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McHugh, Roland / The sigla of Finnegans wake

Chapter 1: the structure of Finnegans Wake,   pp. 5-26 PDF (1.4 MB)

Page 5

Chapter i m 
The Structure of Finnegans Wake 
FWconsists of four books, defined by the three phases of universal history
in Giambattista Vico's Principi di Scienza Nuova (The New Science), to which
is annexed a transitional phase. Book I is the Age of Gods, symptomized by
birth and commencing with a roll of thunder. Book II is the Age of Heroes
and of marriage, book III that of People, of democratic institutions and
of burial. Book IV, the ricorso, completes the cycle, the last and first
sentences of FW being continuous. 
 The four books incorporate much simple allusion to their respective ages,
but the stylistic differences are only partially connected with Vico. The
tone of book I is one of reservation over the accuracy of its contents. The
narrators are usually historians engrossed by a narrowing speculation over
the irretrievable past events they study. Towards the close of the book their
scholarly tone fades: 1.8 is spoken by two washerwomen, but its subject is
still an uncertain antediluvian treasure. 
 Book II is less palpably narrated and its concerns are more sophisticated
and psychological than those of book I. It exhibits great solidity and self-sufficiency,
and the language is particularly complex. It is the most difficult book and
rests upon the substrate of books I and III, entangling their fabrics 
 Book III has an interrogative quality. Direct speech, denoted by a dash
preceding the paragraph, is more abundant here than elsewhere. In accordance
with the Viconian scheme it is modern. The sterility and flamboyant purposelessness
of the age of luxury infect and dilute the stylistic impact. In the last
chapter of book III one observes reference to the future and to the destinies
of the characters: this outward-looking trend is maintained in the short
book IV. These chapters contain also a particular awareness of events going
on offstage, connected with the arrival of dawn and the waking process which
terminates the sleep of FW. There is 

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