Happy Birthday Finnegans Wake


On this day in 1939, James Joyce’s final book, Finnegans Wake, was published. A dense, complex book, that more people have started than finished, Finnegans Wake is a novel of the “night,” as Joyce said, full of dream language that, well, is hard to follow. You need to be armed with patience, dictionaries, and books of annotations to read it, but it is, in spite of these hurdles, an enjoyable book.

Here’s how it begins:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passen
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.

The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonn
thunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the off wall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

I know this may not tempt you too much, but if you’re interested, why don’t you buy a copy and try it out?

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2 replies
  1. will friedwald says:

    you raise an interesting point – like a lot of people, I’ve never gotten beyond DUBLINERS as far as Joyce goes – but since FINNEGANS requires dictionaries and other guide books, what are the chances that someone will prepare an electronically annotated version in eBook (or other form)? Is there such a thing? If you’re reading it on an iPad or a kindle, possibly every time that a confusing phrase occurs (and there are dozens in the first three grafs alone, as you’ve shown) could they not be explained there and then via a hyperlink of some kind? eBooks could make Joyce all the more accessible – of course they could also take all the fun out as well…


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