James Joyce & Finnegans Wake

‘Tis as human a little story as paper could well carry

James Joyce (1882 February 2 – 1941 January 13) was one of the foremost 20th century writers. He is widely celebrated as the author of Ulysses (1922), the novel pronounced by some (obviously enthusiastic) critics as the most important book ever written in English. Joyce is also known for Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), and of course, Finnegans Wake (1939).

Known for its innovative literary style and bold, experimental use of language, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is arguably one of the most important books of the 20th century. In the words of Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, “as long as the [human] race exists, Finnegans Wake will remain one of its big pertinent codices.” Despite the historical importance of the Wake, casual readers are often dismayed and perplexed by the difficulty of Joyce’s idiosyncratic text. In the words of author Tom Robbins:

…the language in it is incredible. There’s so many layers of puns and references to mythology and history. But it’s the most realistic novel ever written. Which is exactly why it’s so unreadable. He wrote that book the way that the human mind works. An intelligent, inquiring mind. And that’s just the way consciousness is. It’s not linear. It’s just one thing piled on another. And all kinds of cross references. And he just takes that to an extreme. There’s never been a book like it and I don’t think there ever will be another book like it. And it’s absolutely a monumental human achievement. But it’s very hard to read.

Of course, you don’t have to read the book. You can listen to it! Waywords and Meansigns is just one of many musical projects taking inspiration from James Joyce. We keep a bibliography of musical works inspired by the maestro here.

While our project stands alone as the only unabridged-audiobook-musical-adaptation hybrid, others have also recorded audiobook readings of Finnegans Wake, including Jim Norton, Patrick Healy, Simon Loekle, and Patrick Horgan.

Resources for reading Joyce & Finnegans Wake

“The internet almost seems to have been invented to assist in understanding the Wake.”
Derek Attridge, University of York

Reading James Joyce can be hard. Reading Finnegans Wake can be ever harder. But don’t forgot to have fun, let the words wash over you, let the emotions ring through! There are also some great websites to assist you in your adventures. Some of our favorites:

  1. Tim Szeliga’s Finnegans Web, an online edition of the Wake hosted by Trent University
  2. Raphael Slepon’s FWEET, a search engine for finding passages within the Wake as well as annotations and commentary
  3. There are some fantastic blogs out there. We recommend Peter Chrisp’s From Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay, Adam Harvey’s Joyce Geek, and Peter Quadrino’s Finnegans, Wake!
  4. Many wonderful artists illustrate James Joyce’s work, among them Robert Berry of Ulysses “Seen”, Stephen Crowe of “Wake in Progress”, and Heather Ryan Kelley’s work
  5. First We Feel, Then We Fall is a fantastic interactive film based on the Wake, by Katarzyna Bazarnik and Jakub Wróblewski
  6. James Joyce Gazette is a great source for Joycean news on Twitter
  7. William Brockman’s James Joyce Checklist is a comprehensive bibliography of derivative works and secondary sources as well as select creative adaptations, intrepretations and responses
  8. University of Tulsa hosts the International James Joyce Foundation, where you can find information about the International James Joyce Symposium
  9. And for all your scholarly Joyce needs, the James Joyce Quarterly

If you’re ever in Dublin check out the James Joyce Centre & visit the Zurich James Joyce Foundation in Switzerland

If there are any sites you’d like to see added here, let us know.

Read more about Waywords and Meansigns our project setting Finnegans Wake to music, or better yet listen to the audio.