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10 Pages

An Introduction to Finnegans Wake

In 1922, on his fortieth birthday, James Joyce's Ulysses was published. The fruit of seven years' work, Joyce had started the book as an unknown English teacher in Trieste and had completed it an acknowledged major author in Paris. Ezra Pound's efforts on his behalf had ensured that both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce's first novel, and the early drafts of Ulysses had been enthusiastically received in London literary circles. The public acclaim that Joyce now enjoyed was accompanied by financial security because Harriet Shaw Weaver, who had published A Portrait, made him a regular allowance. It was in these favorable circumstances that Joyce began to write a book which was to take him 17 years to complete and which, once published, was to be almost universally castigated as the product of charlatanism or insanity (or both). This is the book that we know as Finnegans Wake. Although a huge number of scholarly studies have since been written, explicating the text with reference sometimes to Joyce's life, sometimes to the books he read, sometimes to the languages he spoke, and very frequently with reference to all three and more, Finnegans Wake, nevertheless, remains inaccessible to most readers.