There's no doubt that Finnegans Wake is a difficult and complex work. The difficulty begins with the title itself. Note the absence of an apostrophe. That means that it's not a possessive, i.e., it's not about the wake of someone named Finnegan. The first word is a plural noun, which means the second is a verb, so it's an imperative that tells Finnegans to wake.
Now at this point everyone is scratching their head and groaning, so I'm not going to try and do a detailed analysis. One very good reason for that is that I read for pleasure, and I didn't try to analyze the book as I went along. Another, perhaps even better reason, is that while parts of it are fun, there's a great amount of it that I don't understand.
So what I'm going to do is comment on a few passages, and perhaps list some of the better puns that occur in the book.
Lets take a look at the opening:
"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." Now this looks downright impenetrable, so lets take a look at some of the words:
“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.”*
* Finnegans Wake, 3.
- riverrun—the course of the river;
- Eve and Adam's—a church known as Adam and Eve;
- commodius—fitting, possible reference to the Roman Emperor Commodus;
- vicus—reference to the philosopher Giambattista Vico;
- North Armorica—Armorica, region in France, also reference to North America;
- penisolate—peninsula, a reference to Wellington's campaign, also, though I haven't seen any comment on this, possibly "pen-i-so-late," which would reflect an isolated writer, or "pe-nis-o-late," reflecting sexual themes.
The primary characters are Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE) and his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), as well as their children Shem, Shaun, and Issy. HCE and ALP recur frequently in the book in various forms. Some of those recurrences are listed below. There are also a number of puns, in fact almost every page has one or more puns on it. Some of those are also listed. (In the list that follows I've given page and line number. However, since I counted the line numbers by hand, those should be regarded as approximate.)
- honey is the holiest thing ever was, hive, comb and earwax, 25.
- annie lawrie promises 38.21
- Encourage Hackney Plate 39.5-6
- appy, leppy and playable, 41.23
- all listened to their plause 93.23-4
- the analists 95.27—pun on analyst and analist
- beetly dead 100.1— cf. Ulysses and Buck Mulligan's comment about Daedalus's mother
- bisexcycle 115.16
- yung and easily freudened, 115.22-3—pun on Jung and Freud
- a ghimel pass through the eye of an iota 120.27-8—pun involving the Hebrew letter gimel (ℷ), the word camel, the Greek letter iota (ɩ), as well as an allusion to Matt. 19:24
- Sainte Andrée's Undershift 147.27-8—Major Barbara reference
- Eden Quay 172.16
- Usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles 179.25-6—allusion to Ulysses
- pelagisarist pen 182.3—Pelagius + plagiarist
- Esturian Catholic Heathen 215.19
- Psing a psalm of psexpeans,
apocryphul of rhyme! 242.29-30—Popular children's rhyme, but psexed up a bit. Some religious allusion too.
apocryphal,referring to what are called the deuterocanonical books of the Bible.
- Two genitalmen of Veruno 569.31—pun on the Shakespeare play. It should be noted that the play, though nominally a comedy, does have one character who proposes to rape a girl.
- Tyronte power 569.33—pun on tyrant and Tyrone. A reference to the movie star Tyrone Power.
- Dutch Schulds 602.25—American gangster. His last words have sometimes been regarded as an unconscious parody of Ulysses. They can be found in Dwight MacDonald's volume Parodies.
- — Three quarks for Muster Mark!
- Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
- And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
- But O, Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn't un be a sky of a lark
- To see that old buzzard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark
- And he hunting round for uns speckled trousers around by Palmer-
- stown Park?
- Hohohoho, moulty Mark!
- You're the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah's ark
- And you think you're cock of the wark.
- Fowls, up! Tristy's the spry young spark
- That'll tread her and wed her and bed her and red her
- Without ever winking the tail of a feather
- And that's how that chap's going to make his money and mark!
Next up, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.