The Trotskyite Joyce!

Finnegans Wake
The number of guides to reading Finnegans Wake is almost too numerous to catalog, but this page will attempt to do just that. The books are organized into two sections: Major Guides, which are all fairly notable or have historical weight behind them, and Other Guides, which include harder to find texts as well as more focused readings of the Wake. Works within these categories are listed chronologically.
This selection is by no means comprehensive, and I welcome any reviews, additions, or commentaries.

Major Guides to Finnegans Wake

A Symposium: Our Exagmination round his factification for incamination of Work in Progress

Samuel Beckett & various authors

1. Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1936, Out of print.

2. New Directions, 1972, ISBN 0-8112-0446-4; Paperback; $9.95. [Browse/Purchase]

No one knew exactly what the hell Joyce was writing after Ulysses, and he remained somewhat secretive about his new novel, calling it only “Work in Progress.” The few glimpses he would allow took the form of fragments in transition journal, or an occasional excerpt published by Faber and Faber. Of course, these odd bits of writing caused quite a stir, and it wasn’t long until some people thought that perhaps Mr. Joyce had lost his mind. Our Exagmination was a collection of supportive essays regarding these works, written by Joyce’s friends, fellow authors, and a few sympathetic critics. (Samuel Beckett is one.) As such they represent less an analysis of Finnegans Wake and more a defense of Joyce’s revolutionary technique; the first real literary criticism of the Wake as a completed work would have to wait until A Skeleton Key.

A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake

Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson

1. Faber and Faber Ltd, 1944, Out of print.

2. Viking Press, 1986, ISBN 0140046631; Out of Print.

3. Buccaneer Books, 1996, ISBN: 1568491689; Hardcover. Out of print. [Search for a Copy]

4. New World Library, 2005, ISBN 1-57731-405-0; Hardcover; $23.95. [Browse/Purchase]

One of the first books written about the Wake, A Skeleton Key has been largely supplanted by the wealth of Wakean research compiled since its 1944 publishing date. Despite its obsolescence, however, its value as a seminal text is undisputed, and many – including me! – still find it a very useful guide.
A Skeleton Key opens with a beautiful introduction by Joseph Campbell, followed by a synopsis of the Wake. The rest of the book breaks down Finnegans Wake page by page, stripping the text of its obscurity and serving up possible interpretations through footnotes and bracketed commentary. In this way Campbell and Robinson more or less re-tell the Wake, “prosifying” the text in an attempt to make it more comprehensible to the lay reader. While this is certainly helpful, the resulting text often comes across as flat and dry, and is no substitute for Joyce’s rushing river of scintillating prose! Additionally, many of Joyce’s meanings were overlooked by Campbell and Robinson, and a few of their interpretations have long since been “overturned” by more recent and intensive scholarship. Because of all this, A Skeleton Key has lost some of the luster of its initial reception, and some Joyceans consider it altogether tarnished, possibly more misleading that helpful.
Although there’s certainly some truth to these accusations, I still enjoy this book. I find its mythopoetic angle – this is that Joseph Campbell, after all – uniquely refreshing, and some of his insights possess a brilliance that has been rarely matched. (Bob Williams mentions that I should “praise it for what is really valuable: the treatments of III, 3 and III, 2. These are very helpful analyses. A pity that the rest of the book is not up to this level.”) While I would not recommend A Skeleton Key over a more recent guide, I cannot dismiss it entirely. Like a slightly dowdy but favorite aunt, it’s still nice to curl up by the fire and hear her stories over a cup of tea.

Answring a long-unheeded call, the New World Library of California has recently issued a new edition of Skeleton Key as part of its “Collected Works of Joseph Campbell” series. For those wishing to read Campbell and Robinson’s seminal work, this tasteful hardcover makes a wonderful alternative to the out-of-print editions. It is relatively inexpensive, handsomely bound, and places the text firmly in the Campbellian canon.

