I'm Reading Finnegans Wake. HELP!

browserrun, past Ed and Cecil’s, from iis of server to linux of desktop, brings me by enticing verbiage poetrymeat back to Cafe Society and Environs.

I’m up to page 9 (check it out on Finnegans Web) and I am enjoying some of the wordplay at a superficial level, but I fear I’m not fully `getting’ the thing. I fear I’m just letting the words ring in my head like so many bells, oozing forth sounds evocative of long poems and Emacs’ dissociated-press.

No, I’m not doing this for a class. Or for a work. I’m doing it for myself and my love of English-language (or closenough-language) literature. Is there any hope for my comprehension, seeing as I’m going it alone? Do I need a psychopomp or a native guide to cut through the thick alliterative allusional illusions? Does it even make sense in the first place?

Well, it’s fun. :slight_smile:

Mind your hats goan in!

First of all, don’t panic. Just read through and stop and ponder any parts that particularly strike you. There are some great puns very early on in the book. I like the “oystrygods gaggin fishygods” and the Pentateuch puns on page 2. You won’t get everything this way, of course, but I’m not sure anyone’s got everything.

Secondly, you can always try asking questions here. There are a few of us who’ve read it, I think.

I wouldn’t worry too much about “getting” it. In high literary circles, the jury’s still pretty much out as to what’s there to get anyway.

I’d suggest you peruse instead of read it: as Jabba suggested, just let the words swirl in your head. You’ll probably find certain phrases that will stick in your mind far, far more strongly than “It’s a Small World After All” could ever hope to.

I suspect AnnaLivia will come through here before too long as well.

In the mean time, enjoy the book. And if you enjoy it enough, you can reJoyce later.

(By the way, page 9 is further than I ever got in an attempt to read it straight through.)

You will never get all of, so don’t even try. Besides, that’s not really the point.

It took seventeen years to write; it should take at least as long to read. Read it in snippets; accumulate it over a lifetime, rather than trying to “read” it in one sitting. As you mature and accumulate experiences, old passages will come to have new meanings. It’s a rorschach book; it’s not the same experience for any two people. Think of it as the river than no one can step in twice: each time you dip, you’re a different person.

On a practical level, learn to read it as music more than words; hear it as well as see it.

Mostly, have fun, even if you have to force yourself; don’t think of it as homework.

I recommend you read Joseph Campbell’s brilliant analysis of Finnegan’s Wake in his book Modern Worlds, Modern Words and A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake,. which is considered a basic text of Joyce criticism.

Try reading it out loud. It may not make any more sense, but it helped me. Plus, it’s fun to say.

Well, I’m doing it right after all! :smiley: I have been reading it as poetry, to the point of subtly speaking it under my breath. I never read to myself without reason (I can even read Sandburg in silence), so I think I’ve been going about it the right way.

And if I should take years in the reading, I guess I’ll have to shell out for a copy of my own. Re-renting it from a library won’t cut it. :wink:

It’s a pity. The library’s copy is a nice hardcover. I shall have to find a hardcover of my own. (The last hardcover I bought was Volume I of Knuth. I don’t usually spend that much on one book.) And I’ll probably buy the commentary as well. Maybe Christmas…

Yes, this could be real fun. :slight_smile:

oooooh, James Joyce and Finnegan’s Wake. Some of my favorite quotes come from there. Here are my favorites:


“[…] there’s that gnarlybird ygathering, a runalittle, doalittle, preealittle, pouralittle, wipealittle, kicksalittle, severalittle, eatalittle, whinealittle, kenalittle, helfalittle, pelfalittle gnarlybird.” (say this one outloud!)

… and though not from Finnegan’s Wake, but from Dubliners
" ‘Well, Tommy,’ he said, `I wish you and yours every joy in life, old chap, and tons of money, and may you never die till I shoot you. And that’s the wish of a sincere friend, an old friend. You know that?’ "

In short, me and a friend decided that James Joyce was a nutball.

Oh, and one last thing, you might find it easier to read by going to this site here.


The Penguin UK edition has an excellent introduction that explains the plot. After years of not getting anything, I read the introduction and then moved relatively smoothly through the first fifty or so pages of the book. However, I subsequently stopped because I feel I should learn a few more languages to get all of the word-games.

In any event, it really pisses me off when people say that the Wake has no meaning and is pure nonsense (like Joyce’s brother, for example). While it is admittedly impenetrable to most readers, the details of its plot have been known for decades and the crazy language is not the main object of study of the work nowadays.


Here Comes Everybody!

The best advice I have for FW is to laugh. If it’s funny, by all means, laugh. If it sounds dirty, it probably is. My man Jimmy laughed himself sick writing it.

It’s good for more than one read, too, so don’t worry your head about getting everything the first time. I great thing to help is actually getting the clip of Joyce reading the washerwomen. If you can read long periods of the book in that thick, artificially enhanced ‘Dublinese’ aloud, it helps a great deal. Go with the sounds.

Watch for variations of characters. Technically, I’m really the Hannah Levy incarnation.

And why would anyone ever think I’d enter this thread? ;j

Just because I’m taking my MLitt in Irish studies, been to my share of Bloomsdays…


Mind your shoes goan out!

I knew you’d show up, Plurabelle. Joygrantit!

I used to use the thunderclaps as my sigline, but there were too many complaints about non-breaking textlines and breaking browser windows.

this is nat language in any sinse of the world

The major male character is Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker ( though he may really be Mr Porter). He appears regularly in the book as HCE, that is words beginning with those letters. In the first paragraph he is Howth Castle and Environs; on page 4, he is the “man of hod, cement and edifices”; on page 6, “he calmly extensolies”, and so on.

His wife is Anna Livia Plurabelle, and she makes her own regular appearances. On page 4, there is “addle liddle phifie”, on page 7 we get them both with hic cubat edilis. Apud libertinam parvulam, and so on.

Keep an eye out for them both as you read.

You know what’s so daunting to those who read these threads w/o reading the book, especially FW?

The fact that all the examples so far have been from the first ten pages (whenever noted, that is.) Makes the layman wonder what page 157 is like. :eek:


Ah, no.

You’ll love it just as much when you get to the Venn diagram. Educating Issy is a fun business. (Issy, Shem and Shaun are ALP and HCE’s children.)
If you really want to be “in the know,” don’t refer to page number.
In fact, that’s the solution if you’re using a guidebook- it’ll be the way that most of them are keyed up to the text. Go by book and line number.

Also check out Jorn Barger’s Joyce Portal

It’s your one-stop Sunny Jim shopping spot.


I have nothing to add to this, since I think F.W. is so much verbal masturbation (and I’m a philistine), other than that the store where I used to buy my beer is mentioned in the book.