In December 2018 the James Joyce Centre Research Scholar and author of Ulysses Unbound Terence Killeen held a lecture exploring the final 10 pages of Finnegans Wake, the monologue of Anna Livia as she approaches her end. Due to popular demand and with Terence Killeen’s permission, we are publishing the full text of the lecture below. The copyright of text rests with the author. No part of this lecture may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, nor may it be performed in public, without the prior permission in writing of the author.
For permission to use or reproduce any part of the lecture, please contact the James Joyce Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna’s Adieu: The End of Finnegans Wake
by Terence Killeen
The section of Finnegans Wake I am going to embark on here is probably the most studied and the most discussed of all, partly because it comes at the very end of the book (which of course has no end) and partly because it’s by some measure the most accessible. I am not tonight going to bring anything new to the party: I just wish to highlight a few aspects that may perhaps enhance our appreciation of this powerful text.
Before that, though, I need to outline in some little detail what actually happens in this section, which starts on page 619 and continues to the end of the book on page 628. (Except where otherwise indicated, all quotations come from this passage.) There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this part of the book is in the voice of Anna Livia, wife of the hero of Finnegans Wake, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, better known as HCE. Characteristically, we are not explicitly told this, but, as with Molly Bloom, there is more than enough circumstantial evidence in the content of what she says to confirm this inference. I will come to some of that shortly.
In fact, the voice of Anna Livia is very rarely heard prior to this throughout Finnegans Wake. The chapter devoted to Anna Livia, Part I, Chapter 8, is not told in her voice but in those of the two washerwomen who dominate that episode. They talk about her all the time, but she does not speak herself. The one exception in the chapter is the short verse on page 201: that is indeed Anna’s verse, and in Anna’s voice, and most interesting it is: but it is only 16 lines long, and does not give much of a sample of Anna’s own idiom.
Similarly, Part I Chapter 5, which is all about Anna’s letter, which is explicitly ascribed to her, is most definitely “narrated” by a male figure and her voice is not heard at all.
A section where Anna does appear to speak in her own person starts on page 492: here the voice is channelled through that of Shaun, or Yawn, who is being interrogated in a kind of séance or trance by the four old men. This may account for the fact that the voice in this passage does not sound much like that of the Anna of these closing pages with which we are concerned, though some of the content does.
Again, the section just before the one with which we’ll be dealing, the section known as the Revered Letter, starting on page 615, also comes from Anna, and it is reasonable to assume that the frequent earlier citations from the letter are also Anna’s. This version of Anna’s famous letter was actually written very early on in the book’s composition, and was then put aside for many years, before eventually ending up as the second last section of the book. That it is Anna’s work is not in doubt: apart from anything else it is fictionally “signed” “Alma Luvia, Pollabella.” (619) The content is certainly “Annaesque”: as is frequently case in the earlier citations, this fuller version of the letter includes the vilification of her husband’s enemies and praise of his alleged finer qualities that we are already accustomed to. A line such as “That was the prick of the spindle to me that gave me the keys to dreamland.” (615) could certainly fit into the last section that we are going to look at, as could several others. (In fact, though, to turn textual for just a moment, that line and others to do with pantomimes and fairytales, were added very much later, clearly to bring this second-last section more closely into line with the last, the one we are focusing on here.)
On the other hand, though, the writer or speaker of the letter frequently uses the pronoun “we”, for some reason, e.g. “That we were treated not very grand” or “our talks are coming to be resumed”. This use of the royal “we”, if that is what it is – perhaps it refers to her and her husband – certainly creates a strangely distancing effect that is very hard to reconcile with the intimate, intensely personal quality of the voice we are about to hear.
There are several ways of accounting for the differences between the various versions of Anna that I have described – and it is worth repeating that the sample is really very small given the size of the book. Perhaps, for one obvious thing, it is just a mistake to expect consistency of character and idiom in different manifestations of a given figure in this work. Or perhaps we should think of Anna’s manifestations as involving different layers of her personality, which is why these manifestations can seem so different. And it is possible that this famous last section involves or evokes the very deepest layer. Certainly the only part of the preceding pages I can find that in any real way resembles Anna’s voice in this section is the verse in Part I Chapter 8 that I have mentioned already, particularly in one respect that I will come back to later.
