The ‘Ideal Reader’ of Finnegans Wake

  • Katie Wales
Part of the The Language of Literature book series


In 1926 Joyce sent Ezra Pound some pages of his new novel he had begun in 1923 and which was provisionally entitled Work in Progress, a title that remained until final publication in book form in 1939. Pound’s reaction has been echoed by many readers subsequently:

I will have another go at it, but up to the present I make nothing of it whatever. Nothing so far as I make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization. (cited Ellmann, 1982: 584)

H. G. Wells called it the ‘gibbering of a lunatic’ (The Shape of Things to Come, 1933); and Leavis wrote of its ‘monotonous non-significance’ (1933:197). Some readers and scholars have, self-confessedly, never attempted more than a few pages of it (Lacan, for example, only reached page fifteen); others, however, like the reader of Anna Livia Plurabelle’s letter cited at the head of this chapter, have ‘nuzzled over’ it a ‘full trillion times’. Tindall spent thirty years preparing his Reader’s Guide (1969). Not surprisingly, perhaps, those who write critical surveys of Joyce’s works are usually content with brief, often conflicting, summaries of its ‘content’ and of its techniques; and no full-scale treatment of the language of the novel is available.


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© Katie Wales 1992

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  • Katie Wales

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