Tuesday, 21 July 2020

HCE interred in the landscape

The full stop after 'platterplate' is a mistake, added by transition's typesetters.

Here's a letter used as a picture, on page 6 of Finnegans Wake. This E lying on its back is Finnegan/HCE, flat on his back after tumbling from his 'hierarchitectitiptitoploftical' tower.
In the sentence, the narrators ask us to look at the fallen giant. The sense is clearest in the first draft: 'He, a being so on the flat of his bulk, let wee peep at Hom, plate III'. 

from the Garland Press edition of the James Joyce Archive

Joyce then changed 'flat of his bulk' to 'flounder of his bulk', 'plate' to 'platterplate' and the number of the plate to the E lying on its back. 

We are being invited to look from above down at the giant's fallen body; at a plate, or illustration, in the book we are reading; and at a platter, a plate with Finnegan as a huge flounder lying on it.  He has become the meal to be served at his own wake.

A European flounder
Flounder, to stumble and struggle clumsily e.g.  'My foot did slide and..Flundring, almost flat on earth I go.' William Wirley, 'Lord Chandos', 1592  

Here's the second draft, where Joyce has changed 'peep' to 'peepsee' and added 'weighed down upon' and  'see peegee ought he ought?' - directing us to the page where the plate appears?

With the fair copy, 'weighed down upon' was dropped, but Joyce added  'like an overgrown babeling', an image of him as a huge helpless baby, fallen from the Tower of Babel. 

Finnegan is stretched out across the landscape of North Dublin. 'He calmly extensolies' from 'Shopalist' (Chapelizod) in the west to the 'Bailywick' (Baily lighthouse of Howth) in the east. The 'Hum!' is short for Humpty Dumpty and his humptyhillhead at Howth (which means 'head').

'The great fall of the off wall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan,
erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes
' 03.19

Explaining the opening page, Joyce drew a plan for Harriet Shaw Weaver of his giant lying beside the Liffey, with his head at Howth.



This E lying on its back was packed with significance for Joyce. Standing on its three legs, a capital E was his siglum (sign) for HCE. Here's a list of sigla he sent Harriet Shaw Weaver in March 1924.

Joyce's characters had so many different names that he needed sigla to organise his material. Over time, the sigla took on lives of their own. If you want to learn more about them, I recommend Roland McHugh's The Sigla of Finnegans Wake.

He'd already used the HCE siglum in the 1925 Letter chapter, paired with Anna Livia's siglum.

The E this way up is decribed as a 'meant to be baffling chrismon trilithon sign'. 'Chrismon' is another name for the Chi-Rho symbol a monogram made of the first two letters of Christ in Greek.  'Trilithon' is a word invented by William Stukely in 1740, in his book on Stonehenge. From Greek ‘tri’ – three, and ‘lithos’ – stone, it describes two large upright stones topped by a horizontal lintel.
Engraving from Stukely's Stonehenge

'This adytum..is in truth compos'd of certain compages of stones, which I shall call trilithons, because made, each of two upright stones, with an impost at top.'

William Stukely, Stonehenge, 1740.

Stonehenge was mysteriously important to Joyce.  When he visited the monument, in 1931, he said, 'I have been fourteen years trying to get here'.

(Statement by Mrs. Kathleen Griffin on the BBC Third Program, Part II,"The Artist in Maturity," 17 February 1950. quoted by David Hayman, A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, p3)

I'd love to know more about this visit!

Joyce's sign for HCE, which also appears in a hand drawn footnote on page 299, looks like  part of Stonehenge with two trilithons.

In October 1926, Harriet Shaw Weaver sent Joyce an illustrated pamphlet about a supposed  'Giant's Grave' beside St Andrew's Church in PenrithHe recognised the grave as his HCE sign lying on its back. It was this idea that inspired the whole opening chapter of the book.

When Joyce wrote his second draft of the chapter, he actually drew the platterplate, with a massive E on it, facing the first page.  You can see that he has drawn his E with longer lines at each end, like the tall stones of the Giant's Grave. 

Joyce also identified the E on its back with the Chinese sign for mountain, which began as a picture of three peaks

Joyce told Eugene Jolas that, 'time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book.'

In a letter to Weaver, Joyce claimed that the Chinese word for mountain was 'the common people's way of pronouncing...Fin.'

HCE is 'a man that means a mountain' (309.04)

The Chinese word for mountain is usually spelled 'Shan'

I wonder if Joyce planned to include the student's drawing of the sign as his platterplate. It would explain why he wanted it drawn by someone who was Chinese, just as he included a real child's drawing on page 308.