One final remark before we embark on interpreting these last 10 pages (I think everyone wishes there were more of them, which may not be true of every section of Finnegans Wake). Most of Joyce’s notes for it are in Notebook VI.B 47, the last Finnegans Wake notebook, which is not surprising, since this last part of the book was indeed the last to be written, perhaps unexpectedly, given the nature of the work. (It is important to stress this point that the end of the book was indeed the last part to be written; the work’s opening is very far from being the first part to be composed. Here, though, and interestingly, Joyce is indeed following what may seem to be the natural order.) Notebook VI.B 47 is an edited notebook, but in fact it is not much help in deciphering the text. The reason is clear: at this late stage in the writing Joyce was nearly composing as he noted; his notes are effectively mini-drafts, and even the formidable textual detective powers of the Brepols editors have not succeeded in tracing much in the line of sources that makes any great difference to the final product.
The manuscript drafts, also, do not provide much assistance, even though I have just adduced one. By this time, Joyce is writing the Wake’s prose extremely fluently, so there are few revealing revisions or alterations to help us. So in that sense we are on our own, but in fact, by Wake standards, this is a singularly approachable passage and the relative paucity of avant-texte assistance is by no means crippling. So, at last, here goes.
“Soft morning, city! Lsp! I am leafy speafing.” This is how it begins. A soft morning in Ireland means of course a damp, drizzly, misty morning. The remark is addressed to “city”, but of course in this book the city is also Anna’s husband, HCE – he is the city, the city is him, just as she is the river Liffey and the river Liffey is her – so Anna’s greeting is to him, her husband, as much as to her city, Dublin. Anna identifies herself as “leafy”, which combines Liffey and leafy (we will see why leafy is relevant shortly). Since Anna is indeed the river Liffey which flows through or beside the city, she is practically presenting her passport with her name on it at the very start of her monologue.
It is almost overwhelmingly persuasive to think that at this point, Anna has just woken, as morning, clearly, has dawned. Such a reading does complicate earlier parts of the text, however, where it does not at all appear that she or her husband are actually asleep. It is also to yield to a realist paradigm of the text which has been largely discredited. Perhaps again though, this is to think too much in binaries for a work of this sort, and we need to see it in terms of both/and rather than either/or. Maybe it suffices to say that in this part of the work there is a very strong sense that we are dealing with someone who has just woken up, or who perhaps dreams that she has just woken up, and to leave it at that.
The image of a couple lying side by side has been evoked earlier in the book: in a very powerful passage in Part I Chapter 1, on pages 23/24, we have this sense of the geographical dimension of this scene: it is very much Dublin and the river, beside each other. But that is just another version of a couple beside each other in a bed, as we have here. The two scenes are the same: this is the domestic version, as it were.
The very first sentence, “Soft morning, city!”, sets the stylistic tone for the rest of the section. The sentences are very short – the reverse of Molly Bloom – much shorter than most of the rest of the book, and their very brevity, in this context, marks the passage out as distinctive. They frequently stop very abruptly, uncompleted, and we have to finish them. This is not difficult most of the time: when Anna says: “You make me think of a wonderdecker I once.” the reader mentally supplies the word “saw”, for instance. When she says “The way I too.”, the reader probably supplies “came once”: what one supplies will depend on the context, and it’s not always clear.
In any case, the effect of these very brief, clipped sentences is strangely moving. Something about their abruptness, their finality enhances the sense of an ending, a passing, that permeates it. And of course this special stylistic device does enhance the sense of a very personal, indeed unique idiom running through these last pages. This very end-oriented tone is just as characteristic of Anna as Molly Bloom’s endlessness is of her.
Having begun, as we have seen, with “Soft morning, city!”, Anna continues with this form of address throughout. Most of it is spoken to her husband lying beside her, until the very end, when Anna leaves him behind, and passes out alone. There is a frequent use of the pronoun “we” – “as were we their babes in” – but unlike in the previous section, the “we” here is quite clear: it is definitely she and her husband that are being referred to. The non-dialogue between them is the section’s most prominent and perhaps most moving aspect. Straight away in her monologue, she, as river, associates herself with leaves: these appear to be leaves that have fallen into the Liffey as it makes it way under trees along its course, and the leaves stay with her, quite movingly, until almost the end.
