Finnegans Wake

James Joyce

Introduced by David Greetham
Illustrated by John Vernon Lord

John Vernon Lord illustrates James Joyce’s masterpiece of linguistic innovation in a landmark Folio publication.

Published price: US$ 199.95


Finnegans Wake

Seventeen years in the making, James Joyce’s staggering experiment with language has provoked wonder, veneration, derision and bewilderment. But, more than 70 years after its first publication, it remains for many the pinnacle of creative linguistic achievement in the English – or not quite so English – language. This landmark Folio edition is the first in many years to be illustrated, and John Vernon Lord has created 12 intriguing collages, as well as an insightful introduction in which he outlines the thought process behind each image.

In series with Ulysses

Production Details

Finnegans Wake book
  • Bound in cloth with leather inset label
  • Set in Dante
  • 536 pages
  • 11 colour illustrations and frontispiece
  • Blocked slipcase
  • Book size: 11½" x 8"

How to read Finnegans Wake

As a book that defies categorisation (it is part novel, part verse, part myth and part riddle) Finnegans Wake can be read in many ways: as a puzzle; as a stream-of-consciousness carrying an expansive flow of ideas; as a poem full of linguistic acrobatics and sounds to be savoured. On one level, it is an imitation of the subconscious activity that occupies our sleep, when the patterns that govern our waking thoughts are suspended. To this end, Joyce created a kind of dreamspeak. Filled with neologisms, portmanteaus and polyglot puns, it is an extraordinary attempt to inhabit a commonplace but elusive realm of human experience. So unprecedented was his endeavour that some doubted his sanity on reading the first published passages. But the book itself rebuffed them: ‘it is not a miseffectual whyacinthinous riot of blots and blurs and bars and balls and hoops and wriggles … it only looks as like it as damn it’.

'A great comic vision, one of the few books of the world that can make us laugh aloud on nearly every page'

Intricately constructed, the language of Finnegans Wake is supple and intuitive – in many ways closer to poetry than prose: ‘with her greengageflavoured candywhistle duetted to the crazyquilt, Isobel, she is so pretty’. Its playful humour is instantly apparent, even to the novice reader. Conflated words and spoonerisms reveal witty or bawdy meanings, or poke fun at various establishments. Self-referential jokes wink at the book’s complexity: it is ‘an allblind alley leading to an Irish plot’. Often described as musical, the language depends much on sound for its meaning: ‘Countlessness of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft’. Words are melded and stretched; syntax is elastic. In this way Joyce conjures the unpredictable, boundless nature of dreams – their slippery meanings, their vivid and oblique imagery, their wayward chronology. But this world of sleep also encompasses many languages and mythologies, numerous figures from history and legions of literary works. On another level, the leading characters are fused with geographical protagonists: the city of Dublin and the River Liffey. Overarching all of this, the book’s circular structure embodies the theories of the philosopher Giambattista Vico, who viewed history as cyclical.

'If our society should go to smash tomorrow (which, as Joyce implies, it may) one could find all the pieces, together with the forces that broke them, in Finnegans Wake'

There is no set way to read Finnegans Wake, for its multiplicity – in each word and in its recursive, self-enfolding whole – is inherent and intended. As Joyce scholar John Bishop observed, ‘the only way not to enjoy Finnegans Wake is to expect that one has to plod through it word by word making sense of everything in linear order’. Or, as Joyce wrote: ‘So you need hardly spell me how every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined.’

This edition has been set from the definitive Houyhnhnm Press text edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon. Their original preface is included, alongside Seamus Deane’s note on the new edition and David Greetham’s introduction. It has been many years since the last illustrated edition of Finnegans Wake. John Vernon Lord has illustrated numerous books, including The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, whose comedic nonsense words are often seen as a source for Joyce. Here Lord has created 12 intriguing collages. He has also written an insightful introduction in which he outlines the thought process behind each image.

Joyce's language

I can't understand some of my critics, like Pound or Miss Weaver, for instance. They say it's obscure. They compare it, of course, with Ulysses. But the action of Ulysses was chiefly during the daytime, and the action of my new work takes place chiefly at night. It's natural things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?
James Joyce in conversation with Richard Ellmann

Finnegans Wake is a linguistic feast, in which dream narratives, internal monologues and philosophical references combine with neologisms and Joycean sentence structures to form a peculiar and wonderful idiolect. Michael Chabon in the New York Times described the first 'sentence' alone as ‘twisting like an inchworm from its filament’ and other phrases as having been ‘smeared over ... with a greasy thumbprint’

Writer Lawrence Norfolk, who introduced the Folio edition of The Voyage of Argo, read three passages from Finnegans Wake aloud to demonstrate the lyricism and unbridled giddiness of Joyce’s masterpiece.

Lawrence Norfolk reads from page 4 of Finnegans Wake – 'Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand ...'

Lawrence Norfolk reads from page 154 of Finnegans Wake – 'tell me all about Anna Livia ...'

Lawrence Norfolk reads from page 234 of Finnegans Wake – 'We've had our day at triv and quad ...'

James Joyce (1882 - 1941)

James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882. After graduating from University College Dublin in 1902, he moved to Paris, where he devoted himself to writing. Much of the rest of his life was spent living on the continent — in Paris, Trieste and Zurich — with his wife, Nora. His first published work was Chamber Music in 1907, a book of poems. This was followed by Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). International fame came with the publication in Paris of Ulysses in 1922. In the same year he began work on Finnegans Wake, which was finally published, after seventeen years of composition, in 1939. Joyce died in Zurich in 1941.

John Vernon Lord - illustrating the impossible

Read an extract from John Vernon Lord's introduction

Illustrating Finnegans Wake was such a unique undertaking that The Folio Society asked John Vernon Lord to write an introduction explaining his process. Each illustration in this edition is as complex and multifaceted as the text itself, with new messages and meanings to discover in every image. (© 2014 John Vernon Lord)

Click here to view John Vernon Lord's notebooks (NB: this file is 2.3MB in size).

John Vernon Lord keeps detailed notebooks for every illustration he creates. Click the link above for the chance to uncover the process of a master illustrator.

Read our blog post on John Vernon Lord, which goes into further detail about these incredible notebooks.


Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Finnegans Wake.

Review by Blackie on 22nd Jul 2016

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"I agree with the first two reviews so will not repeat them but a very fine edition of this great work of literature, in a book that opens easily, has a text that invites reading, illustrations that ar..." [read more]

Review by fashionuk1 on 4th Sep 2014

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"The bounty of this illustrious edition of Finnegans Wake helped bring to life for me for the first time the supra-rich words of Joyce's text that splay in all directions even in their measured exactit..." [read more]

Review by evanss on 12th Apr 2014

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"A stunningly beautiful edition of Joyce's masterpiece, this belongs in every serious reader's library. To begin, the typeface is beautifully clean and clear, a must with this ever so complicated read..." [read more]

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