Finnegans Wake: An Annotated Bibliography of Major Criticism

A chronological listing of some of the highlights of the history of Wake criticism and scholarship, compiled by FWSoNY member Judd Staley.

Items marked with an asterisk [*] are available online in the Wisconsin Joyce Scholars Collection

The Wake’s First Critics

Beckett, Samuel et al. Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. 1929. New York: New Directions, 1972.

The first work of Wake criticism, published while it was still “Work in Progress,” this collection features twelve essays by Joyce’s friends and admirers, including Beckett, Budgen, Gilbert, Jolas, and William Carlos Williams. Beckett’s essay, “Dante…Bruno.Vico..Joyce,” is particularly interesting and influential, but Gilbert’s is perhaps the most helpful. 

Wilson, Edmund. “The Dream of H.C. Earwicker.” The New Republic June 28, 1939 and   July 12, 1939. Rpt. in The Wound and the Bow (New York: Oxford UP, 1947) and James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (New York: Vanguard, 1948)

One of the first critics to appreciate the significance of the Wake, Wilson helped to establish many critical tropes about the book and its characters.

Campbell, Joseph and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. 1944. New York: Viking, 1961.

The first book-length study of the Wake, Campbell and Robinson’s “key” is comparative mythology: they read the Wake as monomyth. Definitely insightful, and extremely influential, but now regarded as often-erroneous. Take with a grain of salt.

The Joyce Industry Booms: 1950-1970

Kenner, Hugh. Dublin’s Joyce. 1956. New York: Columbia UP, 1987.

Kenner, one of the most important (and unique) critics of modernism, wrote several books on Joyce. This, his earliest, is the one that deals most explicitly with the Wake (it has sections on all three of Joyce’s novels.)

*Hart, Clive. Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1962.

The next attempt (after Campbell and Robinson) at a master key to the Wake. Very interesting and influential as an attempt to schematize the book: there are a number of useful charts and tables, and Hart’s index of leitmotifs is indispensable.

---. “The Elephant in the Belly: Exegesis of Finnegans Wake.” A Wake Newslitter 13 (May 1963): 2-9.

Published in an early issue of Hart and Senn’s Newslitter, this paper serves as a sort of manifesto of exegetical responsibility.

*Benstock, Bernard. Joyce-again’s Wake: An Analysis of Finnegans Wake. Seattle: U of    Washington P, 1965.

A general take on the Wake by a major Joyce scholar, meant for the non-specialist  Joyce audience. Useful as an overview of Wake-studies to this point.

Burgess, Anthony. ReJoyce. New York: Ballantine, 1965.

---, ed., A Shorter Finnegans Wake. London: Faber, 1966.

---. Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce.

Burgess’s books, aimed at a popular audience, are loaded with incredible insights into Joyce’s use of language. His Shorter FW is interesting as an introduction, but frustrating and dispensable.

Eco, Umberto. 1966. The Aesthetics of Chaosmos: The Middle Ages of James Joyce. Trans. Ellen Esrock. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982.

A beautiful reading of Joyce’s work, with a wonderful chapter on the Wake, by another of the great thinkers of the 20th century.

Solomon, Margaret C. Eternal Geomater: The Sexual Universe of Finnegans Wake. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1969.

A rather odd study of sex and math in the Wake. Really interesting and engaging.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake. New York: Farrar, 1969.

A good chapter-by-chapter guide, with a lot of interesting exegesis and a great sense of humor. See also Tindall’s other books (the chapters on the Wake in his Reader’s Guide to Joyce are especially helpful).

Senn, Fritz. “A Reading Exercise in Finnegans Wake.” 1970. Joyce’s Dislocutions: Essays on Reading as Translation. Ed. John Paul Riquelme. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1984. Also in McCarthy, 1992 (below).

---. “Linguistic Dissatisfaction at the Wake.” 1987. Inductive Scrutinies: Focus on Joyce. Ed. Christine O’Neill. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.

