Episode I.8

A short paraphrase and guide to the episode

Prepared by Danis Rose

2010 edition FW pages 154-169
1939 edition FW pages 196-216

Anna Livia Plurabelle


Book I concludes with a chapter that Joyce was inordinately proud of. He made a voice recording of part of it and published it several times in both periodical and booklet form, each one an advance on the one before, before it became part of Finnegans Wake.. He revised it recursively more times than any other chapter, extending and modifying it over and over again. He assisted L.W. Lockhart in the preparation of a version in ‘basic English’ for which he wrote some of the notes: ‘Notes in Basic English on the Anna Livia Plurabelle Record.’[160]. To appreciate the importance of sound and rhythm in understanding the Wake, the reader is invited to listen to the original recording XXX.

In March 1924, he described the episode to Harriet Weaver as a ‘chattering dialogue across the river by two washerwomen who as night falls become a tree and a stone. The river is named Anna Liffey. Some of the words at the beginning are hybrid Danish-English. Dublin is a city founded by Vikings. The Irish name is Baile Atha Cliath. Ballyclee = Town of Ford of Hurdles. Her Pandora's Box contains the ills flesh is heir to. The stream is quite brown, rich in salmon, very devious, shallow. The splitting up towards the end (seven dams) is the city a-building. Izzy will be later Isolde, cf. Chapelizod’ (Letters I, 7 March 1924). On another occasion he wrote, ‘I do not know what to think of it. Hundreds of river names are woven into the text. I think it moves’ (Letters I, 259).

The river names (there are, some say, one thousand and one of them, all told) are, for the most part, afterthoughts, put in to replace similar-sounding ordinary English words. They form a kind of under- (or should I say over-) current of noise, as if one were to find it hard to understand someone speaking over the sound of water. The basic ‘sense’ of the sentences can, however, relatively easily be detected under the river-references. Take for example 164.32 (209.36): ‘chipping her and raising a bit of a chir or a jary every dive she'd neb in her culdee sacco of wabbash she raabed.’ This can be decoded as: ‘clapping her and raising a bit of a cheer or a jeer every time she'd dip in her sack of rubbish she robbed.’ A geographer, or Joyce scholar, could possibly extend his interpretation to include these river-names: the Chir, the Jari, the Neb, the Sacco, the Wabash, and the Raab. In a few instances, admittedly, the sense is more deeply obscured. For example 161.16 (205.22): ‘Thaw, thaw, sava, savuto!’ (English me that, you Trinity scholars!) The rivers involved are the Thew, Sava, and Savuto. Fortunately, such examples are rare, and the chapter is otherwise reasonably transparent. Joyce once remarked (with, perhaps, tongue in cheek) that he liked to think how some day way off in Tibet or Somaliland some little boy or girl in reading ‘Anna Livia’ would be tickled pink to come across the name of his or her home river. Whatever his reasons, he expended great labours in copying out (from an atlas) and putting in (into his book) a rich selection of river-names. I regret to say that my river, the Rathruane, is not there.

The chapter divides neatly into a number of distinct topics of conversation:

1. 154.01 – 155.29 (196.01 – 198.08) H (HCE): his shirt, name, age, marriage, and origin.
2. 155.29 – 157.21 (198.09 – 200.32) A (ALP_: her procuring, fiddle-playing, pandering, cooking, singing, procuring.
3. 157.22 – 158.11 (200.33 – 201.20) A: her verses.
4. 158.12 – 160.24 (201.21 – 204.20) A: her children; her early sexual exploits.
5. 160.25 – 161.10 (204.21 – 205.15): laundry, its concerns.
6. 161.11 – 162.12 (205.16 – 206.28) H: his disgrace, A's plan of revenge.
7. 162.13 – 162.36 (206.29 – 207.20) A: her toilet.
8. 162.37 – 163.33 (207.21 – 208.26) A: her attire.
9. 163.34 – 164.39 (208.27 – 210.06) A: her gifts.
10. 164.39 – 166.31 (210.07 – 212.19) A: the recipients of her gifts.
11. 166.32 — close (212.20 – close): laundry, its concerns resumed, nightfall.

