Hear All of Finnegans Wake Read Aloud: A 35 Hour Reading


After the pub­li­ca­tion and even­tu­al tri­umph of Ulysses, James Joyce spent the remain­der of his life work­ing secre­tive­ly on a “Work in Progress” that he would pub­lish in 1939 as Finnegans Wake, a nov­el that large­ly aban­dons the trap­pings of the nov­el and should bet­ter be called, as Antho­ny Burgess called it, a prose-poem—a beast that strikes the com­mon read­er as, in Burgess’ words, “too lit­er­ary” and “hor­ri­bly opaque.” My first encounter with this most intim­i­dat­ing book felt like some­thing between hear­ing Ital­ian come­di­an Adri­ano Celentano’s rap­tur­ous­ly gib­ber­ish approx­i­ma­tion of the sound of Eng­lish in song and Michael Chabon’s detec­tion of a “faint­ly Tolkienesque echo.” Like Chabon, I too could “hear the dream­ing sus­pi­ra­tions of the princess who lay sleep­ing in its keep.” Yet I was a bit too old for fan­ta­sy, I thought, and far too out of my depth in Joyce’s invent­ed lan­guage, built, Burgess writes, “on the fresh­ly uncov­ered roots of Eng­lish.”

I’ve nev­er lost my fear of the book, and nev­er found it accom­mo­dat­ing to any nar­ra­tive sense. And it is fear­ful and unac­com­mo­dat­ing if one approach­es it like a con­ven­tion­al nov­el that will yield its secrets even­tu­al­ly and reward the dili­gent read­er with some sort of sin­gu­lar pay­off. Nev­er­the­less, the sheer plea­sure one can derive—conventional expec­ta­tions duly set aside—from the almost tac­tile qual­i­ty of Joyce’s prose, its earthy, ancient, elven sounds, seems more to the point of appre­ci­at­ing this odd, frus­trat­ing work. Per­haps, like any well-writ­ten poem, one sim­ply needs to hear it read aloud. Joyce him­self said so, and so you can. Ubuweb brings us the entire­ty of Patrick Healy’s read­ing of the text, record­ed over a four-day peri­od in 1992 at Dublin’s Bow Lane Record­ing Stu­dios. (You can hear a small open­ing seg­ment above.) Healy’s read­ing is not with­out its faults—he rush­es and stum­bles at times—but that seems a mean com­men­tary on a record­ing of this length and dif­fi­cul­ty. Lis­ten to the first install­ment above and the rest here. You may just have an epiphany or two.

(Dia­gram above by Hun­gar­i­an artist Lás­zló Moholy-Nagy)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce Reads ‘Anna Livia Plura­belle’ from Finnegans Wake

See What Hap­pens When You Run Finnegans Wake Through a Spell Check­er

Hear Joey Ramone Sing a Piece by John Cage Adapt­ed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past on the Cen­ten­ni­al of Swann’s Way

550 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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