Joyce, Milton, and the Theory of Influence

By Patrick Colm Hogan | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Dreaming of Eden: The Paladays Last of Finnegans Wake

But God . . . in derision sets
Upon thir tongues a various Spirit to rase
Quite out thir Native Language, and instead
To sow a jangling noise of words unknown.

Paradise Lost ( 12.48, 52-55)

. . . Nature rests
. . . in her absence mimic Fancy wakes
To imitate her; but misjoining shapes,
Wild work produces oft, and most in dreams,
Ill matching words and deeds long past or late.

Paradise Lost ( 5. 109-13)

The presence of Milton in Finnegans Wake has been acknowledged more fully, and for a longer time, than has his presence in any other of Joyce's works. Beyond the references cited earlier, many Miltonic allusions are noted in McHugh (on whom I rely heavily in the following pages) and further connections have been drawn by Atherton, Glasheen (see 174-75), Hart ( 117), and others. More important, Joyce himself in effect acknowledges the influence of Milton within the text of Finnegans Wake itself. Specifically, the Joyce character, Shem the Penman, is frequently referred to as a plagiarist. The primary occasion for this accusation is to be found in Shaun's description of Shem: "what do you think Vulgariano [ Shem] did but study with stolen fruit how cutely to copy all their various styles of signature so as one day to utter an epical forged cheque on the public" ( 181.14-16). The first point to make here is that Shem's putative plagiarism is also a form of parody. He learns "how cutely [or cleverly] to copy" the styles of other writers. This is, again, an important aspect of Joyce's re-

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