Annotations to Finnegans Wake

Roland McHugh

1. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-8018-4190-9; Paperback, $34.95. [Browse/Purchase]

2. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8018-4226-3; Hardcover, $75.00; Out of print. [Search for a Copy]

About the size of an average phone book, McHugh’s Annotations sports a friendly, sky-blue cover with quirky lettering, as if to say “Do Not Panic.” Not a walk-through like Tindall’s guide, nor a re-telling like Campbell’s Skeleton Key, McHugh provides here exactly what the cover claims: a lot of annotations to Finnegans Wake. A goddamn whole lot of annotations. In fact, McHugh claims to have relocated his home to Dublin just to better understand the Wake. You have to admire that sort of obsession.
And it is an obsession that pays off handsomely. Designed so you can read the Wake on top of its open pages, McHugh’s book matches the Wake page for page, line by line, making it easy to take in a note with a quick glance. The Annotations scatter a thousand points of light through Joyce’s nocturnal maze, illuminating countless intertextual allusions and literary quotations, biographical and historical references, musical notations and songs, geographical places, mythical beings, fragments of philosophy and religion – the list goes on. Additionally, McHugh untangles some of Joyce’s more difficult puns, parodic phrasings, and compound neologisms, often identifying and translating fragments borrowed from other languages. (Often I found myself, when stricken by the incomprehensible suddenly made obvious, slapping my head and muttering, “D’oh!”)
Annotations to Finnegans Wake is invaluable for those who want their Wake well woken, with a full spread of coffee and sandwiches. Although some of McHugh’s interpretations don’t always meet with everyone’s approval, the book is recognized as being the “industry standard,” so to speak, and is itself an evolving work-in-progress.

A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake

William York Tindall
Syracuse University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8156-0385-1; Paperback $19.95. [

Probably the most commonly used guide to the Wake, Tindall’s book is intended for the “average” reader. (It says something about Joyce scholarship that anyone reading Finnegans Wake can still be considered an “average” reader!) Tindall sees Joyce as a Symbolist more than anything else, and he contends that Finnegans Wake is a cosmos in a book; a symbolic labyrinth, a vast and inexhaustible work of literature reflecting the entire world. His goal in A Reader’s Guide is to provide a walk-through of this labyrinth, a tour with frequent stops to admire its design and take delight in its contents.
As befitting a walk-through, the basic structure of A Reader’s Guide breaks the Wake down chapter by chapter. Tindall outlines the basic “plot” of each chapter, calling attention to the symbolic nature of the characters and how certain elements tend to recur, forming a network of structural leitmotifs that give the book its overall shape. Tindall is very good at linking together key elements in the Wake, a task almost impossible for the first time reader. He is also very adept at unfolding the dazzling levels of meaning Joyce packs into a single word. His sense of humor is quite enjoyable, and he’s gracious in crediting others – especially his many students. On the negative side, his writing can be a bit brisk at times, and often comes across as choppy and disconnected. I find myself wishing that he would spend a little more time supporting some of his comments – a few feel tossed off the cuff, some strike an occasional false note, and others bear the faint aroma of academic BS. (I occasionally wonder if his scatological obsession is actually a sly manifestation of a self-awareness of Wakean criticism in general!)
Despite these quibbles, Tindall’s guide remains an excellent resource for the beginning reader, filled with many illuminating insights and much friendly advice. He’s also refreshingly open about acknowledging that many of his ideas are conjecture, and he rarely proffers them as if they were the irrefutable truth. One gets the impression that Tindall would welcome anybody at his Wakean Kaffee Klatsch, expert or beginner alike.

Joyce’s Book of the Dark

John Bishop
University of Wisconsin, 1993, ISBN 0-299-10824-4;
Paperback, $27.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Joyce’s Book of the Dark is an incredible work, a rather unique offering among the crop of Finnegans Wake guides. Not quite an explication, walk-through, or set of annotations, Bishop’s book hovers somewhere between a joyous celebration of the Wake and a free-form meditation on its many subjects.
Basically, Bishop returns to the text itself, seeing the Wake as a nocturnally-structured work which contains the seeds of its own illumination. Through a series of chapters with titles such as “Nothing in Particular: On English Obliterature” and “Earwickerwork,” Bishop adventurously explores the Wake’s characters and themes, all within the context of Joyce’s stated intention that Finnegans Wake is an “imitation of the dream-state.” Although Bishop generally lets Joyce’s text speak for itself, Joyce’s Book of the Dark is filled with typographical maps, linguistic flowcharts, and even anatomical diagrams, all of which leap off pages already charged with Bishop’s insightful ideas and witty prose. The result is a Wakean Wonderland that takes equal delight in both enlightenment and obscurity.
While Bishop’s big “Nightletter” might not be the most appropriate text for the absolute beginner, it goes a long way in making sense of the psychology and texture of the Wake itself. A bit arcane and difficult, yes, but highly recommended.

