Last month’s post brought us to the end of ‘Book’ I ‘chapter’ 2, though Joyce didn’t designate the parts of Finnegans Wake as such. Before proceeding further into the text I think it would be useful to very briefly recap what may have happened so far:
In the first section of Finnegans Wake, I.1, we (re) entered book to find ourselves in an unstable estuarine landscape. Apparently by the River Liffey, somewhere near or in Dublin, we observed the footsteps of another’s re-arriving from across the sea (p.3.). No sooner were we introduced to this shifting vista than we dropped back in time to the catastrophe of a primal fall, presaging and including all falls (p.4.1 – 17). In the aftermath of this collapse and a promise of more peaceful times to come, we were then projected ‘toofarback’ in geographic space to the abode if the mythical master builder, Finnegan, and shown his demise, yet another fall (p.4.18 – 8.8). Wandering this anterior pastoral landscape we came across the ‘Willingdone Museyroom’, promptly to be ushered in for a guided tour. It became apparent that Finnegan had committed some mild indiscretion and this somehow became overlaid onto the Battle of Waterloo (and all battles) during our tour (p.8.9 – 10.23). Exiting the Museyroom we are introduced to a women servant / bird who has retrieved a letter of some on-going significance to the book, by scratching it up from a midden mound (p.10.24 – 12.17). We were then treated to another view of Finnegan’s corpse and provided with accounts of early Irish history.
In the murky post-lapsarian environment, still resounding with the last thunders of calamity, a modern metropolitan invites us to meet a primitive, possibly Neanderthal, with whom he attempts to hold some kind of discourse, struggling against their mutual shock-induced deafness and loss of language. With much difficulty and misunderstanding, Mutt and Jute discussed Irish conflicts and domestic affairs (p.15.28 – 18.16). More historical background followed, including accounts of the banishment of snakes by Patrick and the development of writing (p.18.17 – 21.4). This recounting of Irish history led to the ‘Tale of The Prankquean’, an incident based on the legend of Grace O’Malley (21.5 – 23.15) and back to the Wake of master builder Finnegan. Here, after prayers that this father figure should be allowed to rest in peace he miraculously wakes up, only to be assuaged back to ‘sleep’ by his mourners who announce ‘the coming man’ (24.16 – 29.36).
The next section of Finnegans Wake, I.2, referred to by some as ‘The Humphriad I’, concerned the generation and outlandish development of rumours about the figure HCE. It began with a picturesque account of how Earwicker acquired his name, given him by King William, and his nickname ‘Here Comes Everybody’, bestowed on him by the people (p.30 – 33.15). Favoured by the king, HCE rose in social status to the point where popular rumours began to undermine his reputation (p.33.14 – 34.29). There followed a strange and pivotal encounter between HCE and a Cad in Phoenix Park. In response to an apparently innocuous inquiry by the Cad about the time of day, HCE responded with a gratuitous and completely unnecessary declaration of his innocence (p.34.30 – 38.8). Once home, the Cad gossiped about the incident to his wife who duly passed it on to a priest, from whom it travelled to a layteacher, thence to a bookie and on to three vagrants. Plied with drink and egged on by the popular mood the vagrants composed and performed the slanderous ‘Ballad of Persse O’Reilley’ to all the working people of the city (38.9 – 47).
This brings us to the third section of the Wake, ‘Book’ I ‘chapter’ 3 (pp. 48 – 74), also known as ‘The Humphriad II’. This continues the account of the ‘persecution’ of HCE but as filmed, televised and broadcast from his perspective. Over pages 48 – 58 we find that various versions of the encounter with the Cad are still in circulation but time has taken its toll on both evidence and witnesses. All the balladeers and others involved have come to a sorry end. HCE’s reputation is in tatters, the gossipmongers have faded into obscurity, but the scandal lives on, retold and still provocative.
The opening couple of pages of this section, beginning literally in the foggy obscurity thickened air, take us into intimations of the future. A performance and cast of characters, troubadours and players implies the embedding of the rumour so far into popular culture that it has become the material for theatre and cinema etc. and the notion that it’s protagonists could live on potentially forever through generations of writers and actors. The names of the protagonists are as mutable as anything else in the Wake. Frosty Hosty, composer of the original ballad, over time becomes Osti-Fosti (p.48.19). His fate, and that of his fellow balladeers, is played out over subsequent pages. I’ve produced several drawings of pages 48 – 49 using my usual methods of close visual sketchbook notation directly from the text and larger charcoal drawing, again recording direct imaginative response. Also as per usual I have included some details along with the full drawings to indicate how they relate to specific passages.
My ‘Illuminating the Wake’ exhibition at DarcSpace Gallery, Dublin, has given me a great opportunity to air a selection the ‘Wake work’ I have produced over the past few years. The show has two aspects, one concerned with mapping the text and the drawing-as-reading process, and the other consisting of images generated by that process. It’s been very interesting for me to arrange the work in the space and hear the various reactions to it.
The exhibition ‘Illuminating the Wake’ continues at the DarcSpace Gallery, DarcSpace Gallery, 26 North Great George St., Dublin, up to and including Bloomsday and I am looking forward to giving a short talk about the work in the gallery at 1pm on Saturday 14th June as part of the James Joyce Centre Bloomsday week programme.