The chapter opens with a centred ‘O’ (French eau, water). Thereafter, the text-line broadens out to normal line width to symbolise the widening of the river flowing from its source. This also represents a river delta, where it broadens again as it enters the sea. Two washerwomen are deep in conversation. In the beginning they scrub away on opposite banks at the source of the river (they are almost touching and take pains not to bump heads as they bend). As the chapter proceeds they move along the banks on opposite sides of the river, becoming ever more distant as the river widens. By the chapter's end they are so far apart as to be almost inaudible to each other

One of the two is busily whacking the dirt out of a huge shirt she is washing. It is HCE's shirt, one of enormous dimensions, and has his sigla boldly embroidered on it, as if the mere size of it wasn't a give-away by itself. It's as filthy as ever even though it has been steeping for a week and has the water black on her, but worse is the weight of it with all the water held in it. It is too much for her. How many times has she washed it, she wonders, this same mouldy shirt. And, thinking about its owner, she asks her companion to tell her what was it he did, or what was it they tried to make out he did, in the Phoenix Park, and how long was it was he put under lock and key. It was put in the newspapers, the other replies, what he did, all the details of the trial, the King versus Humphrey, spilling the beans for all to read about his illicit distilling. He was some tulip all right in his day, she admits, strutting about the town the way he did with the head on him held as high as a house and a ‘hump of grandeur’ on him like you'd find on a jack rat.

But what was he called, then, what was his name? Was it Henry the Fowler or Hugo Capot or what was it? And where on Earth was he born in the first place? And were he and ALP ever properly married at all? Were their banns ever read out in Adam and Eve's there on the quay or were they wedded over an anvil at Gretna Green? Or simply spliced by some captain at sea?[161] And was his health insured by any chance in the Stork and Pelican insurance agencies? And (she adds to her growing list of questions) isn't it so that he came by a fair few quid by way of marrying her, taking her in, tied up with a rope as she was, after dragging the poor dwarf of a thing in a birdcage along the rocky road to Dublin, past half the houses in the town. What a spectacle! If only a policeman had been there to see it!

Her companion has to scoff: poppycock! What an utter load of nonsense! What a madman's tale! Where on earth did she hear that complete barrel of rubbish? It wasn't like that at all, so it wasn't. No, he turned up for the first time skippering an old boat on the Irish Sea. When he first spied land he let loose his two ravens. He navigated a route through all the scutties and the gabbards[162] barring his way, following the birds, his hooded cloak blowing wild behind him in the wind, till with his big bowsprit he ‘roade and borst her bar.’ And there you are now. And when the sand-bulls saw him shoot ‘swift up her sheba sheath’ like that, in rage they gored the waves into spray. Oh he earned her well, he did, by the sweat of his brow, the blue-eyed mariner. And he hadn't a hoop of grass in the bank to make a ring for her let alone an ant's weight of gold![163]

Having introduced the subject of ALP, the two washerwomen fall to gossiping about her. She was, they say, nearly as bad herself as he was, if not worse, calling girls in from all round the place and getting them to go in and tickle the old pontiff a bit and pretending all the while she didn't give two hoots about his carry-on, the prostitute, climbing up on a chair, the dwarf that she was, to peer out of the window.[164] And letting on to play on a fiddle that hadn't a bottom, with sheet-music propped up in from of her. As if she could fiddle a thing!