In his letters, Joyce uses the sign as the chapter title. In May 1927, when giving clues to Harriet Shaw Weaver, who was trying to guess the title of the book, he explained the meaning of the sign.

Joyce told Cyril Connolly that the first part of his book was 'a kind of air photograph of Irish history, a celebration of the dim past of Dublin.' (The Condemned Playground, 1946,p10)

This is particularly true of the opening pages, where we are looking down on the outstretched form of HCE, 'interred in the landscape'.


In their 'Chicken Guide', Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon associate the 'platterplate' with this plate showing the funeral Vigil of Osiris.

'If you peep at the above plate on page eighty-eight of Moret's Rois et dieux d'Egypte, you will see a depiction of the funeral vigil of Osiris (here supposed to represent HCE as an overgrown baby or a flounder fish being served on a platter.)'

Osiris was a god whose body was spread across a landscape - though cut into pieces unlike Finnegan's.


HCE is often a fish in the book, usually a lively salmon rather than a fallen flounder. As Robert H. Boyle argued, 'the Wake must be considered as belonging in great part, albeit a bizarre part, to angling literature' .  

The fish in these pages may represent Christ, who was said to have fed 5,000 people with two small fish, and who invited his followers to eat his body in the mass. For early Christians, the Greek word for fish, Ichthys, stood for 'Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter' (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour).

Just as we're about to eat him, he melts away, though he is still visible in the Dublin landscape.

But, lo, as you would quaff off his fraudstuff and sink teeth through that pyth of a flowerwhite bodey behold of him as behemoth for he is noewhemoe. Finiche! Only a fadograph of a yestern scene. Almost rubicund Salmosalar, ancient fromout the ages of the Agapemonides, he is smoltenin our mist, woebecanned and packt away. So that meal’s dead off for summan, schlook, schlice and goodridhirring.
  Yet may we not see still the brontoichthyan form outlined aslumbered, even in our own nighttime by the sedge of the troutling stream that Bronto loved and Brunto has a lean on.
Hic cubat edilis. Apud libertinam parvulam. 7.12

Brontoichthyan - thunder (bronte) and fish (icthys), and the Brontosaurus and Icthyosaur, since this is taking place in the dim prehistoric past.

The Latin at the end has the HCE and ALP initials and means, 'here sleeps the magistrate with the little freed girl.'

He is not dead but 'aslumbered', lying beside his river wife, the Liffey.

Perhaps Joyce was thinking of this passage when, according to Ellmann,  he told a friend (unnamed) that he 'conceived of his book as the dream of old Finn, lying in death beside the River Liffey and watching the history of Ireland and the world – past and future – flow through his mind like flotsam on the river of life'.

A sleeping giant in the landscape, in an 18th century puzzle picture.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020


Here's an extraordinary word, invented by James Joyce in November 1926 when he was writing the opening chapter of Finnegans Wake. It first appeared as an addition to the text.

The capital R shows where the addition was to go.

Here's the word integrated into Joyce's fair copy, dated 29 November 1926

It's an adjective describing the tower built by Tim Finnegan, the drunken hodcarrier and masterbuilder.  At this stage, it's made up of 'hi(gh)', 'hierarch' (Greek for high priest), 'architect' and 'toploftical'.

'Toploftical' sounds like a Joyce invention but it's a real English word, in the OED:

Joyce had already used this word in his 1923 Tristan and isolde sketch, where the operatic hero cries  'with grand passion from his toploftical voicebox'

Here's how the word looked when transition published 'Opening Pages of a Work in Progress' in April 1927

Eleven years later, in 1938, when Joyce was working on the page proofs for Finnegans Wake, he added five letters to his word, changing 'titop' to 'titiptitop'.


What this change does is to add instability, perhaps representing the drunken Tim Finnegan losing his balance before he topples with a crash. Or perhaps the building itself swaying before falling. There's Finnegan's stammer too 'titi...ti' and 'tip' recalls his 'tippling way' in the song.

I recommend reading the word aloud, while risingand sway from side to side when you reach 'titiptitop'!

It's fitting that in the published text, this toploftical word appears at the very top of page 5, and that Faber's typesetters destabilised it even more by breaking it into two so that it falls down the page.

'This is a good word on which to practise. Note the way in which it combines the words 'hierarchy', 'architect', 'tipsy,' and 'toplofty', climbing up and up, beyond every expectation, like a skyscraper'

Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, 1944

Here's the whole sentence:

'Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed, like Haroun Childeric Eggeberth he would caligulate by multiplicables the alltitude and malltitude until he seesaw by neatlight of the liquor wheretwin ’twas born, his roundhead staple of other days to rise in undress maisonry upstanded (joygrantit!), a waalworth of a skyerscape of most eyeful hoyth entowerly, erigenating from next to nothing and celescalating the himals and all, hierarchitectitiptitoploftical, with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down.'

