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Finnegans Wake

Irish writer James Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, has been described as one of the least-read books in the English canon. Joyce wrote the novel over the course of seventeen years, and the work is highly experimental, written in an attempt to convey the experience of sleep and dream. Joyce began work on Finnegans Wake in 1922, following the publication of his masterpiece, the difficult Ulysses. Finnegans WakeFragments of his avant-garde new work began appearing in print in 1924, but the full novel, along with its title, did not appear until 1939, some two years’ before his death.

In its final form, Finnegans Wake consists of some seventeen chapters, divided into four Books. The entire novel ends in the middle of a sentence, and begins in the middle of the same sentence, a structure consciously chosen by Joyce. The first chapter introduces the setting, the area around Dublin, and one of the main characters, Finnegan, a hod-carrier who falls to his death from a ladder. Much of the book tells the story of the Earwicker family, the father HCE, the mother ALP, and their three children: Shem, Shaun, and Issy.

Many scholars of Joyce have come to the conclusion that a large number of details within the novel remain unknown, lost inside of the author’s thoughts and obscured by the experimental nature of the writing. No two plot summaries offer the same narrative structure of Finnegans Wake, leaving the work a curiosity in literature.

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