‘It was of a night, a late, Lang time agone.’ (FW 21.5)
From page 21, line 5 to page 23, line 15, the ‘Wake’ takes an entertaining diversion into the tale of Jarl van Hoother and the prankquean (whilst, of course still really addressing the central relationships of HCE, ALP and their children). The tale is Joyce’s outlandish embellishment of the legend of 16th century Pirate Queen, ‘her madesty’ Grace, or Grainne, O’Malley, here portrayed as Adam’s ‘madameen’, first ‘ribberrobber’ (rib, river, robber). Although the story provides a basis for this distinctive passage of the ‘Wake’ it is at all points woven through with as many other connotative threads and references as we have come to expect.
I first read this passage unaware of the O’Malley legend, taking the tale as I found it, making of it what I could. As with many of the vast number of references in the book, learning about the source is not crucial to enjoyment of the work, but here it really does help to activate rich connective pattern across the text and so I recommend a little research into Grainne Ni Mhaille, Queen of Umaill, to enhance your enjoyment of the work. In this instance O’Malley’s historic entanglements with the Joyce clan also lends the tale a particular proximity to the author.
Joyce takes O’Malley’s visit to Howth Castle as the principle episode. She is discourteously denied hospitality, has the castle gates closed to her, provoking the kidnap Christopher St. Lawrence, Lord Howth’s heir. By incorporating a second kidnapping to the original legend, that of Hilary, another (fictional) male child, Joyce is able to align the tale with Shem and Shaun and their opposing qualities. The result is a ‘traditionally’ satisfying three-phase fairy tale narrative complete with rhythmic permutations of a ‘catchphrase’ question:
- ‘Mark the Wans, why do I am alook alike a poss of porterpease?’ (FW 21.18)
- ‘Mark the Twy, why do I am alook alike two poss of porterpease?’ (FW 22.5)
- ‘Mark the tris, why do I am alook alike three poss of porterpease? (FW 22.29)
And the chorus-like repetition of ‘she rain,rain,rain.’
Various waters run through the text here – a conflation of ‘wet’ and ‘wit’ as the strident O’Malley releases her retaliatory contempt, ‘making water’ against the rudely shut gates. There are tears, soapy wash water, rain, spit and drink. As counter to this, fire is also implied: ‘his burnt head high up in his lamp house’, ‘…she lit up and fireland was ablaze.’ (FW 21.9 and 21.16 -17).
The pathetically onanistic and insular Jarl van Hoother’s ineffectual, perhaps indifferent protests at the abductions conducted upon O’Malley’s first and second visits, give way to bodily and linguistic eruption upon her third. Her taunting question is silenced by his order, her contemptuous micturition abruptly countered by his ordure/order – a ‘thick spch spk’ followed by a violently flatulent and incontestable thunderword, the second uttered in the book (FW 23.4 – 7). And as we saw the re-discovery of language, writing and the development of print in the previous section of the Wake so we have now been given ‘…the first peace of illiteratise porthery in all the flamend floody flatuous world’.
So with van Hoother’s thunderous patriarchal command the ‘skirtmishes’ is ended, peace re-established and each is given their own. And a temporary equilibrium is brought to the city.