort of thing.  As the “Lucas” section ends, we get: “and so now pass the loaf for Christ sake.  Amen.  And so.  And all” (393).

V.  “Matt”/Sending

Sending wraps up the service – it’s what “mass” is named for (“missa” in Latin meaning “sending”).  After a lot more talk about the family we get “Alris!” (396), a deformed “All rise” which happens towards the end of a service.  There’s a lot of talk about Issy in this section “a firstclass pair of bedroom eyes, of most unhomy blue” (396) – blue being a color associated with the Virgin Mary.  Things draw to a close with something that looks like a hymn:

Anno Domini nostri sancti Jesu Christi

Nine hundred andninetynine million pound sterling… (398)

ending with:

Its pith is full.  The way is free.  Their lot is cast.

So, to john for a john, johnajeams, led it be! (399)

John starts to feel like Shaun, and Book III is, among other things, the book of “Shaun the Post” (post here meaning “after” not just “mailman”).  Shaun is the stable worldly authority that works most through repression and “civilizing” force.



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