Other Guides to Finnegans Wake:

Song in the Works of James Joyce

Matthew J. C. Hodgart and Mabel P. Worthington
New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. Out of Print.

Although not limited to Finnegans Wake alone, this work details the many musical allusions found in Joyce.

Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake

Clive Hart
New York: Paul P. Apel, 1964. Out of print.

One of the first “modern” criticisms of the Wake, Structure and Motif outlines the mechanics of the book rather than providing an exegesis – although it does put forth that the time is certainly ripe for such a study. Hart would later answer his own call with A Concordance.

A Concordance to Finnegans Wake

Clive Hart
New York: Paul P. Apel, 1974, ISBN 0911858415; $35.00. Out of print. [
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An early attempt to track the Wake’s allusions and break down some of Joyce’s compound puns, this book includes a long alphabetical list of Joycean words.

The Books at the Wake

James S. Atherton
New York: Paul P. Appel, 1974, ISBN 0-8093-0687-5; Paperback $9.95. [

A comprehensive list of literary allusions found in the Wake. Bob Williams has this to say about it: “Atherton is a great neglected source. Little is said of his Books at the Wake but this is a small book packed with enough information and insight to power the average Finnegans Wake reader for the balance of his or her career.”

Vico’s Doctrine of Ricorso in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Donna Henseler
Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1974.

A doctoral dissertation that’s a bit hard to find. Dean Cauley says this of it: “This work is refreshingly readable, and Ms. Henseler shows a deep and comprehensive understanding of both Finnegans Wake and The New Science. This work, unlike efforts of Beckett, Tindall and some others, clearly shows the function of Ricorso in Finnegans Wake. Her explanation – for me – cast a whole new light on Book III, and on the episodes of Thunder. Having read many popular interpretations, I was pleased to gain a whole new perspective from reading this work. I found myself reading with Henseler’s book in one hand, Finnegans Wake in the other, while scribbling down notes – the truly rewarding experience of gaining fresh insight. I would highly recommend this dissertation to any fan of the Wake.”

Narrator and Character in Finnegans Wake

Michael H. Begnal & Grace Eckley
Bucknell University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-8387-337-8. Out of Print. [
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Commentary by Charles Cave:
In this study are combined two very different points of view on James Joyce’s final masterpiece, Finnegans Wake. As Bernard Benstock points out in his Foreword to the book, each of the two authors employs his own critical tools; Dr Begnal works towards encompassing the Wake as a novel, whereas Dr Eckley’s approach is in terms of the individual word or phrase. Their monographs combine nicely here to cast new and different lights on Finnegans Wake.
For Dr Begnal (author of Part One: “The Dream Voices of Finnegans Wake”), Dr Benstock writes that the method of the novels’ presentation “is contained in its narration, in the succession and diversity of the narrative voices that undertake the piecemeal unfolding of the cumulative drama.”
For Dr Eckley (author of Part Two: “Queer Mrs Quickenough and Odd Miss Doddpebble”), says Dr Benstock, “Finnegans Wake is a document in folk literature; its antecedents are to be found in the wealth of Irish folklore and throughout world wmythology. Her view of the book is centered upon its thematic development with tree-and-stone utilised as guidelines (touchstones and touchtrees).” Despite their divergeneces, however, both authors document specifically from the book’s text.
The basic point of Dr Begnal’s section of the book may be said to be his refutation of the single-dreamer theory of interpretation of Finnegans Wake. As he discusses their roles in the novel, he attempts to identify the multiple dreamers and their stylistic characteristics.
Dr Eckley considers the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter as central to Finnegans Wake. In it is presented a dialogue between two washerwomen who, at the end of the chapter, are transformed into a tree and a stone. Throughout, these washerwomen can be distinguised by characteristics that apply to Shem and Shaun, in the basic contention of tree and stone, wherever they appear and whatever their names have been changed to. This view contradicts the previously established “mergence of identity” theory of Finnegans Wake, which held, in brief, that Shem and Shaun occasionally merge into a third character.

