Guides to Finnegans Wake
Unlike anything else we’ve read at the Bernal book club, Finnegans Wake begs for some sort of guide to accompany the text. There are quite a few books, articles, websites, and even organizations for this purpose. Two online resources I found are a good place to start: an article by Allen B. Ruch at http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/joyce_works_fw.html
and word by word analysis of the entire book at http://www.finwake.com/
The Ruch article gives an overview of what happens on the surface. He describes it taking place over one night and “about a family asleep in Dublin: an amiable but curiously guilty husband, his forgiving wife, their lovely daughter, and their two competitive sons. But the narrative does not concern itself with describing their tossing and turning and snoring and such: during the course of the night, the father dreams, and Finnegans Wake is the text of this dream. And not just any dream, for his dreams have dreams of their own, and these dreams encompass the whole of history, with all its races, religions, mythologies, and languages; all its loves and hates, enmities and affinities – all melting and flowing into each other, revealing the cyclical, unchanging nature of life.”
The article continues on with explanations about Joyce’s special language, structure, a theory of the plot (alternate theories exist), deeper meanings, and tips on reading it. His advice is to take what you want out of it and enjoy it. You can take an analytical approach and dig into the text with reference material or read it casually, skimming through the parts that don’t reveal themselves to you and find choice passages that resonate for you. The article ends with three guide books which are recommended and several web links.
At finwake.com you can find the entire text with words of special interest underlined and linked to explanations. These are words of Joyce’s own invention with compound allusions or words requiring explanation for some other reason. There are 90 underlined words on the first page alone, so most readers will probably want to use this resource selectively.