Episode II.4

A short paraphrase and guide to the episode

Prepared by Danis Rose

2010 edition FW pages 297-310
1939 edition FW pages 383-399


II.4 is an oddity, an interloper into Finnegans Wake. In Joyce's original plan, Book II was to end with ‘lights out in the village’ (see Letters I, 7 June 1926), the section that now appears at the end of II.3. What is even more surprising is that an early version of ‘MaMaLuJo’ had already appeared in print, in the Transatlantic Review for April 1924, so that Joyce's 1926 plan did not mean that he had not yet even thought of, let alone written, the piece. Oh, he had thought of it all right and even written it but he considered it a ‘sidepiece’ (see Letters I, n.d. February 1924). At the time (1924) it was not really a part of his new book.

Well, what was it a part of, then? The answer is, Finn's Hotel. And not only was Finn's Hotel in its past, it was also, as we shall see, in its future. What happened was this.

In the late Summer of 1923, while he was holidaying in Bognor, Joyce wrote a semi-comical piece about Tristan and Isolde and their carry-on on the way back from Ireland to deliver his young bride to old King Mark in Cornwall. Having composed that, he drafted a new piece, ‘The Staves of Memory’, a sort of continuation of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ in which the four waves of Ireland, depicted as four old men losing their memories, are startled into a fresh round of reminiscences by the sound of the lovers' kiss. This piece begins with the lovely ‘Seaswan's Song’. Soon after, Joyce moved the song to the end of ‘Tristan and Isolde’, had it typed up, and sent it to Harriet Weaver. He then forgot about it for the best part of fifteen years. What he did next, or perhaps it was next but one or two, was to take the middle part of ‘The Staves of Memory’ (it had originally ended in yet another beautiful verse, one that remained unpublished until 2012) and rewrote it as ‘MaMaLuJo’, the sidepiece that he sent to Ford Madox Ford to publish in his review, where it languished for some fourteen years.

The II.4 that we know now originated in the Summer of 1938, as Joyce was finishing off his book and, I would imagine, contemplating his own inevitable demise. He thought again of Finn's Hotel and wrote to Harriet Weaver asking her if she had any of the pieces, and how many of them were there, and what were they, and if she them could she send them to him posthaste. If this sounds uncannily like the episode itself, well, so it should, for it is about the memories of old men. It is true that Joyce was only 56 at the time but he had gone through quite a lot and he looked very old (see Gisele Freund's picture of him on the cover of Time, May 8, 1939) and measuring backwards his age was ‘going on minus 3.’

What he did then was this. He took a copy of the Transatlantic Review version of ‘MamaLuJo’, added some new material to it and had the result typed out. He then took the typescript of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ that he had got back from Harriet Weaver and dis-assembled it, broke it up into pieces and inserted these pieces (or some of them) into ‘MaMaLuJo’ wherever they seemed to fit. This now became a new chapter for his book. He put it in where it seemed best to fit, in the circumstances. He couldn't put it into Books I or III because they were already in proof and it wouldn't work in Book IV which he had just begun. So the end of Book II (not yet in proof) it had to be. He made some changes to the end of II.3 to facilitate it's inclusion, and Bob's your uncle. There it went.

By coincidence (or was it?) the ‘Seaswan's Song’ ended up back where it had once been, at the opening. In its newly restored position it is HCE as old King Mark listening in, in his four befuddled minds, to the song announcing the imminent arrival, in Book III, of his successor and replacement, Shaun the Post.

Over them the winged ones screamed shrill glee: seahawk, seagull, curlew and plover, kestrel and capercailzie. All the birds of the sea they trolled out rightbold when they smacked the big kiss of Tristan with Isolde.

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
But, O Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn't un be a sky of a lark
To see that old buzzard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark
And he hunting round for uns speckled trousers around by Palmerston Park?
Hohohoho, moulty Mark!
You're the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah's ark
And you think you're cock of the wark.
Fowls, up! Tristy's the spry young spark
That'll tread her and wed her and bed her and red her
Without even winking the tail of a feather
And that's how that chap's going to make his money and mark!