Also very early on in the monologue, an almost obsessional motif becomes apparent. It appears in the following early passage on page 619: “The woods are fond always. As were we their babes in. And robins in crews so.” As you can see, two pantomimes get mentioned here, (the second being Robinson Crusoe, via the idea of robins in a wood – does everyone see that?) . One is based on a fairy tale, The Babes in the Wood, the other on a partially factually founded novel, Robinson Crusoe. Given the multiple other references to pantomimes, it is clear that it is as such that they are being mentioned here, not for their own sakes, as it were. It’s not so much a reference to the book Robinson Crusoe as it is to the pantomime Robinson Crusoe, in other words. It is tempting to surmise that pantos are part of Anna’s childhood memories, like the memories of Stephen’s mother who, as we know, saw Turko the Terrible as a girl. Their strange blend of the magical and the comic, of song, dance, recitation and serendipity – really anything at all can crop up in a panto, from the topical to the timeless – seems singularly suited to the ending of Finnegans Wake, because it permits the evocation of semi-mythological materials without making a big deal of them. Panto is mythology brought down to earth, and so is Finnegans Wake. To that extent, the prominence of this motif in this last section of the book seems perfectly natural. So these pantomime references form a constant background to Anna’s address.
When, a few lines later, Anna says, “Rise up, man of the hooths, you have slept so long!”, it really does feel as if this is a person who has woken addressing one who hasn’t. And this sense that she is awake, while he is not, persists throughout, leading to the final tragic outcome, one of the few cases where the word “tragic” does seem appropriate for Joyce (the only other one I would put in that category, immediately, is Mrs Sinico in “A Painful Case”. Other Dubliners endings are bleak, but they could not I think be called tragic.)
Much of what Anna has to say to her apparently comatose spouse is domestic – domestic in a way that has been foreshadowed earlier in the book but here attains a realism (for want of a better term) that is unprecedented (some of Part III Chapter 4 has this quality as well). For instance, at the bottom of page 619, Anna says “Here is your shirt, the day one, come back.” “Come back” means, of course, as Roland McHugh points out, “back from the laundry”, and laundries and washing play a very prominent part in the book, especially in the Anna-related material. She then enumerates six other items of clothing, including brogues (shoes), a “comforter”, which is a woollen scarf, and an umbrella, all related to HCE. (HCE is always associated with seven items of clothing, just as he is linked to the seven colours of the rainbow.) These domestic items are mentioned because, in her mind, she and he are going to embark on a journey, and “I want to see you looking fine for me.” She mentions his suit and remarks that it’s “Fiftyseven and three, cosh, with the bulge”, that is it costs 57 shillings and three pence, cash, with a bulge to allow for his hump – HCE, as we learn elsewhere, is hunchbacked. Again, the details are domestic, economic – and the word, “economics”, as we know, derives from managing a home. She appeals to her sleeping partner: “Come and let us! [that is, go out]. We always said we’d. [Again, do this.] And go abroad.”
But before she embarks on this slightly irresponsible journey, she reflects that “The childher are still fast.” (That is, asleep.) Her mind, however, in keeping with the domesticity that permeates it at this point, goes back at this point to her children. “Them boys is so contrairy.” (This we already know, since the boys, as we have learned, are polar opposites: “contrairy” is being used in both senses here, that of opposed to each other, but also that of perversely resistant, unpredictable. “Contrairy” also reproduces exactly the way an Irish person with a certain dialect would say the word “contrary”.)
Anna, very interestingly, put this contrairiness down to the two old women who are apparently their godmothers, “Queer Mrs Quickenough and odd Miss Doddpebble”. These are clearly the two washerwomen who are the narrators, for want of a better word, of Part I Chapter 8, the Anna Livia chapter. She goes on to say: “And when them two has had a good few [drinks, of course] there isn’t much more dirty clothes to publish.”, which practically confirms it. You will notice that one of them is Mrs and one is Miss, just as one is life (Quick, or quicken tree) and the other is death (dead pebble). Thus one is a tree and the other is a stone, qualities that are passed on separately to the two boys, one of whom Shem, is similarly linked to a tree, and the other, Shaun, is linked to a stone.
Continuing this look back over her domestic situation, prior to her planned excursion with her husband, Anna thinks next of her daughter Issy. She remembers the circumstances of her conception, following the arrival of the twin sons, and of her husband telling her, “what wouldn’t you give to have a girl!” Given the incest motif that is so prominent in the work, it is hard not to see a darker meaning to this apparently innocent phrase, but if it is there, it is not gone into at this point. Anna goes on: “Your wish was mewill. And, lo, out of a sky! The way I too.” This refers to the arrival of Issy, who is initially a cloud which falls in the form of rain on to the land, starting a river which of course becomes Anna Livia. So when Anna here says “The way I too”, she means, as I mentioned already, that she too came down into the world in this way in her turn.
