A PREJUDICED LIST OF BOOKS
USEFUL TO THE READER OF
"Wonderful books by brilliant scholars on the Wake are missing from my list. I have rather provided an eccentric but rewarding set of ALPine gear." --the riverend Clarence Sterling
This list began as 10 recommendations from Mr. Sterling -- who titled it ALPenstock -- in response to the query: "What do you consider your favorite secondary books on Joyce?" As similar questions came up on a public computer-mail discussion, Sterling posted his list for all. To that list I added more books that have been especially helpful to my reading, which prompted some additions from Sterling . . .
First up are books from the riverend that introduce the reader to some of the more obscure bases of Finnegans Wake that most exegesis ignores but nonetheless are essential keys to the spirit behind the book. The numbered entries are quoted from riverend Sterling's original list, "Ten Handy 'Volumes' To Have At The Wake."
1. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, by Paul Foster Case. A benign and well organized introduction to Qabala in general, and the correspondences of the Golden Dawn specifically. Free of creepy cant and obnoxious proselytizing, a student is exposed to the basic vocabulary of Qabala, and its roots in the Semitic alphabet.
The White Goddess discusses as well the Druidic lunar (menstrual, actually) calendar organized by the tree alphabet, and the sacred nature of poetry, proposing and examining "the single grand theme of poetry: the life, death and resurrection of the Spirit of the Year, the Goddess's son and lover." Graves also teaches in this and his other studies of mythology a critical method of assessing ancient stories: Picture an icon of the scene described, and imagine a different story that the picture tells. For example, from the picture of Paris awarding the apple to the most beautiful goddess, imagine instead that the picture shows a triple goddess giving him the apple. Condren's book is fascinating because its subject of medieval sexual politics echoing down through our own age is very much a theme of Finnegans Wake. Walker's book is a massive and highly readable compilation of wisdom, the suppressed and mangled beliefs that are part of what Finnegans Wake is after resurrecting.
2. The White Goddess, by Robert Graves. The student is exposed to the European, and particularly the Celtic, form of Qabala. The alphabet is revealed as the expression of the feminine spirit whose name is referred to in the Wake's title (Finn=white), just as Case's book will reveal that ALP is the first letter of the original alphabet.
3. The Serpent and The Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic Ireland, by Mary Condren. A look at the devolvement of the goddess during the Irish Middle Ages. A flawed interpretation of one item of Joyceana can be overlooked in respect of the wealth of other treasures. An outstanding and scholarly contribution from a good writer.
4. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker. A dandy one-volume look at the basic components of mythic substrata freed from the fairy tale bowdlerization that gets stamped on us around grammar school. This and the above books give one a good start on getting past the HCE/Shem/Shaun obsession of much Wakean exegetics, and starting to concentrate on the real and obvious central character of the Wake, ALP/Eve/St. Brighid/ad inifinitum, the eternal mythic feminine spirit of the recycle of reappearance who, after all, opens and closes Finnegans Wake from "riverrun, past Eve" on page 3, to Anna's final confluency on page 628.
Some other "background" books I would suggest as essential are Vico's New Science, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Hebrew Genesis, and James George Frazer's The Golden Bough. These are all fairly obvious in their importance to Finnegans Wake. The riverend pointed out that Frazer includes some important information about Brighid, such as that her festival day was February 2nd, Joyce's birthday, in many Celtic areas. He (Sterling) also added that any Egyptiana by E. A. Wallis Budge, along with other literature from ancient Egypt, is worthwhile. And Vico's autobiography is interesting, according to Sterling: It begins with a horrible fall from the ladder in his father's library.
And as for Genesis, the riverend recommends learning the Hebrew alphabet enough to follow an interlinear translation and to use a Hebrew-English dictionary. On the internet, bible.crosswalk.com/InterlinearBible/ provides interlinear versions of the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, as well as the free TrueType fonts you need to view them. There are many bible study tools on the internet. Searches and display of many old and new English translations, also the Latin Vulgate translation, as well as a wealth of reference, are available at bible.crosswalk.com. For access to other-language translations, as well as the Vulgate, try bible.gospelcom.net/bible?.
A source for many sacred texts from all times and all places is found at www.sacred-texts.com.
A book that illuminates another more obscure area of knowledge from which Joyce worked is Architecture Myth and Mysticism, by William Lethaby. This is an overview of sacred architecture: vaults, domes, eggs, portals, labyrinths, etc., all the elements of HCE's holy city.
Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, by Sabine Baring-Gould, provides the reader with a helpful background in medieval stories. (Because Finnegans Wake is indeed medieval: between the ancient and the modern, the unwritten and the ordered.) Speaking of the middle ages, the romance of Tristan & Isolde is woven through the Wake: tree, stone, Issy, "moulty Mark," and the Queen of Ireland with her restorative powers.
Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle, presents a wit and philosophy that is a surprising precursor to Finnegans Wake, in which ALP's father is a tailor and her suitor is resuited.
And of course books of Irish and Dublin history, and Richard Ellmann's biography of James Joyce, are very important for much of the raw material that was fed into the Wake. An extensive world-wide-web site for Dublin history has been assembled by Ken Finlay at indigo.ie/~kfinlay/.
