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Hart, Clive / Structure and motif in Finnegans wake

Chapter eight: two major motifs,   pp. 182-208 PDF (1.8 MB)

Page 182

In this chapter I conclude my study of Finnegans Wake with a discussion of
some aspects of two important motifs. The first, based on the quotation from
Edgar Quinet in 11.2, is a single modulating sentence of quite remarkable
architectural beauty which is fully stated on six occasions and is always
very clearly delineated. The second, the ' Letter', is, by contrast, a sprawling
and somewhat formless motif-complex which, although it is only once quoted
complete (615—19), recurs in literally hundreds of places in more or
less fragmentary form, making its presence felt in the most widely divergent
~ I shall trace the Quinet motif through all its major occurrences in Finnegans
Wake, but in the case of the more diffuse Letter I must content myself with
a general survey of its symbolism and a brief discussion of one hitherto
undiscovered source. 
 The more repetition a book contains, the less easy it must obviously be
for the writer to create motifs whose recurrence will arrest the attention
of the reader. In writing a book so consistently repetitive as Finnegans
Wake Joyce set himself the considerable technical problem of creating, for
major architectonic or thematic purposes, a few outstanding motifs which
would not be entirely swamped by the general flow of mutating material. His
simplest solution to this difficulty was to turn aside from his normal custom
of building up motifs from insignificant little phrases and to construct,
or borrow, a number 
 1 See Appendix A. 

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