After a ‘canoodling’ interlude, discussed in my previous post, inquiries into Earwicker’s conduct resume. In an evocative alignment of two forms of container, questions are raised concerning the missing letter and the stolen coffin. We have a policeman’s court account of HCE’s notorious encounter with the Cad, followed by a section about the two girls involved in the ambiguous voyeurism incident in Phoenix Park and possibly a case of blackmail (66.7 – 67.27 and 67.28 – 69.4).
References to many Wakean elements with which we are already familiar are densely subsumed into the passage concerning the letter (66.10 – 27) and these continue in one form or another throughout the book. There is the nebulous yet minutely analysed letter itself. Its many aspects include the implication of it being a representation of Finnegans Wake itself. And to ensure deliver of the letter there is the postal system and the postman himself with his huge, mythical postbag, yet another symbolic container. Shaun the Post walks backward through the night to meet the inevitable morning, fulfilling his own strange and fateful deliverance. This idea had a particular resonance for me from my earliest readings of and about the Wake and it has been the subject of several of my exploratory drawings and prints. This rewinding of the delivery of the letter as a counter flow or counter current to the ‘forward’ momentum of the text as it is read offers a fascinating counter-intuitive depiction of communication itself, which always only really starts with the reception of the message.
The notion of confessional, accusatory or revelatory writing as ‘washing dirty laundry in public’ appears again here, on its way to its more complete emergence between the washers at the ford in Chapter VIII. The futility of attempts to suppress, under layers of diversionary double talk, displacement and various forms of covering, all the uncomfortable truths which are carried along in the current of words is, self-referentially related here, as is their inevitable uncovering, represented by the pecking and scratching of ‘Cox’s wife…Mrs. Hahn’, who we have previously encountered as Biddy the Hen.
The coffin, represented as something almost theatrically tricky, with a capacity to deceive underscored by the word ‘tristinguish’, is ‘a triumph of the illusionist’s art’ and appears to resemble several things at once. ‘Tristinguish’ attaches it to narratives of betrayal and deceit running throughout the Wake, but also to ambiguities and confusions around the condition of death of the kind introduced by Finnegan’s fall and resurrection. The passage moves with strange swiftness from funereal to nuptial matters with mention of bride and groom, and suggestions of marriage and wedding nights, ending yet again in the familiar juxtaposition of sex and death.
In the heightened courtroom atmosphere an experienced and upstanding police officer, Long Lally Tobkids, or ‘Lolly’, gives an account of an incident which happened ‘last epening’ and which seems to relate the unexpected reaction of the perpetrator to the constable’s approach, imputations and challenge. The officer evokes but does not explicitly describe Earwicker’s encounter with the Cad. This account itself then appears to be challenged in court. layers of portmanteau vocabulary depict the chemistry of the charged atmosphere of the court and there are some neat associations of vision, witnessing, testifying and perceptions about the essential nature of the police force.
In the section concerning the girls, ‘those rushy hollow heroines’, the incident referred to is the highly ambiguous voyeuristic situation in Phoenix Park involving HCE, two young girls possibly relieving themselves, and three soldiers who happen to have been present. Who exactly is doing what is never clear but some kind of sexually charged scopic moment has occurred about which HCE feels the need to protest his innocence. The central topic of this passage seems to be the alleged effects of the incident on the girls. One girl appears to have attempted suicide and the other to have been corrupted into a life of promiscuity. The passage is threaded with sex and sexual politics (not least around the notions of the kind of teasing provocation so often used to displace blame in cases of sexual impropriety or violence) culminating in the idea of blackmail as a historically predictable ploy used by the offended against those with reputations who have, after all, in their eyes sinned. Interestingly the final lines give an impression of a bucolic, possibly Arcadian setting, and are delivered with what could be taken as a pantomimed, androgenic, lisping voice. In ‘…fain for wilde erthe blothoms’ we find ‘while earth blossoms’, Oscar Wilde, Shakespear’s character Bottom (himself the butt of a joke and victim of sexually charged mischievous transformations), and also a ‘blot’ inside the idyllic ‘blossom’.