Such a loon werrabackwoods
THIS revised edition of Finnegans Wake, the first since its publication in 1939 and which contains no fewer than 9000 ‘‘ minor but crucial’’ amendments and corrections, is ‘‘ a thing of beauty and a joy forever’’. Or should I say ‘‘ a Joyce forever’’? I should not, as Finnegans Wake advises us to ‘‘ Shun the Punman’’, itself a pun on one of its central characters, Shaun the Penman.
The year 1939 was indeed an annus mirabilis, seeing the publication of two Irish masterpieces, Finnegans Wake and Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the outbreak of World War II and the birth of your humble reviewer. Truly a four-leaf clover.
Samuel Beckett insisted James Joyce’s ‘‘ writing is not about something; it is that something itself’’. That adjuration notwithstanding, those who want some idea of what Finnegans Wake is about might go to The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (though whether Joyce’s book is in English is open to debate) and read: Puns, verbal compounds, and foreign words are combined with allusions from every conceivable source to create an obscure and densely structured text. Its aim is to relate the minimal central story to a much wider historical, psychological, religious and artistic cosmology, a procedure that has been likened to that of medieval allegory. On a literal level, the novel presents the dreams of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (a Dublin tavernkeeper) and his family (wife Anna, their sons Shem and Shaun, and daughter Isabel) as they lie asleep through one night. The title is itself a compound of Finn MaCool, the Irish folk hero who is supposed to return to life at some future