Third Census of Finnegans Wake

Adaline Glasheen
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. Out of Print. [
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An alphabetical index of the many mythical, historical, and fictitious figures found in the Wake, with biographical notes and cross references to the various mutated alterations of their names. As the title points out, this is the third and most recent edition of Mrs. Glasheen’s seminal text.
From Edward Burns of the FW-List, who is working on a book about Glasheen:
The first census, A Census of “Finnegans Wake”: An Index of the Characters and Their Roles was published by Northwestern UP in 1956. Faber and Faber in London published the book in 1957 with a laid in sheet of corrections (not all the corrections Glasheen had submitted were published) – the pages from Northwestern were not corrected. Glasheen’s introduction tells how she began to make her lists – beginning in 1950-51. Almost immediately after its publication readers of the Wake began communicating with Glasheen offering her corrections and new identifications. Northwestern was not willing to do a new edition because the initial run had not been sold out. Through the efforts of Richard Ellmann, the journal The Analyst (a mimeographed journal published several times a year by the English Department of Northwestern University) published “Out of My Census” as its April 1959 issue (No. XVII, 1-73 – all but one half page of the issue). Glasheen concludes this appendage to A Census by identifying her “donors”: Clive Hart, Fred Higginson, Fritz Senn, Gerard O’Flaherty, George Painter, James S. Atherton, J. Mitchell Morse, Matthew Hodgart, Mabel Worthington, Richard Ellmann, Ruth von Phul, Thornton Wilder, and Father William T. Noon, S. J. This publication result in more additions and corrections – indeed by this time Glasheen was in constant written communication with the Joyce scholars listed as well as dozens of others – including Hugh Kenner. A Second Census revised and expanded from the first Census was published by Northwestern UP in 1963. It is this edition which many people feel is still the definitive one, in part, perhaps, because it was edited in exemplary fashion by Fritz Senn. Following its publication Glasheen continued to develop her own ideas and exchange ideas with other scholars. Although Northwestern agreed to publish a 3rd edition of the Census, a crisis that threatened to close the Press released her from her letter of understanding with them. J. Mitchell Morse made overtures to Temple University Press on her behalf, but she finally settled on the University of California Press at the urging of Hugh Kenner. This edition was published by 1977. This Third Census contains much revised material and many new identifications. It has been the hardest to find in the rare/used book market. There are numerous scholars who feel it is less accurate than the Second Census (Glasheen and her husband proof-read the Third Census which was newly set). As the editor of the Wilder-Glasheen Letters on Finnegans Wake (1950-1975), it is my hope that the publisher of that volume will agree to republish the Third Census (corrected) as it represents Glasheen’s final thoughts on many issues including her view of Shakespeare’s influence on the Wake. For an excellent article on the Census I suggest Bonnie Kime Scott’s, “A Consensus on Glasheen’s Census” in Re-Viewing Classics of Joyce Criticism.

A Finnegans Wake Gazetteer

L. O. Mink
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978. Out of Print. [
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Details the geographical allusions found in the Wake.

Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary

John Gordon

1. Syracuse University Press, 1987, ISBN 081562395X; Hardcover, $44.95. Out of print. [Search for a Copy]

2. Syracuse University Press, 1987, ISBN 0815623968; Paperback, $19.50. [Browse/Purchase]

Commentary by Bob Williams:
This is an amazing book. Professor Gordon sets out to tell the reader exactly what takes place in Finnegans Wake. He begins with an introduction and five chapters of general considerations. Each of the remaining chapters is devoted to a corresponding chapter of Finnegans Wake.
The result is a masterly handling of Wake material and interpretations are derived from the book that Joyce wrote and not, as so often, ruthlessly applied from the fertile brain of the exegete.
Would Joyce recognize his book in the guise that Professor Gordon gives it? Probably not, but the book is stimulating and provocative.

Joyce’s Use of Colors: Finnegans Wake and the Earlier Works

J. Colm O’Sullivan
UMI Research Press, 1987, ISBN 835718166; Hardcover, $67.00. [

According to Karl Reisman of the F-WAKE List, this book “investigates the color patterns of Finnegans Wake, arguing that Joyce deliberately employed patterns of color association in structuring themes of his last great work. He argues further that the tracing of those patterns helps to clarify the themes and the manner of their articulation. Through a close analysis of Finnegans Wake, color words are identified and linkages between colors, characters, ideas, and themes are traced. O’Sullivan uses the framework of color patterns to enrich our reading of this most obscure and important modern literary work.”

