Is Shem dead tonight?

I was alerted to this possibility, non-authoritatively, by Porter Girl, whose name provides further "proof" that Joyce wrote all his significant future readers into Finnegan Wake. I wish to seek a more authoritative answer. I have done some of my own investigation, which I shall present along that of Porter Girl.

I will accept any answer that can demonstrate this hypothesis false, otherwise any reference to a positive authoritative answer in the literature.


Anna lies in bed dreaming, and that tonight her husband Finnegan is long dead (he fell from a ladder), does not stop him living and ghosting Anna's dreamland, in which Finnegans Wake takes place. But tonight, Finnegan is is not

[I.4 88.5] one of those lucky cocks for whom the audible-visible-gnosible-edible world existed

Anna and Finnegan had twin sons, let's call them Shem and Shaun. Shem is well-played by Stephen Dedalus and James Joyce. For example we learn early on that Shem, now archetyped as "Caddy",

[I.1 14.16] went to Winehouse and wrote o peace a farce. Blotty words for Dublin.

In Shem's chapter I.7, we learn that he

[I.7 185.34] wrote over every square inch of the only foolscap available, his own body, till by its corrosive sublimation one continuous present tense integument slowly unfolded all marryvoising moodmoulded cyclewheeling history

Shem as writer is reinforced in II.1, when a young teen Shem, now Glugg, after failing, in front of his budding half-sister Issy, to guess the colors of her rainbow girl's panties, runs away humiliated, and threatens to write Ulysses:

[II.1 228.29] He would, with the greatest of ease, ... fire off, gheol ghiornal, foull subustioned mullmud, his farced epistol to the hibruws.

This association seems to make Shem an answer candidate to the question:

[I.5 107.36] Say, baroun lousadoor, who in hallhagal wrote the durn thing anyhow?

One of Anna's dreamland characters delivered the text Finnegans Wake to the real world. They imagined a night in Anna's dreamland and wrote it all down in a novel. Not written in dreamland, but here in "Heliopolis", literaturely speaking.

Surely this is Shem? And that might go some way to explaining some of the literary gymnastics of Finnegan Wake.

  • But isn't Shem dead tonight?

We first meet the twins [I.1 3.7] (page 3 is the first page) as "topsawyer's rocks by the stream Oconee", which is Anna since she is all rivers (by, geddit?). In the next phrase they again appear as "tauftauf thuartpeatrick". But in the very next phrase, the twins begin merging as "twone nathandjoe". This always puzzled me. During parts of the text they are often turning into each other. For example, when Anna awakes and takes "young" Finnegan for an interior monologue stroll, she cannot keep the "young" twins apart in her mind.

[IV.1 620.12] Them boys is so contrairy. ... Galliver and Gellover. Unless they changes by mistake. I seen the likes in the twinngling of an aye.

Why? Twins as one, yes, I get it, but in my experience Joyce always delivers more. Notice that while "Galliver" lives, "Gellover" is over! If Shem is dead, Anna has to "use" Shaun as both her sons.

After Finnegan's fall and wake, and our introduction to Anna, we are invited to:

[I.1 12.19] take our review of the two mounds

As graves, one mound is Finnegan's grave out back, but what of the other mound? (These mounds are also Anna and HCE in bed of course.)

Anyone contemplating the hypothesis that Shem is dead, is disappointed when we meet Shem in his chapter I.7. We learn that not only does he not "develop hereditary pulmonary T.B" [172.12], but further

[172.18] He would not put fire to his cerebrum; he would not throw himself in Liffey; he would not explaud himself with pneumantics; he refused to saffrocake himself with a sod. With the foreign devil's leave the fraid born fraud diddled even death.

And although:

[179.1] he got the charm of his optical life when he found himself (hic sunt lennones!) at pointblank range blinking down the barrel of an irregular revolver of the bulldog with a purpose pattern, handled by an unknown quarreler who, supposedly, had been told off to shade and shoot shy Shem should the shit show his shiny shnout out awhile to look facts in their face before being hosed and creased (uprip and jack him!) by six or a dozen of the gayboys.

Shem appears to have survived.

But then despite the watch of cook Saunderson, now "Petty constable Sistersen" [186.19],

[187.12] he was namely coon at bringer at home two gallonts, as per royal, full poultry till his murder.

Shem is murdered (and by allusion Stephen and James Joyce, although James also died when Finnegan fell from the ladder). Shem can only appear via "Polthergeistkotzdondherhoploits!" [187.15]. This provides Shaun with the perfect opportunity to steal Shem's writings (but Issn't fooling us).

In the next and final chapter of part I, Anna's chapter, Porter Girl observes that when Anna is giving gifts to all the characters that populate Finnegans Wake, while she give a gift to Shaun, she does not give one to Shem.

... a peduncle for Karmalite Kane; a sunless map of the month,
including the sword and stamps, for Shemus O'Shaun the Post; a jackal with hide for Browne but Nolan; ... She gave them ilcka madre's daughter a moonflower and a bloodvein: but the grapes that ripe before reason to them that devide the vinedress.

While a gift for Shaun the Post (here twoned with Shem), no gift for Shem. But the paragraph continues:

So on Izzy, her shamemaid, love shone befond her tears as from Shem, her penmight, life past befoul his prime.

In part II Shem is present, but only a young Shem, and huge part III is primarily foccussed on Shaun. Shem does not appear as a character except as an object under discussion. In III.4 Shem is back, only young again.

But the kicker is the final chapter IV.1. Day dawns and although Anna is still asleep, the bustle of the house impinges. So who do we hear? HCE trying not to get up and work by complaining he has a stomach ache, as usual. Saunderson bringing medicine and coaxing HCE out of bed. Shaun, in the bath, still masturbating over the rainbow girls, if not Issy herself, and of course not cleaning the bath after him, messy messy. And Issy. But no Shem!

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