A discussion of Book One, Chapter Two of Finnegans Wake.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My thoughts on Chapter 2

Table of Contents:
  1. The naming of HCE
  2. The encounter with the cad
  3. the spreading of the cad’s story
  4. the ballad o’ persse o’reilly

So as this chapter opens it is talking about the origin of HCE. The E in HCE stands for Earwigger. The HC, as we see in line two, is Humphrey Chimpden. So our main character’s name is Humphrey Chimpden Earwigger. HCE of course doesn’t just stand for Humphrey Chimpden Earwigger – this is one of the games Joyce plays. All through the text we find words beginning with the letters HCE. What this lets us do is relate those letters, as a single identity, to many different things. Just as the Main Male Archetype is Adam is Jesus is God is Moses, HCE is Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is Howth Castle and Environs is Here Comes Everyone is Hubbub Caused in Edenborough. It is this sort of universalizing principle that brings everything together, if that makes sense.

I like the line in the middle of page 32, “An imposing everybody he always indeed looked, constantly the same as and equal to himself…” What a great way to describe someone J. Relevant, too, when in context of the point I was just making – even when he is not “himself” he is equal and the same as himself. Howth Castle and Environs is the same as and equal to Here Comes Everyone, etc. Does that work?

Now follow me, if you will, to the first paragraph of page 33. “A baser meaning has been read into these characters the literal sense of which decency can safely scarcely hint.” That’s a bit serious. So there is another interpretation of these characters (characters as in letters or as in individuals in a story? Both, of course, as the HCE and H.C.E. are the same, right?) that is sort of sinister. This is a book about human flaws and failures as much as about anything else, and so our caricature of humanity has our flaws built in just as much as he has our strengths. So when we get this encounter with the cad in a few minutes, it is a story of the Sin of HCE. This is primal sin, original sin, The Big Fuck Up. This causes the fall, this is why HCE is not perfect.

But before we get to that, our narrator on page 33 is giving us a defense of HCE – he says some people claim that “he suffered from a vile disease.” (line 16ish). The narrator is affronted by the very idea.

Then, there is the story that “he lay at one time under the ludicrous imputation of annoying Welsh fusiliers in the people’s park.” (a few lines down).

Finally, we get the one accusation that the narrator admits could potentially hold water (his denials are sounding suspiciously forceful): page 34, line 18: “…having behaved with ongentilmensky immodus opposite a pair of dainty maidservants in the swoolth of the rushy hollow…” But he says that the stories told by the two witnesses “are, where not dubiously pure, visibly divergent, as wapt from wept, on minor points touching the intimate nature of this…”

So what does this all mean? HCE has possibly committed a crime. “ongentilmensky immodus” is ungentlemanly immodest conduct but also on-genital – he was masturbating while watching two women?

“The rushy hollow whither…dame nature in all innocency had spontaneously and about the same hour of the eventide sent them both…” So the two girls had by coincidence both gone into the hollow, summoned by nature – going to the bathroom, as it were?

So, HCE was watching two girls peeing in the hollow and touching his genitals?

And then it gets into the encounter with the Cad, where this guy comes up to HCE and asks him what time it is and HCE panics and snaps at him and kinda goes a little crazy, acting suspicious.

Then comes my favorite part of the chapter, the spreading of the Cad’s story. Apparently, the cad tells his “bit of strife” (wife) about this, who then tells other wives and The Cad’s Story spreads as gossip. At some point, the local priest hears it and the gossip becomes Dogma. Then, the Dogma becomes Sacred Art. Finally, the sacred art becomes secular art, as a few pages later we get names of Romantic poets and the like. So it is the transformation of basically an old wives tale, quite literally, into religion, into art. HCE’s sin starts as a rumor, becomes gospel, and then becomes the foundation for human expression.

IE, Fallen Nature was a cute story before the church took it seriously and then it became dogma, then the subject for art, then the subject for all art, and now we have FW acting as sort of the self-proclaimed culmination of art using it as its subject, telling its story. It is the frailty and failing of humanity with all sorts of goodies and distractions heaped on top – and we aren’t even sure exactly what the Cad’s story is and how it is related to the earlier bit of gossip about HCE and his on genital conduct.

So then the last bit is a song demonizing HCE, it’s the people all turning against him. I stop here, I think – give me thoughts and let’s open this baby up.


Blogger drewbie said...

I find that very interesting, and your summary definately gives me some encouragement, as I saw the whole references to sin and what not. I also found an ALP in the paragraph starting with "Our cad's bit of strife" on page 38. I found that important in terms of dealing with the whole "original sin/fall" myth, as HCE is Adam and ALP is Eve. Although HCE/Adam is guilty of the sin, it was temptation in both cases that led him to it, and the feminine both times that was the temptress. Just some observations, I haven't finished the entire chapter yet, but I definately feel like I'm getting into the book!

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