And the whole time himself would be sitting inside, as glum as a grampus, with big tears in his eyes while a storm raged outside so fierce neither bowman nor shot would venture out and bonfires blazed on the hills and not a penny candle burned in a church and his barley was threaded with darnel. He would just sit there sombre in his seat thinking quietly to himself, with a linen scarf on him to encourage the trade, and check through the obituaries in that morning's Times and the ‘births’ in the Daily Mail with his mouth gaping open like the maw of a piano while a flock of jack-snipes pecked at his dentures, on hunger-strike all by himself, suffering through the inevitability of destiny and angry at it and his fringe combed over his eyes and dreaming on and on about nothing till the stars would come out. And there she was, Anna Liv, afraid to catch a wink of sleep, rushing about in a short skirt and painted cheeks wishing him good day and scampering off to fetch potatoes for him with salt or a fish or eggs betimes, eggs this and eggs that, or Danish bacon on toast with a sup of tea or a soup-can of Mocha coffee or a ham sandwich or whatever, just to please the man and stay his stomach. But as rash as she'd rush up to him with the tray, old Hek he'd cast it from him with a scowl and a snort of scorn as much as to say, you this and you that, and if he didn't peg the plate on her toes she was safe enough.

Chattering on about ALP's home-life, the washerwoman explains that after that ALP would do her damnedest to whistle a tune, Balfe's The Heart Bowed Down or The Rakes of Mallow or something by Michael Kelly or La Calunnia e un venticello from the Barber of Seville, huffing and puffing her way through the tune, just to please him. And HCE would just sit lifelessly there as still as the mangle weight. And then she would call to him down through the feed chute, the powder flaking off her nose, her fifty-six kinds of endearments: Wicky and Ducky and all the other pet-names she had for him. And after that she'd sing Phoebe Dearest in a voice like Nellie Melba's and pretend she was fond of all the old ‘warbly songs’ from back home, Jeg elsker saaledes hine smukke lille unge piger[165] and the like, singing away in a sonorous tone. And all this time uncle below in his cloak was as deaf as a post.

Not content with this, wouldn't she go and trot down and lean on the door jamb, smoking a dudeen, and wouldn't she beckon to every winsome farmer's daughter that was walking the road for the colleen to come inside, showing them how to lift their legs and holding up something conspicuous like a half-crown to persuade them to go and sit and have fun in HCE's lap.

One of the washerwomen, lathering hell out of a pair of underpants, now wants to know about the rhyme that ALP wrote, the ‘wyerye rima she made’, saying she's dying to learn Anna Livia's Cusheen Loo. Her companion can see from her jitters that she does and tells her to hold her gob and give her space to tell her.

The song relates ALP's need of a new corset (as the one she has is worn to a thread) and her desire to get up off her backside and head off somewhere and wash socks for the tuppence or fourpence she'd get to buy something half-decent to eat now she's run out of bran. Only that her featherbed is as snug as it is, it's out she'd leap and off with her up Tolka way or Clontarf to feel the gay air of Dublin bay and the race of the sea-wind up her hole.[166]

Passing on from the rhyme, the washerwomen get to talking about ALP's children, her alevins, and how many she had in all. Neither of them is exactly sure, God only knows, but they suspect that as she had ‘three figures to fill’ she confined herself to ‘a hundred eleven, wan by wan by wan.’[167] Quite a lot! Why she can't remember herself half the names she put on them!

It's quite on the cards she could have more yet, twins and triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets and sextuplets, children in sevens and eights and nines, litter after litter. Appreciating the effort involved, one of the women suggests that ALP must have been quite a ‘gadabout in her day, so she must.’ Thinking of all the brutes she must have gone through in the process, she asks the other if she knows who it was that was the first ‘thurever burst.’

No-one knows the answer to that one, not even Anna Livia herself, who exactly it was or where precisely or when. Perhaps it was some ‘heavy trudging lurching lieabroad of a Curraghman’ who first had her, down Kildare way. Or maybe it was ages before that, before Anna even caught sight of a bridge or a railway track. The very first time, they think, could have been down in Wicklow one day in June or July, when, Oh so cool and so sweet and so limber she looked, a local hermit — Michael Arklow was his name — couldn't resist, the thirst was that hot on him. Down he got and sank both of his hands and his arms deep into her and kissed her on her freckled forehead, kiss after kiss after kiss. She rose two feet in her own estimation after that and steps on stilts even since. Before that again, one says, two boy scouts in short trousers waded through her, ‘before she had a hint of a hair at her fanny to hide.’ Earliest of all, one time when a child she slipped and squiggled and wriggled her bare legs under a cow while a whole grove of blushing hawthorn bushes looked on (see N8 (VI.B.6):100(i) and N9 (VI.B.1):055(h)).