Senn is quite possibly the Wake scholar of the mid-to-late twentieth century, but he never published a book on Joyce (in English, anyway), preferring the essay format. His essays are essential reading for anyone interested in the problematics of “reading” the Wake

Begnal, Michael H. and Fritz Senn, eds. A Conceptual Guide to Finnegans Wake.  University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1974.

A collection of essays by major Joyce scholars, each looking at a chapter of the Wake. Professor Epstein takes on


Post-1970: From Theory to Genetics

*Norris, Margot. The Decentered Universe of Finnegans Wake: A Structuralist Analysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.

The first attempt to do a deconstructive reading of the Wake, Norris’ book is extremely engaging and at times brilliant. She has done a lot of great work since, employing various brands of narrative theory: most recently she has written several articles applying “possible-worlds theory” to Ulysses and the Wake.

*McHugh, Roland. The Sigla of Finnegans Wake. Austin: U of Texas P, 1976.

An amazingly insightful reading of the structure and characters of the Wake, through the lens of Joyce’s notebooks and the “sigla” contained therein.

---. The Finnegans Wake Experience. Dublin: Irish Academic P, 1981.

A brief introduction to the Wake. Notable for its close readings of four short passages.

MacCabe, Colin. James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979.

A major cultural critic, MacCabe brings a lot of Marxist and psychoanalytic theory to bear on Joyce’s work.

McCarthy, Patrick A. The Riddles of Finnegans Wake. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1980.

A short, readable exploration of the role riddles play in Joyce’s work.

Riquelme, John Paul. Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983.

My personal favorite book on Joyce, Teller and Tale takes a narratological approach to the whole oeuvre, but starts with the Wake, using it a lens to inform his reading of the earlier works.

Derrida, Jacques. “Two Words for Joyce.” Post-Structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French. Ed. Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

An interesting read, if only to watch Derrida play. The other essays in this volume, many originally published in Tel Quel, are also worth looking at, particularly the one by Stephen Heath.

Cheng, Vincent John. Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of Finnegans Wake. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1984.

Bishop, John. Joyce’s Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1986.

A wide-ranging look at the Wake through Freud, Vico, linguistics, anatomy, geography, Egyptology and more. Controversial for its freedom with the text, Bishop’s study is nonetheless masterful.

Gordon, John. Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1986.

Another “key” to the Wake: Gordon reads it as a realist novel, told through distorted language.

Bengal, Michael H. Dreamscheme: Narrative and Voice in Finnegans Wake. Syracuse: Syracuse     UP, 1988.

A very lucid study of the style of the Wake.

Attridge, Derek. “Finnegans Awake, or the Dream of Interpretation.” James Joyce   Quarterly 27 (Fall 1989): 11-29. In Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000): 133-155.

This essay, by one of the most critical Joyce critics, calls many of the assumptions of Wake scholarship into question. A must read. The rest of the essays (and everything else Attridge has written) are worth a look as well. (Also check out Attridge’s recent How to Read Joyce for some excellent close readings.)

Henke, Suzette A. James Joyce and the Politics of Desire. London: Routledge, 1990.

Devlin, Kimberly J. Wandering and Return in Finnegans Wake: An Integrative Approach to Joyce’s Fictions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1991.

Both Henke and Devlin employ Lacan and other post-structuralist, psychoanalytic and feminist theory to arrive at a fascinating take on Joyce’s oeuvre, especially his women.

Rabaté, Jean-Michel. James Joyce: Authorized Reader. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.

---. Joyce upon the Void: The Genesis of Doubt. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1991.

Rabaté works the post-structuralist angle, with real insight.

McCarthy, Patrick A., ed.,, Critical Essays on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. New York:   G.K. Hall, 1992.

Possibly the best single volume to start with in Wake criticism, collecting classic essays by most of the masters: Hart, Mink, Senn, Boyle, Benstock, Hayman, Glasheen, etc.

Brivic, Sheldon. Joyce’s Waking Women. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1995.

A “feminist” take on the Wake by a Lacanian-Joycean. Brivic’s other works (Joyce between Freud and Jung; The Veil of Signs; Joyce Through Lacan and Zizek) all present interesting, if rather eccentric, applications of psychoanalytic theory to Joyce.

