(1939) The last and most revolutionary experimental novel by James Joyce. It is almost inaccessible to readers who have not done some special study; a great many volumes of explication have been published since the novel's first, controversial appearance. The main difficulty is in the language. Joyce uses an elaborate language of his own devising, made up of puns, portmanteau words, and words from foreign languages, with endless philological variations. He incorporates literary, historical, and philosophical allusions; names of people and places in Dublin; Irish references; slang; phrases from newspapers, popular songs, art, and the world of sport; and words and syllables from every other imaginable source. By means of this complex language and its rich connotations, Joyce is able to relate his slight, rather obscure central story to the whole historic, psychological, religious, and artistic experience of mankind. Critics relate Joyce 's difficult linguistic method to the scholasticism he encountered during his strict Catholic education, and his presentation of different levels of meaning simultaneously to the influence of medieval allegory.
Most literally, the novel presents the dreams and nightmares of H. C. Earwicker and his family as they lie asleep at night. Their anxieties, secret thoughts, unexpressed desires, and the events of the past day recur in their minds. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, a Protestant Irishman of Scandinavian descent (and thus, like Bloom of Ulysses, an outsider) is the middle - aged keeper of a tavern in Dublin. He has a wife, Anna, and three children: Isobel, a daughter now in her teens, and twin sons, Kevin and Jerry. At some time in the past Earwicker has accosted someone in Phoenix Park, but it is never made clear whether this was a young girl or a man; he still feels guilty and fears investigation by the authorities. In his dream Earwicker's personal guilt is related to various religious taboos and legends, and he is associated with Lucifer, Adam, Humpty Dumpty, and other figures. Another sexual taboo and guilt complex in Earwicker's dream concerns his daughter, Isobel, whom he substitutes as a love object for his wife; however, to avoid incest he transforms her into Iseult the Fair and himself into Tristram. He also imagines himself as Jonathan Swift, the Irish writer who loved two women. Because of the similarity in names, Earwicker is also associated with carwigs (see Persse O'Reilly ). Earwicker represents Everyman and general maleness. His initials, HCE, are interwoven throughout the book, particularly in the recurrent phrases Here Comes Everybody and Haveth Childer Everywhere. Anna, his wife, like Molly Bloom of
Ulysses, represents the universal feminine principle, and becomes identified with the River Liffey, personified in the novel as Anna Livia Plurabelle. The Anna Livia Plurabelle sections are among the most remarkable in the novel, being triumphs of Joyce's poetic prose. Eventually all the women in the novel merge into this figure as the river merges into the sea. Earwicker 's two sons are complementary opposites. Jerry, who appears as Shem the Penman, is a rebellious, introverted artist of the type of Stephen Dedalus, and Kevin, or Shaun the Postman, is a man of action and an average, extroverted citizen.
In structure the novel is entirely circular, ending in an unfinished sentence that is completed by a half sentence at the beginning. The history of mankind and the river - to - sea progression of time and individual life are also seen as circular. In Christian thought the fall of man is followed by the resurrection; Earwicker's mysterious misdeed took place in Phoenix Park, and the title of the novel refers both to the Irish hero Finn MacCool (see Fionn mac
Cumhail ), who was supposed to return to life someday to be the savior of Ireland, and to Tim Finnegan, the hero of a music hall ballad about a man who jumped up indignantly in the middle of his own wake. Joyce used the ideas of cyclical repetition of Giambattista Vico; Freud's dream psychology; Jung's theory of a collective unconscious; and Giordano Bruno's theory of the complementary but conflicting nature of opposites (Shem and Shaun).
Joyce began writing Finnegans Wake in 1922. During the seventeen years of its composition the novel was known as Work in Progress, and several parts of it were published separately as they were completed; the whole work was revised before publication.