'Oftwhile balbulous'

Often drunk (bibulous, from Latin 'bibere' to drink) stammering ('balbulus') and like Balbus, a wall builder in Heatley and Kingdon's Gradatim, An Easy Latin Translation Book for Beginners, (1882) .

Generations of Latin students remembered Balbus.

'And behind the door of one of the closets there was a drawing in red pencil of a bearded man in a Roman dress with a brick in each hand and underneath was the name of the drawing: Balbus was building a wall. 
Some fellow had drawn it there for a cod. It had a funny face but it was very like a man with a beard.'

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

'Freddy's power of stating in Latin that Balbus built a wall and that Gaul was divided into three parts did not carry with it the slightest knowledge of accounts or business'

Shaw, Pygmalion

'mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp'

A mitre is a bishop's hat and a joint used in building. His trowel is for bricklaying.

'with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed'

Fweet here finds penis (trowel in grasp), condom (ivory oiled overal) and sperm (seed).
habitacularly - 'habitaculum' is Latin for dwelling. 

'like Haroun Childeric Eggeberth'

HCE's initials, but now this man of 'hod cement and edifices' has assumed a regal name fitting his toploftical notions. Haroun al-Rashid is the caliph of the Arabian Nights. The Franks had two kings called Childeric, and there were several Anglo-Saxon kings called Egbert.  The egg is also there for Humpty Dumpty.

Signet ring of Childeric I of the Salian Franks

'he would caligulate by multiplicables the alltitude and malltitude until he seesaw by neatlight of the liquor wheretwin ’twas born, his roundhead staple of other days to rise in undress maisonry upstanded'

He would calculate the height of his tower until he could see it by the light of his liquor i.e. in a drunken vision. This reminds me of Shane MacGowan's line in 'London You're a Lady': 'Your architects were madmen, your builders sane but drunk'.

He would 'caligulate' i.e. like Caligula, the deranged Roman emperor. In 1924, while researching the life of St Patrick, Joyce read the Rev William Canon Fleming's  Boulogne-sur-Mer: St Patrick's Native Town, 1907, which has this picture of a lighthouse built there by Caligula.

'On top of Caligula's tower there was a lighthouse for the guidance of vessels at sea.'

Rev William Canon Fleming, Boulogne Sur Mer: St Patrick's Natine Town, 1907

'a waalworth of a skyerscape'

The Woolworth tower in New York built in 1913 with Tim Finnegan's wall. On fwread we were talking about the New York origins of Finnegan who, in the original song, lived on Walker Street in Manhattan.  Marcin Kedzior commented:

'Well that explains when Finnegan is mentioned on the first page as a wallstrait (wall street) and on page 4 the waalworth of a skyerscape, unmistakable reference to the "Gothic Revival" Woolworth building. Actually, this is the most notable "gothic skyscraper" I can think of except the Chicago Tribune building that came later.  During most of the early writing of FW, Woolworth was the tallest building in the world and was dubbed "The Cathedral of Commerce" deliciously mingling the sacred and profane. Woolworth is an 11 minute walk from Walker St., and Wall St. in a straight line. (Waalworth is an exact midpoint between Walker St. and Wall St.)'

The building was designed by Cass Gilbert and included gargoyles with a comic carving of the architect like a medieval mason holding his building.

Joyce loved Gothic architecture:

'I remember once standing in the gardens beside Notre-Dame and looking up at its roofs, their amazing complication — plane overlapping plane, angle countering angle, the numerous traversing gutters and roundels. In comparison, classical buildings always seem to me to be over-simple and lacking in mystery. Indeed, one of the most interesting things about present-day thought in my opinion is its return to medievalism....There is an old church I know of in Les Halles, a black foliated building with flying buttresses spread out like the legs of a spider, and as you walk past it you see the huge cobwebs hanging in its crevices, and more than anything else I know of it reminds me of my own writings, so that I feel that if I had lived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century I should have been much more appreciated'
Arthur Power,  Conversations with James Joyce.  
I learned from the OED that, until the 1880s, the word 'skyscraper' was used for comic effect, describing tall people, stories, hats, horses and people riding penny farthings. From the 1880s, when the first skyscrapers were built, the architectural meaning took over.