And there they were too listening in as hard as they could to the solans and the sycamores and the mistle thrushes and all the birds all four of them listening they were the big four the four master waves of Erin all listening four there was old Matt Gregory and then besides old Matt there was old Marcus Lyons and old Luke Tarpey and old Johnny MacDougall, the four of us and no more of us and so now pass the fish for Christ' sake.

The four of them are represented as senile, garrulous gentlemen historians, old men metamorphosed into sea-waves that splash endlessly against the planks of passing ships. They are amorphous and undifferentiated. Their personalities are interfused and their collective consciousness is turbid, feeble, and limited. They are or have been annalists, dry-as-dust academics, grey-headed geographers and lawyers and professors of history, gospellers, chroniclers and evangelists. They are morose, diseased, jealous, petty, vain, reiterative recorders of time past who now live, if life it is that they live, purely vicariously. They spend most of their days listening sleepily to the low moan of the water and to the shrill and lonely cries of soaring sea-gulls.

Fifteen years earlier, when Joyce had finished the first version of &lsquo:MaMaLuJo’ and had it typed and sent off, he wrote to Harriet Weaver (Letters, I, 23 October 1923):

Many thanks for you letter and kind appreciation of the foursome episode. It is strange that on the day I sent to you a picture of an epicene professor of history in an Irish university college seated in the hospice for the dying etc after ‘eating a bad crab in the red sea’ I received a paper from Dublin containing news of the death at the age of 41 of an old schoolfellow of mine in the hospice for the dying, Harold's Cross, Dublin, professor of law in the university of Galway who, it seems, had lately returned from the West Indies where his health collapsed. More strangely still his name (which he used to say, was an Irish (Celtic) variant of my own) is in English an epicene name being made up of the feminine and masculine pronouns—Sheehy. It is as usual rather uncanny. I have written to his father (an ex M.P. for Meath) and did not care to think of it too much. I think the reading of that passage in the future (if it is ever read) is likely to cause less unhappiness to mortals than any reacting of the event which accompanied it (repetitions of which are likely to be more frequent than perusals of my prose).

Uncanny indeed. Perhaps that is one reason he left the piece aside for so long.

From the start, Joyce intended a strong historical axis for the piece. It has a Viconian four-part structure. He identified the four as the Four Masters (Peregrine O'Clery, Michael O'Cleary, Farfassa O'Mulconry and Peregrine O'Duignan), authors of the Annals of Ireland, as well as the four evangelists, the four provinces of Ireland and the four wind directions (the old men are windbags), North South, East and West, etc. Curiously, Ford Madox Ford believed his review would be prosecuted for obscenity if he published it. Only on expert legal advice did he calm down and allowed publication to go ahead.

He would have had more reason to worry if Joyce had sent him the 1938 version, which included, interspersed among the old men's rememberings, bits of pieces of a more salacious kind from the ‘Tristan and Isolde’ vignette. To fit both of these pieces into the scheme of his ongoing book, when he thought of doing so late in the day, proved relatively straightforward for Joyce. He first reduced the problem by reducing the two stories into one by the direct cannibalisation of ‘The Big Kiss’, and its transfer in segments (usually paragraph-sized) into the Big Four episode, while preserving as he went along the original sequence of phrases.[264] The four became more obviously witnesses to the big kiss, in a peeping-tom game that reminds them of other past experiences of a similar nature, peering through port-holes (they are in the water outside) and watching young women stripping off their dresses. Still, the attempted fusion of the two story-lines is a little forced and imperfectly achieved.

The ship that originally carried the two lovers, the Silent Death, has been converted into the Nancy Hans, another name for HCE's pub. Thus the tavern-become-a-stout-ship piloted by a drunken Earwicker becomes the vessel bearing the lovers that cuckold him (as King Mark). Yet in the episode as it appears in the Wake HCE is not on board, for the reason that during the course of its composition he had never been on it. The presence of the old men floundering about in the water, however, fits: they fell off the gangplank in II.3 in their haste to disembark (leave the pub). The song of the gulls also connects: it is, in a sense, a continuation of Hosty's mockery of poor old Joe.

