From the Daily Mail, Thursday 23 February 2006.
“QUESTION: Did James Joyce write the impenetrable Finnegans Wake as an elaborate joke? I heard that when critics called it a masterpiece and praised it for its complexity, he couldn’t stop laughing.
“FINNEGANS WAKE was Joyce’s final and most controversial work. He began writing it in 1922 and didn’t finish it until 17 years later. From 1924, instalments of the work appear in various publications under the title Work In Progress.
“The first half of the 20th century can be characterised as ‘science split the atom and Joyce split the word’ and this is particularly applicable to Finnegans Wake, where every word and phrase is loaded with meaning.
“The title itself is a complicated pun fusing Finn as in the French fin – ‘end’ with ‘egan’, sounding like ‘again’, together forming the paradoxical ‘end again’.
“Wake refers to a party for the recently dead, but it is also a joke because the dream content of Finnegans Wake takes place during Finnegan’s sleep.
“The book starts by using the second half of the final sentence of the book: ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth, Castle and Environs.’
“The level of wordplay gets no easier, continuing ‘Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, has passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war; nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s giorgios while the went doubling their mumper all the time’, etc., etc. for 388 pages.
“Its impenetrable language has led many to regard Finnegans Wake as a joke. The author’s brother, Stanislaus, said it was either ‘the work of a psychopath or a huge literary fraud’.
“Oliver Gogarty, a literary critic and friend of the author, called it ‘the most colossal leg-pull in literature’.
“Ezra Pound wrote: ‘Nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clap can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherisation.’
“No one will ever know if Joyce meant the book as a joke. But, having spent half his adult life writing it, if it was written as a joke it was one of the most complex, thoughtful and literary jokes ever.
“Wendy Clemens, Portsmouth.”
Has anyone read (or attempted to read) Finnegans Wake? Do you believe it’s a work of genius or a huge literary joke?