Places: Finnegans Wake

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1939

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedDublin

Dublin. Finnegans WakeCapital of Ireland in which the events of the novel that take place in the “real” world are set. Major city landmarks, such as Howth Castle, the Liffey River, and Phoenix Park are used symbolically as points of departure into the fantastic dreamworld that parallels the narrative.

Bedroom

Bedroom. Upstairs, above a public house in Chapelizod, a suburb of Dublin, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, their waking names, are asleep in their bed. In the novel’s dreamworld they are known as Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and Anna Livia Plurabelle, usually as HCE and ALP respectively. Down the hall are the bedrooms of their children, twin boys Kevin and Jerry and daughter Isabel, or Issy. These characters also take different names during the dream narrative. The “real” setting of Finnegans Wake–that is, the location in the waking world–is one of complete normality, even banality, and so stands in deliberate contrast to the fantastic settings of the dream actions of the novel. Almost all of these scenes and many of the characters are drawn from the domestic setting of the middle-class Irish bedroom. For example, the four posts of the bed become in the dream the four authors of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who sometimes merge into a single figure, Mamalujo. Throughout the novel fantasy retains firm, if slight, connections with reality.

*Howth Castle

*Howth Castle. Hill and medieval fortification overlooking Dublin harbor. In the novel this area becomes the setting of many of HCE’s early, mythic adventures; later, it is where the giant HCE is buried, awaiting eventual resurrection. As the initials suggest, Howth Castle and Environs are also associated with HCE himself, and so represents the male principle or life force in the development of human history and society. A prominent feature of Howth Hill is Adam and Eve’s Church, which reinforces the fact that the overall narrative is about the course of human history traced back to its primal sources.

*Liffey River

*Liffey River. River that runs through Dublin and plays an important role in the history and life of the city. In one of the novel’s most famous sections, the Liffey is the site of a dialogue between two washerwomen who recount the story of HCE and ALP. Through its association and identification with Anna Livia Plurabelle, the Liffey becomes the female counterpart to Howth Castle.

*Phoenix Park

*Phoenix Park. Dublin park, famous for a nineteenth century terrorist attack by Irish revolutionaries. Phoenix Park, in various guises, is a repeated setting for actions in the novel, including an unnamed but apparently sexually related crime which may or may not have been committed by HCE. The three British soldiers who may have witnessed this possible crime help James Joyce shift the setting to the Crimean War. This setting’s ties to Dublin’s history help Joyce establish the relationship between the mythical phoenix, the bird that springs anew from its own ashes, and the theme of death and rebirth that runs through the novel.

*Crimea

*Crimea (KRI-mee-ah). Peninsula in the south of Russia (now the Ukraine) on the Black Sea, site of the Crimean War during the mid-nineteenth century. In the novel the Crimean War (which at times merges with the battle of Waterloo) serves as a representative setting for all the conflicts and wars in human history.

Haunted Inkbottle

Haunted Inkbottle. House of Shem the Penman, the novel’s figure of the artist, especially the artist-as-writer. Throughout the novel a constant rivalry runs between the twins Kevin and Jerry, most often known in the dream world as Shem and Shaun. The first is the figure of the artist and is his mother’s favorite; the second is a more practical individual preferred by his father. Other aspects of this warring duo in the book are the Mookse and the Gripes and the Ondt and the Gracehoper. The settings of these struggles are generally less identifiable than Shem’s Haunted Inkbottle.

BibliographyBishop, John. Joyce’s Book of the Dark: “Finnegans Wake.” Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986. Joyce’s determination to represent noctural experience accounts for the form, shape, direction, and language of Finnegans Wake. Relates Finnegans Wake to dream theory and interpretation, thanatology, optics and phonetics, embryology and gender, sexuality and power.Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Elegant and authoritative biography providing valuable information on the writing of Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s intentions, his methods, and the difficulties he encountered.McCarthy, Patrick A, ed. Critical Essays on James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake.” New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Twenty essays surveying past criticism and broad concerns: studies of structure, voice, narration, language, and interpretation, analyses of important themes, and readings of passages in ways that pose crucial questions about Finnegans Wake as a whole. Shows how enjoyable an experience reading Finnegans Wake is.McHugh, Roland. Annotations to “Finnegans Wake.” Rev. ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. A line-by-line explication of foreign words, English overtones, place names, personal names, phrases parodied, song titles and quotations, literary sources, historical events. Basic reference tool, designed to be consulted in tandem with a reading of Finnegans Wake.Rose, Danis, and John O’Hanlon. Understanding “Finnegans Wake”: A Guide to the Narrative of James Joyce’s Masterpiece. New York: Garland, 1982. A section-by-section synopsis of Finnegans Wake. Very useful companion for the beginning reader, it clarifies the main techniques and themes in the form of a running commentary.
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