Joyces Waking Women

Sheldon Brivic
University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, ISBN 0299148041; Paperback, $17.95. [

A “Feminist introduction” to Finnegans Wake. According to Book News: “An introduction to Finnegans Wake which aims to draw the reader quickly into the novel’s depths through detailed feminist and Lacanian reading of several crucial sections and themes. Includes a substantial introduction concerning Joyce’s attitudes toward women.”

Joyces Grand Operoar: Opera in Finnegans Wake

Matthew J. C. Hodgart & Ruth Bauerle
University of Illinois Press, 1996, ISBN 0252065573; Paperback, $27.00. [

According to “A passionate musician as well as a writer, James Joyce grew up hearing his father sing opera arias and for a time aspired to become a singer himself. The abundant allusions to opera throughout Joyce’s work reflect his immersion in this world. In Joyce’s Grand Operoar, two internationally respected Joyce scholars join forces to present over 3,000 of Joyce’s opera allusions as they appear in Finnegans Wake. Ruth Bauerle’s long, richly detailed, and often amusing introduction critically interprets Joyce’s life and work in terms of its operatic and literary interconnections. The resulting volume will delight both opera lovers and Joyceans. The allusions are organized first by the page and line of their appearance in Finnegans Wake and then cross-referenced by opera composers and their works, librettists, designers, critics, and conductors, as well as by arias, characters, and singers. The rich musical subtext of Finnegans Wake incorporates Joyce’s earlier opera allusions in a grand opera finale of his own.”

The Adventure of the Detected Detective: Sherlock Holmes in James Joyces Finnegans Wake

William D. Jenkins
Greenwood, 1997, ISBN 0313291438; Hardcover $83.95. [

According to “What better introduction could there be to Finnegans Wake, perhaps the most difficult literary work ever written, than the Sherlock Holmes stories, perhaps the most readable and popular stories ever written? James Joyce made extensive use of Sherlockian material in his work; indeed, Jenkins argues, this use goes to the core of the meaning and structure of Finnegans Wake. In this exhaustive and entertaining analysis, Jenkins provides the specific references to Holmes’ adventures in the Wake and examines the context in which they occur and how they relate to the larger Wake themes.”

The Wake Newslitter CD

Split Pea Press; CD-ROM £25.00. [Browse/Purchase]

According to the Split Pea Press: “This CD-ROM contains the complete run of the A Wake Newslitter journal. This journal was dedicated to the study of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The package contains the 18 issues comprising the Old Series and the 102 issues comprising the New Series along with the 4 Occasional Papers and the volume entitled A Wake Digest. All files use Adobe Acrobat PDF software. This disc is Macintosh and Windows compatible.”

Commentary by Ross Chambers:
I can only add that the material contained represents a moderated collection from many of the most prominent Wake critics of the period, critics who laid the groundwork for current studies, and whose perceptions and concepts are still to be fully explored. The complete run allows a timeline of Finnegans Wake studies, from annotation, establishment of commonly accepted themes, and eventually to genetic studies.
It may be difficult to find this journal in print form. The usually thorough Fisher Research Library of the University of Sydney has a collection which over time has become incomplete, the Newslitter, particularly in its early issues didn’t seem to qualify for the journal binding list.
The CD-ROM is pleasing to navigate and search, and the Adobe 4 Reader is included, if a download is needed.

Green Bar

Go To:

Joyce Criticism Main Page – Back to the main criticism page, where you will find the standard Brazen Head menu.

Notes and Annotations on Dubliners & PortraitGuides and criticism on Joyce’s first two works.

Notes and Annotations on UlyssesGuides and criticism on Ulysses.

General Criticism – General literary criticism or commentary on Joyce and his works.

Specific Criticism – Joycean criticism with an angle: Feminist, Marxist, Post-structural, Postquailist, etc.

Biography: Life and Times – Biographies about Joyce, or books about Ireland during his epoch.

The sissymusses and the zossymusses in their robenhauses quailed to hear his tardeynois at all – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

–Allen B. Ruch
30 December 2005