The women get on to ALP's hair. Is it her own, one of them wonders, or is it merely a weird wig she wears? But they stray from the point to argue about the different type of water at either bank, not to mention the disproportionate quantity of washing they have to scrub between them. One of them picks up a particular article from her bundle and, exhibiting it, asks what it is. Is it a pinafore or is a surplice? The other knows, though she is a river's width distant, by the smell of them, that they're Mrs Magrath's lace knickers, moist come off her, the only pair with frills in the land. And isn't it initialled in red thread with her maiden name, an L and a K, ‘linked for the world on a flushcaloured field.’ And, no surprise, one leg ripped into the bargain.[169]

At 161.11 (205.16), the two get back to where they began, chatting about the old bugger HCE and how after all the gory details had been printed for all to see in the Beggar's Journal even the snow that fell on his hoary head was disgusted with him. Wherever one went in the city or in the suburb or down the country, ‘you found his ikom etsched tipside down or the cornerboys cammocking his guy.’ And all the local balladeers were going round making hay and having a field-day of it. Mocking and making fun of him. But herself came to the rescue. She had a plan, the washerwoman explains, a plan to get even with the whole lot of them jackeens. She borrowed a mailbag and a loan of his lamp from one of her sons, Shaun the Post, and she consulted her diary and consulted her books and, satisfied as to that, she went and made herself ready for a big day out.[170]

She ‘sampood herself with galawater and fraguant pistania mud’ and ‘greesed’ her ‘warthes and wears and mole and itcher’ with butter and ‘with leafmould she ushered round allover her little mary’ and she ‘wove a garland for her hair’ of ‘meadowgrass and riverflags, the bulrush and waterweed’, and then she ‘made her bracelets and her anklets and her armlets and a jetty amulet’ and she smacked ‘a dawk of smut to her airy eye’ and smeared some cream over her lips and patted some paint on her cheeks. And after that she sent two of her maids to Humphrey to tell him could she leave him for a moment. As soon as his back was turned, with the mailbag slung over her shoulder, Anna Livia ‘oysterface’, out of her front-door came.

The washerwoman is enchanted at the description and begs the other to tell her exactly what it was she wore that day and how much did she weigh. The other is not slow to tell her. She had on her ploughman's boots, she says, and a hat with a peak and a bank of gorse for an ornament and a golden pin to pierce it and a pair of glasses and a fishnet veil and stockings and stays and a caped overcoat and potato-rings hung from the lobes of her ears and two fags were stuck in one of her garters and a clothes-peg was clasped on her nose and the ‘rreke of the fluve of the tail of the gawan of her snuffdrab siouler's skirt’ trailed fifty odd Irish miles behind her along the road (see N33 (VI.B.4):272(a)).

Dickens a funnier you ever saw! A gang of corporation workers who chanced to be lazing all week by Lazar's Wall, passing the time staring into the water, were struck to see her meander by in her get-up. Alp's profile had changed!

The washerwoman now wants to know what the ‘game’ was that ALP had with her in her mixed bag.[172] And where did she get it all from? She wants to hear it fresh from the source and she bets her beard it's well worth listening to. The other starts by telling her how little ALP made her way after stepping out. She didn't know what way to turn: ‘arundgirond in a waveney lyne aringorouma she pattered and swung and sidled’, careering here and careering there in a highly irregular uncertain mode of motion.[173] And from their slums and artisan dwellings the crowds came out to greet her, clapping her and cheering her every time she'd dip into her sack and fetch out one her gifts.