Now we return to the original list, for Wake-specific reference material.
5. Annotations to Finnegans Wake, by Roland McHugh (2nd edition). Indispensable, if the student realizes it is not set in stone. I have spotted a glitch here and there, as the reference to "old style" for Gregorian Calendar, which should be "Old Style means Julian Calendar" (itself a red herring from Joyce, who really means the primal lunar calendar), but more often the problem is simply that any one person's values on data will be at times askew from Joyce's, as when Fatima is given out as Mohammed's daughter, which is interesting, but less noteworthy than Fatima as the town near the famous apparition of Mary -- these are not feet of clay, but simply the inevitable riffles in a mighty river of informative background beyond all other books on the Wake.
Another search site is provided by Mark Thompson at lycaeum.org/~martins/Finnegan. For browsing word lists, use my concordance at www.kirbymountain.com/FWconcordance or Matt McLaurine's at caitlain.com/fw.
6. James Joyce A-Z, by Fargnoli & Gillespie. Herein are good capsules of the mainstream schemata for the Wake, drawn from its seminal scholars, and an appendix gives a chapter by chapter briefing. Again, this is not to be taken as the word of god, but rather a fine quick reference to standard exegetics -- and, the student gets a good compendium of Joycean information in general.
7. The Books at the Wake, by James S. Atherton. A very good intro to Wakean criticism because: 1) it is easy and pleasant reading, focusing on what is most interesting to anyone who is going to be able to stand the Wake at all, which being books and reading in general; 2) the author does not attempt to focus on distracting overviews or ornate substrata; 3) more important than the books chosen, a way of reading the Wake is shown in which each phrase, word, even syllable, can be sifted for hyperlinks to other works; 4) the author's theory that Mr. Joyce leaves hints of affirmation for scholars following obscure and speculative threads through the Wake is very worthy of contemplation.
8. www.trentu.ca/jjoyce. This cybertext of the Wake from Trent University, and with guidance from Donald Theall, makes the Wake available on a per-page basis [as well as Ulysses by chapter]. Having the text already scanned into digital form is a blessing beyond recompense. (Certain copyright restrictions apply.)
9. www.grand-teton.com/cgi-grand-teton/jjoyce/omnisearch.cgi. Michael Hanson provides this engine for searching the text of the Wake as well as several of Mr. Joyce's other works. Another gift from cyberspace which places anyone ahead by quantum leaps. Imagine looking for every instance of the number 32 in Joyce's primary oeuvre page by page on your own! Now it is done in a few minutes, easily at home. Almost. You have to bear in mind the engine is not flawless: Mr. Joyce can find more ways to write 32 than we will ever really know, and the computer would not find any of them unless you already know what you are looking for.
A new internet project addresses the problem that many reference works for Finnegans Wake are out of print and rare in libraries: The James Joyce Scholars Collection is a collection of scans of several very useful studies. The books are available as unedited text pages as well, and a search facility is provided. It is quite a bit slower than using the books themselves, but quite a bit better than never seeing the books at all. The project is compiled by Donald Hayman and hosted by the University of Wisconsin.
There are many papers to be found on the internet, many of them quite good, but I cite here only two important papers by Mr. Sterling: "Foriver for Allof -- The Ravisht Timing a'Bride" and "1132 A.D. & SAINT Brighid". These essays show the centrality in Finnegans Wake of the 1132 A.D. raid of Kildare and rape of its abbess, representative of St. Bridget, herself the Christian version of the ancient goddess Brighid, whose new year began on 2 February, James Joyce's birthday.
10. Encyclopedia Britannica CD. Mr Joyce is said to have used the 11th edition, a superior edition on its own. But this CD is handy, and costs little compared to the book form, and I can avoid the public library which is not open at 3:00 am anyway.
A set of the Encyclopedia Britannica from the 1950's is occasionally found and affordable at house sales. One can also pay for internet access to the complete edition at www.britannica.com. An on-going project has brought the classic 11th edition on line: 1911encyclopedia.org. It's still in a rough state but nonetheless useful. Besides the encyclopedia, there is the dictionary, preferably the Oxford English Dictionary or Skeat's Etymological Dictionary, also slang and non-English dictionaries, and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. And, and . . .
Finally, all books require a community of readers. For Finnegans Wake, reading groups exist in many communities, and the internet has facilitated other communication, through world-wide-web sites such as the one providing this paper and those that host discussion groups such as the excellent Ulysses group and the lively new (December 2002) page-by-page Finnegans Wake group, Usenet newsgroups such as alt.books.james-joyce, and e-mail lists, particularly J-Joyce, FWake-L, and FWread.
FWread is a page-a-week readthrough that began in 1996 and is scheduled to reach the end of the book to start over in 2008. Click here to join FWread. It is hosted by the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA.
FWake-L is for discussion of anything in or related to Finnegans Wake. Click here to join FWake-L. After joining, you have access to the many years of the list's archives. It is hosted by HEAnet, Ireland's education and research network provider.
J-Joyce is for discussion of anything in any of the works of or anything related to James Joyce himself. Click here to join J-Joyce. It is hosted by the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA.
— Eric Rosenbloom