It may be 'skyerscape' because Finnegan's tower has a fire escape, like the one in Hove where Charles Stewart Parnell made a hasty escape when Kitty O'Shea's husband unexpectedly arrived (cf 'fuyerescaper!' 228.09 'fairescapading in his natsirt.' 388.03).

Also building a tower is an attempt to escape into the sky.

The tower in Mary Ellen Bute's Passages from Finnegans Wake

'most eyeful hoyth entowerly'

awful height entirely, Howth (the fallen Finnegan's 'humptyhillhead' 3.20), and the Eiffel Tower, which dominated the Seventh Arrondissement where Joyce lived

He found the 'eyeful' joke in Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which he read while lying on the sofa for three days shortly before writing this:

'we rode around and we saw Paris and we saw how devine it really is. I mean the Eyefull Tower is devine and it is much more educational than the London Tower, because you can not even see the London Tower if you happen to be two blocks away. But when a girl looks at the Eyefull Tower she really knows she is looking at something, So I suppose that is the real historical reason why they call it the Eyefull Tower.'

'erigenating from next to nothing'

Latin 'erigens': raising, building, erecting, arousing
John Scotus Erigena, whose name means Irish-born (from 'Eriu' - Ireland). He wrote, 'The infinite essence of God, which may indeed be described as nihilum (nothing) is that from which all is created, from which all proceeds or emanates'
nervi erigentes: nerves involved in the erection of the penis


Joyce originally wrote 'celesclating', another addition to the text.

In the fair copy the word looked like this.

The typist read this as 'alesclslating', written with an l and a c superimposed - something Joyce was just eccentric enough to do.

The transition typesetters interpreted this as 'alesclslating'.  Joyce might have passed this, given his willingness to accept chance as a collaborator – the word now included alcohol. But he corrected it to  'celescalating' when he revised the proofs. It suggests an escalator, going up to the heavens (caeli and celestial)

Here's a lovely suggestion from @EmojiUlysses on Twitter.

This reminded me of Tristan singing from his 'toploftical voicebox' to Isolde.

'celescalating the himals and all'

The tower is escalating the Himalayas, mountains that seem to scrape the sky. Perhaps Joyce was thinking of the hubris of climbing earth's highest mountain. In June 1924, three years before he wrote this, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine fell to their deaths while trying to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Finnegan's aim is to reach the heavens, like the builders of the Tower of Babel

'They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.'

Genesis 11

One of three pictures of the tower by Peter Breughel the Elder

The tower is supposed to have been inspired by a ziggurat, the first human attempt to reach the sky - a reaction against the flat plains of Mesopotamia and a ladder for the god who lived on top. In paintings, the model chosen was often the Colosseum in Rome.

'with a burning bush abob off its baubletop'

Both the Eiffel Tower and the Woolworth Building had beacons on top, like Caligula's lighthouse in Boulogne, which had a real fire kept burning on top.

Even with his bad eysight, Joyce would have seen the Eiffel Tower's light.


When the Woolworth building was opened in 1913 the whole structure was dramatically lit up. 

from the excellent Bowery Boys Podcast
The light is a burning bush because God spoke to Moses from one, and also because of the ceremony of 'topping out', placing a tree or wreath on top of a newly finished building.

Topping out in Oslo in 1959. Leif ├śrnelund Oslo Museum

One model for 'Bygmester Finnegan' (04.08) is Ibsen's 'Bygmester Solness', which includes a description of a topping out ceremony.

HILDA.Then you climbed right up the scaffolding, straight to the very top; and you had a great wreath with you; and you hung that wreath right away up on the weather-vane.
[Curtly interrupting.] I always did that in those days. It is an old custom.
HILDA.It was so wonderfully thrilling to stand below and look up at you. Fancy, if he should fall over! He—the master builder himself! 

Despite his fear of heights, Solness, goaded by Hilda, climbs the tower and falls to his death at the end.

An evergreen bush was also used as a sign hung outside medieval inns. 

'with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down.'

These are the builders noisily clambering up and down on the scaffolding with their buckets and tools.  They are also two saintsLaurence O'Toole is the patron saint of Dublin - one of the three saints in the stained glass windows in the final book. In Finnegans Wake, he is often paired with Beckett. While Thomas fell from favour with Henry II and was murdered, Laurence became a trusted servant of the king. So Laurence is rising and Thomas is falling.

Mosaic of St Laurence O’Toole, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
Later, the saints appear as building contractors working on a tomb for HCE:

'while the contractors Messrs T. A. Birkett and L. O. Tuohalls were made invulnerably venerable'  77.01

The martyrdom of St Thomas a Becket