As I say, the case of Issy, if it is a case, is not dwelt on here; instead Anna turns to two other members of the household in Chapelizod, namely the boots or HCE’s manservant at the inn, variously called Sackerson, Maurice and McGrath, and the more stably named Kate, Anna’s maidservant. The couple’s different relationship to these two figures is beautifully caught in the following sentence: “If you spun your yarns to him on the swishbarque waves I was spelling my yearns to her over cottage cake.” (Just to clarify, Sackerson was earlier the first mate on the vessel that brought the invading HCE to Ireland.) The contrast here of “yarns” and “yearns” is exquisite, to borrow a term from “Sirens”. She goes on: “We’ll not disturb their sleeping duties. Let besoms be bosuns.” This gets in the idea of the pair as servants (“duties”) along with the panto or fairytale “Sleeping Beauty”. And a besom is a brush (Kate) while bosun is a mate on a ship (Sackerson). A little later, Anna says they won’t bring the child’s (Shaun’s) lamp with them “For them four old windbags of Gustsofairy to be blowing at. Nor you your rucksunk. To bring all the dannymans out after you on the hike.” These are references to the four old men, four windbags, who feature prominently in the book, and to the 12 hostile customers in HCE’s pub, Danny Mann being the murderer in The Colleen Bawn.
I have mentioned these various passages in some detail because as it happens, they provide a rough census of some of the main figures in the book – the family, the servants, the four old men, the 12 customers. But as I mentioned earlier, Anna, and in her mind her husband, are going to leave all that behind, at least temporarily. A sense of an ending, of a dream, of a life, of a book, hangs over the whole section: “…the book of the depth is. Closed.” (This is a case where the sentence is completed, but only by the next “sentence”, if you can call it that.)
As we move on from the domestic concerns, Anna returns to the very start: “It is the softest morning that ever I can ever remember me.” This motif is like a refrain throughout the monologue. It is touching to find an echo of Molly Bloom in this reverse companion piece: “you must buy me a fine new girdle too, nolly.” And as with Molly, there is a sexual dimension to these presents: there is a strong sense that an act of manual masturbation, by Anna on her husband, is taking place at this stage, recalling, perhaps significantly, what appears to have happened between Nora and Joyce on their first sexual encounter. Maybe at this point it is best to echo Anna’s own comment: “We’ll lave it. So.” (another case of a sentence being completed by another).
In any event, Anna, in her mind, sets off on her journey with her husband beside her: perhaps, in view of Joyce’s previous book, their destination is not very surprising: Howth, where Bloom and Molly had their fateful tryst. Significantly, Anna says: “I could lead you there and I still by you in bed.” In fact (in fact!) she is, and the sentence draws attention to that condition. As they make their way there, a scene from the book’s very early genesis, the start Part I Chapter 2 is evoked, and then Anna suggests that they call on the old earl of Howth, in Howth Castle, which also features early in the book. Again, the level of what can only be called realistic detail is striking: Anna says, “You invoiced him last Eatster so he ought to give us hockockles and everything”. This would presumably be an invoice for drink supplied by HCE in his capacity as publican. Eventually, Anna decides that this idea is a fantasy, a fantasy within a fantasy, in fact. “But we vain. Plain fancies. It’s in the castles air.” (castles in the air). Instead she opts for a more realistic prospect, and here the echoes of Bloom and Molly become almost overwhelming: “We can sit us down on the heathery benn, me on you …” (Binn Eadair being the Irish name for Howth Head, and Howth Head being indeed very heathery.) They can watch the sea for the proverbial letter in a bottle to float ashore, the letter that has featured throughout the book and whose safe delivery would somehow ensure the redemption of her husband: “And watch would the letter you’re wanting be coming may be.” (Yes, it’s nearly English.) That the letter is the book itself, a truth that has been evident for some time now, is made definitively clear by Anna’s statement: “Every letter is a hard but yours sure is the hardest crux ever”, a statement with which few would disagree.
And she indulges in Bloomian visions of the future (perhaps I am exaggerating the Ulysses connection somewhat but it does seem to impose itself): “Unbuild and be buildn our bankaloan cottage there and we’ll cohabit respectable. The Gowans, ser, for Medem, me”. And she addresses her husband in a manner very reminiscent of Molly: “All your graundplotting and the little it brought!”