Burrell, Harry. Narrative Design in Finnegans Wake: The Wake Lock Picked. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1996.

Another “key”: this time the Wake is all about chapter three of the Book of Genesis.

McLuhan, Eric. The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1997.

A study of the “thunder words,” by Marshall McLuhan’s son.

Theall, Donald F. James Joyce’s Techno-Poetics. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1997.

Theall, a student of Marshall McLuhan, explores intersections of the Wake and science, mathematics, technology, and semiotics. An extremely quirky book.

Schork, R.J. Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1997.

---. Greek and Hellenic Culture in Joyce. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1998.

---. Joyce and Hagiography: Saints Above! Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2000.

These three volumes by a classicist, while focused on Joyce’s oeuvre, have a wealth of information related to the Wake.

Boldrini, Lucia. Joyce, Dante, and the Poetics of Literary Relations: Language and Meaning in Finnegans Wake. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. (Available as an e-book through the library.)

McGee, Patrick. Joyce beyond Marx: History and Desire in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2001.

Conley, Tim. Joyces Mistakes: Problems of Intention, Irony, and Interpretation. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2003.

An excellent reading of Joyce, publishing, and the poetics of error.

Beckman, Richard. Joyce’s Rare View: The Nature of Things in Finnegans Wake.  Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2007.

Beckman’s study explores Joyce’s use of things “behind” or in the “rear”; rather esoteric, he includes a number of marvelous close readings, and a chapter on Kant.

Platt, Len. Joyce, Race and Finnegans Wake. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP,            2007.

Burns, Christy L.  "Postcolonial Cartographies: The Nature of Place in Joyce's Finnegans Wake and in Friel's Translations."  Joyce, Imperialism, and Postcolonialism. Leonard Orr, ed., Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2008. 127-143.

Epstein, Edmund L. A Guide through Finnegans Wake. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2009.

Genetic Studies

*Hayman, David, ed., A First-Draft Version of Finnegans Wake. Austin: U of Texas P, 1963.

*---. The “Wake” in Transit. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.

An important early introduction to genetic criticism.

Crispi, Luca and Sam Slote, eds., How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake: A Chapter-by-Chapter Genetic Guide. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2007.

Essays by wide range of Joyce scholars on the manuscript evidence behind each chapter of the Wake.

Fordham, Finn. Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake: Unravelling Universals. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

A fusion of genetic scholarship and close reading: one of the best books on the Wake yet.

Useful References

*Glasheen, Adaline. A Census of Finnegans Wake. 1956. Rev. and expanded as Third Census of Finnegans Wake. Berkeley: U of California P, 1977.

A very useful reference, breaking down and indexing the Wake by character. Glasheen was one of the most important early non-academic students of the Wake. See also her extremely interesting correspondence about the Wake with Thornton Wilder, collected as A Tour of the Darkling Plain.

Hart, Clive. A Concordance to Finnegans Wake. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1963.

Christiani, Dounia Bunis. Scandinavian Elements of Finnegans Wake. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1965.

*Bonheim, Helmut. A Lexicon of the German in Finnegans Wake. Berkeley, U of     California P, 1967.

*O Hehir, Brendan. A Gaelic Lexicon for Finnegans Wake. Berkeley, U of California P, 1967.

*---, and John Dillon. A Classical Lexicon for Finnegans Wake. Berkeley, U of California    P, 1977.

Atherton, James. The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. New York: Appel, 1974.

*Mink, Louis O. A Finnegans Wake Gazetteer. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.

McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. 1980. 3rd ed., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.

Major Journals/Periodicals

A Wake Newslitter. 1962-1984. Now available on CD-ROM from Split Pea Press.

James Joyce Quarterly. 1963-present. Issues after 2006 available through Project MUSE.

Joyce Studies Annual. 1990-present. Issues after 2001 available through Project MUSE.

Hypermedia Joyce Studies. 1995-present. Free online journal.

Genetic Joyce Studies. 2001-present. Free online journal.