As for what she had in her bag, the washerwoman knows it well and recites what was for whom at enormous length.[174]

Her listener is impressed. My God, what a bagful! But here the business of washing again intrudes and the two skivvies start to argue over what's left of the soap, the swirls and the current, and over some cast-away paper-cones for snuff discarded by that cracked divine, the mad Dean Swift. Mention of the writer puts her in mind of some books she has read: The Book of Genesis[175], Wilde's Lady Windemere's Fan, Lefanu's House by the Churchyard, Mill's Subjection of Women, and Eliot's Mill on the Floss. As she talks, dusk starts to swirl around her and in the growing gloom she loses her bit of soap that she laid by the riverbank sedge as she set to rinsing. She complains of cold hands from ‘isker and suda’ (water and washing-soda or whiskey and soda), leaving them as blue as the willow pattern on a piece of china. But, soap or no soap, she loves to chat. She could listen to more and more and more again. Rain on the river, flies for the trout; sure, isn't this the life for her.

In the gathering gloom of nightfall the woman who is to be turned into a tree sees herself pictured upside down in the water in the form that she later takes. She imagines her hair is the branching canopy of a tree growing in the water. The other woman is changing too, into a stone and is feeling cold: ‘my cold cher's gone ashley.’ They worry about the hour. It must be late. It's ages since either looked at a clock but, just as one of the two straightens her aching back after all her bending over, scrubbing, she hears the bells for six o'clock ring out the Angelus. Making ready to go, they spread their washing by the river. One spreads hers by the bank, laying a few stones on it to hold it in place in the rising wind: sheets that lovers embraced between. The other, anxious lest a passing stroller rob her washing, takes care to lay her butcher's apron with the linen though, like HCE's shirt, it is so poorly washed no-one would bother to steal it. She tallies what else she has,:six shifts and on and on, thirty nine articles all told.

As vision is failing, so too is hearing. The words of the women are no longer clear to each other. The river has widened and they are parting ever more. Even so, they go on as best they can about what became of all ALP's children in later life: ‘some here, more no more, more again lost to the stranger.’ Some crossed Brendan's herring-pool (the rain-ruined Atlantic) to Markland's Vineyard (America) and got on in the world, taking ‘number nine in yangsee's hats.’ Her account is curtailed by fright as one of the women is startled by what she believes she sees far in the greyness: ‘the great Finnleader’ himself. Her companion assures her that it's nothing of the sort. Has she been lifting her elbow up in the pub earlier? She takes the opportunity to grouse about her ills, having to be up at the crack of damp dawn, day after day, and her with the Corrigan's pulse and varicose veins, ‘soaking and bleaching boiler rags’ and ‘sweating cold’, a widow like her, simply to earn enough to keep her tennis-playing son in fancy duds.

But no, wait, lo!, her companion insists, she's sure. There he is, look! Holy Scamander! I saw it again! What of it, her companion chides her. It's only a blackberry bush or a stray mule that she saw, the mule ‘them four old codgers owns.’ She then sees something else, a light of some kind, wonders what it could be. Is it the Poolbeg Light flashing yonder in the bay or is it a fireboat coasting near the Kish or a glow she beholds ‘within a hedge.’ She's at a loss to know. The deceptive twilight makes her imagine she sees a ghost. She gazes up at the stars showing forth in the empyrean above her, much like Bloom did at twilight in Sandymount:

A star! See. Venus? Can't tell yet. Two, when three it's night. Were those nightclouds there all the time? Looks like a phantom ship. No wait. Trees are they. An optical illusion. Mirage.

Dusk grows insidiously and thickens, gloom upon gloom. There is no time for tardiness. It is so dark now the woman cannot see. Her ‘sights are swimming thicker’ on her ‘by the shadows to this place.’ And the other cannot hear. They decide it's high time to go home, one by her way, ‘moyvalley way’, the other ,by hers, ‘rathmine.’

Their last few words concern Earwicker, his soft paps (useful at heathen adoption ceremonies), his wives, the ever expanding markets of Dublin, and a past when all was fair. The noise of the river rushing by and of bats circling, twittering, flittering, in the air above drown out their voices. Metamorphosing into tree and stone, the two grey figures recede into obscurity, echoing Good night, each to each.