Having looked at the future, she then harks back to the past, remembering when she first heard her husband HCE’s voice. She is the daughter of a tailor, as recounted in Part III Chapter 2, and her memory encompasses being in her father’s shop when HCE, the Norwegian captain, phones up: “When that hark from the air said it was Captain Finsen makes cumhulments and was mayit pressing for his suit I said are you there here’s nobody here only me. But I near fell off the pile of samples.” (Again, I would draw attention to the considerable degree of realism of the passage.)
The sense of a journey, in among much other material, is still present: “all flint and fern are rasstling as we go by”, signalling that Howth is still the venue. And one wants again to mention that this massively radical, unreadable book, Finnegans Wake, contains in places some very traditional motifs: “To hide away the tear, the parted. It’s thinking of all. The brave that gave their. The fair that wore. All them that’s gunne.” (A similar theme comes up very powerfully at the end of the Anna Livia chapter, Part I, Chapter 8.)
The fantasy that she and her husband have embarked on this journey together persists: “How glad you’ll be I waked you!” (although the use of the future tense here suggests she is aware that all this is merely a projection – in a characteristically Joycean oscillation, sometimes it seems to be really happening, other times it goes back to being no more than an imaginary scenario).
Anna’s mind turns back briefly to her father, again with a strong dash of realism, even if of a decidedly strange variety: “When he’d prop me atlas against his goose and light our two candles for our singers duohs on the sewingmachine.” (“goose” and “Singer sewing machine” both being tailor’s appurtenances). There remains this sense that a real relationship is being recounted, despite all the mythological and other associations that attend it: “Yet he [her father] never knew we [she and HCE] seen us before.” This is followed by a strongly poetic evocation of her husband as a wind ruffling the river, sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce: “One time you’d stand forenenst me, fairly laughing, for to fan me coolly. And I’d lie as quiet as a moss. And one time you’d rush upon me, darkly roaring, like a great black shadow with a sheeny stare for to perce me rawly. And I’d frozen up and pray for thawe.”
Then, as we reach the book’s final two pages, we get the great turning, the great reversal, the definitive passing out: “But you’re changing, acoolsha, you’re changing from me, I can feel. Or is it me. I’m getting mixed.” Anna realises that in the inevitable process of recurrence that is the essence of Finnegans Wake, she will go and another will replace her: “Yes, you’re changing, sonhusband, and you’re turning, I can feel you, for a daughterwife from the hills again.” This being the river starting to flow from the Wicklow hills again. She recalls her own life up in the sky prior to descending as rain from the cloud to form the river: “My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud.”
Instead of following this process of cyclical recurrence, though, we stay with Anna as she departs. And in a powerful passage, she turns on those she is leaving, the people she was born, brought up, and lived among: “All me life I have been lived among them but now they are becoming lothed to me.” In a passage strongly expressive of many an Irish mother’s experience, she says: “I done me best when I was let. Thinking always if I go all goes.” And she turns on her husband: “I thought you the great in all things, in guilt and in glory. You’re put a puny.” She evokes the life out at sea where she is heading, among the “seahags”, which she now sees as her real life, since, of course, she has done all this before: “For ’tis they are the stormies. … And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free.”
The leaves she has borne along all this time have been dispersed into the sea. Just one remains with her as her identity as river merges into that of the sea she is now joining. Her thoughts become scattered fragments, part fear, part memory, part expectation, part retreat to childhood: “Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair!” As she disperses and fades out, we are aware that she and the book will resume, that her final sentence never ends.
After all that, some comments. One of the most striking things about these mere 10 pages out of a long book is what I can only call the construction of character. This is the voice of a real person who is speaking, with traits and characteristics of her own that sharply differentiate her from the other voices – that of Shaun, for instance – that we have heard previously in the book. An important aspect of it is its very demotic Dublin tonality. Throughout, the possessive pronoun “my” is replaced by “me” just as the past tense of the strong verb “to do”, namely “did”, is replaced by the past participle “done”: “I done me best when I was let.”, an example which combines both traits. Similarly, the past tense of the strong verb “to see”, namely “saw”, is replaced by the past participle “seen”: “I seen as much in the twingling of an eye.” We may remember Bob Doran’s embarrassment at the fact that Polly Mooney sometimes says “I seen”. Similarly, the impersonal plural pronoun “these” or “those” becomes for some reason the accusative personal plural pronoun “them”; and the plural form of the verb “to be” becomes singular: “Them
boys is so contrairy”. These are not Finnegans Wake-isms: rather these are strong markers that this is an authentic Dublin voice, of the distinctly lower middle class, at best, in fact perhaps a lower category again on the social scale.