The newly-shaped episode can be read as the activity of the lovers viewed by the four amorphous historians as they mutter and grumble among themselves, listening and watching, in the water below. The little they still have in their head(s) is gone over by them endlessly in watery monotone. They can recollect no more than a few images: first-class ladies undressing, old statues in Dublin, cases of drowning, divorce courts, colleges, history and auspices, despots and plebs and the laws of the Twelve Tables, ships and morning papers, Arrah na Poghue and Dion Boucicault, watering mouths and lemon squash, elders and ancients. They are utterly miserable, bent over with the whooping cough, dirty and afflicted with mucus and clots and gangrene and bed sores and old age and cold knees and feet asleep and sleeplessness. They keep trying to count the buttons on their dresses (they are she-he's in more ways than one) without being able quite to manage it.

Each of the four gets a chance to shine: Johnny at 299.28 (386.12), Marcus at 301.10 (388.10), Lucas at 303.14 (390.34) and Matt at 305.01 (393.04). But they all say more or less the same thing. Some themes keep cropping up, for example the number 1132, which can be a date (the year of the flood 1132 S.O.S., the freebutter year of Notre Dame 1132 P.P.C., the year of buy in disgrace 1132 or 1169 or 1798 Y.W.C.A., old year's eve 1132, M.M.L.J. old style) or an address (1132 Brian or Bride street, No. 1132 or No. 1169, bis, Fitzmary Round), and drownings both general (Pharaoh's army, the Flemish Armada) and particular (poor Dion Cassius Poosycomb and poor Andrew Martin Cunningham, the fictional version of Joyce's father's old friend Matt Kane who drowned in Dublin Bay in the Summer of 1904).

Near the end, the four try to pray ‘And after that now in the future, please God, after nonpenal death, all start repeating ourselves, in medios loquos, from where he got a useful arm busy on the touchline, due south of her western shoulder, down to death and the love embrace, with an interesting tallow complexion and all now united, sansfamillias, let us ran on to say oremus prayer and homeysweet homely, after fully realising the gratifying experience of highly continental evenements,’ before their wheezing and wheedling is drowned out by the sound of the Lambeg drum and fife.

They then fall to singing, or trying to sing, their theme song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, on top of the songs ‘To Ladies Eyes a Round’ and ‘Love's Young Dream.’ What they finally come up with is the Anno Domini ballad. There are four stanzas in this, and each is sung by one of the four, taking traditional turn. The main substance of each verse is an account of some unspecified woman. She is described, respectively, as unmarried but nubile, unmarried and wedded to nature, a widow but marriageable, and, lastly, as lascivious. Joyce sent Miss Weaver a ‘kind of plan of the verses.’ This shows how he strove to make each verse as representative as possible of ‘its’ old man by way of particular association, much as he did in the paragraphs of ‘their’ Question in I.6.

The themes Joyce lists on the Weaver document are headed Pronoun, Evangelist, [name], Four Masters, Ore, Evangelist Symbols, Liturgical Colours, Day, Province, and Accent. Expanded, these are:

(M) thou, Matthew, Matt Gregory, Peregrine O'Clery, gold, [none], blue-black, Palm Sunday, Ulster, and Belfast.
(M) she, Mark, Marcus Lyons, Michael O'Cleary, silver, Lion, moon-blue, Holy Tuesday, Munster, Cork-Kerry.
(L) you, Luke, Luke Tarpey, Farfassa O'Mulconry, steel, calf, red, Spy Wednesday, Leinster, Dublin.
(J) I, John, Johnny MacDougall, Peregrine O'Duignan, iron, eagle, black, Good Friday, Galway-Mayo.

He also appended a note:

The liturgical colours are really violet for the three Synoptic gospels and black for the Johannine[.] Marcus Lyons' day is indicated indirectly. Dougal … means dark foreigner (i.e. the Dane). The apocrypha are represented by Lally and Roe and Buffler etc.[265]

Not all of these patterns survived into the final text, being superseded in revision; but the general idea remains intact. The reader can easily see how Joyce ‘personalised’ the verses, as, for example, Matthew's:

Anno Domini nostri sancti Jesu Christi
Nine hundred and ninetynine million pound sterling in the blueblack bowels of the bank of Ulster.
Braw bawbees and good gold pounds, galore, my girleen, a Sunday'll prank thee finely
And no damn lout'll come courting thee or by the mother of the Holy Ghost there'll be murder!