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Finnegans Wake

Scienza Nuova

joyce history title book

an experimental prose work by James Joyce, published in 1939. Written in a dense, richly textured, and allusive style, whose punning, fragmentary quality mirrors the free-associating nature of the dreaming mind, the book is perhaps the definitive and most extreme work of literary Modernism. At once simple and complex, its narrative, which takes place in a single night but also incorporates the whole of human history, describes the relationships between Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, an Everyman (H.C.E. translates as ‘Here Comes Everybody’) who is also Adam, his wife, Anna Livia Plurabelle, who is Eve and also the River Liffey, their daughter Iseult/Isobel, and their twin sons, Shem and Shaun, who are also Cain and Abel. Set in Dublin, the entire work is permeated with Irish legend and history, which is seen as an endless cycle of birth, dissolution, and renewal—a view Joyce derived, in part, from his reading of Vico's Scienza Nuova and which is implicit in the book's title, with its play on the dual meanings of the word ‘wake’. The work is divided into four sections, corresponding, amongst other things, to the four seasons of the year and the Four Ages of Man, and offers a kind of guided tour around the ‘museyroom’ of the past, as well as a condensed history of language itself. It has given rise to a vast corpus of critical works and linguistic exegesis, focusing on every aspect of the work: from its use of children's nursery rhymes to its reworking of Homeric legend; from its exploration of the topography of Dublin—‘Howth Castle and Environs’—to its exposition of the universal myth of fall and redemption. It is, in Joyce's succinct coinage, a ‘funferal’, offering, in the words of the Irish-American ballad from which it takes its title, ‘lots of fun at Finnegan's wake’.

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