By way of contrast, suppose Molly’s monologue had begun: “Yes because he never done a thing like that before.” Our view of Molly would be completely changed: she is often described as extremely déclassé, but here is a social marker that gives the lie to such a view. Anna’s voice here is another of Joyce’s voices, where he does what he does best, picks up a character’s own idiom and writes in that mode, conveying their whole personality by this means, rather than by external description: going beyond free indirect style, which is a narrative device, this is the direct conveyance of a person’s identity via their words – stream of consciousness or interior monologue being two of the terms for it. And I find it quite moving that Joyce, who was last in Dublin in 1912 and is writing this passage in 1938, is here thinking himself back into a voice and an idiom that he would last have heard so many years previously – a great feat of auditory reconstruction.
Anna’s personality, which has been hovering around throughout the book, here comes into its own. As I mentioned long ago, at the very start of this lecture, the only other occasion where I have felt it so keenly is in her poem on page 201, where again “my” becomes “me”: “the race of the saywint up me ambushere” (the content of the poem too is quite relevant to our present context). So part of the strength and pathos of the passage – indeed much of it – is due to the fact that we feel that this transition, this “passing out” is happening to a real person. Joyce is trying to combine a sense of universality with the sense that this is happening to a unique individual. The stylistic method of the short, foreclosed sentences enacts the sense of a voice that is running out, that perhaps can only speak in short bursts. Molly’s famous flow has been greatly mitigated. And of course this mode does presumably reflect the slowing of the river as it nears the sea.
Reinforcing the individuality conveyed by the voice is the amount of semi-realistic detail that the section contains. We hear about Anna’s family in the Chapelizod pub, their servants, the customers, the four old windbags who apparently occupy the snug, and later we hear about her early life with her father the tailor and her first encounter with the Norwegian captain HCE. All this pushes the text in the direction of a realism which may be a mostly invisible underpinning for everything else that happens in this “crazy tale”, as Joyce described it to Alf Bergan.
Another aspect of the text that makes it stand out in Finnegans Wake’s universe is the importance of fantasy in its development. Much of it is concerned with Anna’s fantasy of going on a journey to Howth with her husband. It is only in the last couple of pages, as I read it, that this fantasy breaks down, and she realises she is on her own. Some of Joyce’s finest early writing is about fantasy: I am thinking of Eveline’s fantasy of a new life with Frank in Buenos Aires, of Little Chandler’s fantasy of being a Celtic writer, James Duffy’s fantasy of the person Mrs Sinico is – a receptacle – and her corresponding fantasy of the person that James Duffy is – we don’t learn that directly but we can infer it. In any case, Anna’s fantasy trip here is a powerful determinant of the text. And I would like cautiously to risk here a Lacanian formulation: by the text’s end, Anna has “traversed the fantasy”, gone through it and come out the other side. That does not mean that the fantasy is abolished; it is still operative, but it has been incorporated into a new sense of the real that places it in a different relation to the subject. Maybe that is what happens here, but that does not fully account for the power of the book’s finale, for the personal dissolution: “O bitter ending!” (bitter also referring to the sea salt that Anna the river is now swallowing. Enough.
One semi-final remark. This was the last sustained burst of creative writing that Joyce composed. There are two ways of looking at this, bearing in mind that Joyce died only a year-and-a-half year after Finnegans Wake’s publication. One way, the benign way, is to think that this text might point the direction, had he lived, to a mode of writing that would similarly balance such a unique mode of expression with the sense that beneath it lies a real selfhood. At the end, one might say, Joyce took pity on us and gave us a real person. Let us be grateful.
But the other way, rather bleaker, is to notice the strongly conclusive, final nature of this text. Despite the famous ricorso, the way the book circles back on itself, Anna’s passing seems, on the human level, very terminal. And one therefore wonders if Joyce, in some sense, knew that this would be his final literary effort, and, in the voice of Anna, is himself bidding farewell to us.
For me, there is only one way to end a talk like this, with the last line of the passage and the book: “A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the” To which, as at a funeral mass, the response comes from the work’s very “beginning”:
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” (3).