GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 6 (Spring 2006)



'Fweets of Fin': Towards a Web-based Finnegans Wake Research Tool


Raphael Slepon


The afternoon of October the 12th 2005, mere minutes before the start of Yom Kippur, saw the uneventful birth of a new website, dedicated to Finnegans Wake, among the millions of other, flashier ones. The prime tenet of the site was, and still is, to become a useful tool for scholars, professionals and amateurs alike, involved in Finnegans Wake study, research or appreciation. It bore, and still bears, the unlikely name of FWEET (, which supposedly stands for the "Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury".

Now, some six months later, it is perhaps time to offer in writing some form of introduction to the capabilities and potential of this website. This is not a tutorial teaching one how to use the site, nor is it a user's manual describing all its options; both are already available on the site. It is just a short exposition of some of the basic uses the site may be put to.

Fweet is a combination of two elements: the first is a collection of notes about Finnegans Wake, currently numbering over 75,000 notes, and growing; the second is a search engine that allows one to search through the collection. The site offers a guided tour, starting from the home page, that is all but essential in order to understand how the site works, as well as a few other informative pages. But here we will concentrate on only one page, which forms the core of the site – the "Search Engine" page.

But first, a technical note – the examples described below, mostly search results, can, and should, be examined by clicking on the links following them, links which actually perform the said searches on the Fweet website and may therefore take a few seconds to load; it is best to open the links in a new window (in most browsers this is done by clicking on the link with the right mouse button and selecting "open in a new window"), to allow simultaneous perusal of the described page and its description.

The "Search Engine" page is a complex control centre that combines all search options and opportunities into one page. It contains a large text-box in which search strings are typed, numerous option selection check-boxes and a host of pull-down selection lists offering hundreds of shorthands. We will be looking at only a tiny portion of these. [Open this link in a new window to see the "Search Engine" page].


Free-Text Search within the Fweet Elucidations

The notes that form the Fweet collection, obtained from numerous written sources, are referred to as elucidations. They are generally similar in form and nature to the annotations found in Roland McHugh's Annotations to Finnegans Wake, and with a reason; the first two editions of this book formed, quite a few years ago, the backbone of the collection.

To whet our appetite, let us start by searching for whiskey in the elucidations, done, as might be expected, just by typing "whiskey" (without the quotation marks) within the "Search String" text box and clicking on the "Submit Query" button. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

As expected, one finds a few dozen references to whiskey, with the all the usual suspects (Jameson, Paddy, Power, Bushmill, &c.) present. The elucidations are, of course, ordered by page and line of Finnegans Wake. Near the top of the page, one can find an option  marked "Show FW Text"; by clicking on it you get for each elucidation the line of Finnegans Wake text it elucidates. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

The same procedure can be applied to searching any imaginable search string, be it a single word or a short phrase. One can even use advanced operators, such as AND or OR, to build more complex searches, but this is well beyond the scope of this presentation.


Free-Text Search within the Finnegans Wake Text

In much the same way one searches in the elucidations, one can also search within the text of Finnegans Wake itself. For example, by checking off the "Search in Fweet Elucidations", thereby turning on the "Search in Finnegans Wake Text" option, and typing "born gentleman" in the "Search String" text box, one can search for this phrase, a rather well-known Letter motif, within Finnegans Wake. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

The search engine finds all the locations where the search string appears – exactly as typed – within Finnegans Wake, even if split over more than one line. We will later see how to find the places where this motif is punned upon and therefore remains undetectable by the straightforward text search.

One can also search in both scopes – elucidations and text – at the same time by selecting both check-boxes. This is especially useful when searching for a word or phrase, for example a notebook entry, where it is unknown if it appears in Finnegans Wake in its original form (in which case the text scope is appropriate) or has been transformed into another form (in which case the elucidation scope is appropriate), or in cases where all forms, native and punned-upon, are of interest.

Note: If you are trying these examples for yourself, you should now check off the "Search in Finnegans Wake Text" check-box to return to elucidation searching.


Location Search by Line

Sometimes all you want to do is check the elucidations for a given line or part of a line you are reading through. This is easily done by typing the page number (e.g. 172) and line number (e.g. 5) in the two text boxes to the right of the word "Line". [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].


Location Search by Page

Similarly, if you wish to browse all the elucidations for a given page, all you need to do is type the page number (e.g. 172) in the text box to the right of the word "Page". [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Not surprisingly, browsing through the results, you will find, among others, references to foreign languages, to source books, to newspapers, to recurrent motifs, to notebooks entries, etc. If necessary, one can also use the "Chapter" shorthands to see a chapter's worth of elucidations.


Shorthand Search

A large portion of the search engine page is occupied by what is termed "Content Shorthands". Shorthands, of which there are already more than 500, are ready-made searches that retrieve from the collection elucidations related to a single subject matter. Thus, they form a kind of growing thematic index into the collection, and thereby into Finnegans Wake itself. Every shorthand search can be performed through a regular free-text search, but it is much easier to do so by selecting from a pull-down list, especially since most of the shorthand search terms contain arcane immemorable abbreviations. The shorthands are organised into groups, which are called brevities, some of which will be described below.

The natural place to start is the feature most often associated with Finnegans Wake, especially by novices, its apparent multitude of foreign languages. Indeed, the "Languages" brevity offers tens of languages to choose from, both those extensively used by Joyce, such as French, Italian, German or Irish, and those used much more sparingly, often clustered in only a few pages of the book, such as Ainu, Kiswahili or Esperanto. An appropriate example of the former group would be Dutch, for which Fweet offers more than a thousand elucidations. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

The advent of genetic studies, especially the study of Joyce's notebooks, has shown the central place occupied by the numerous source books consulted by Joyce during the years spent in composing Finnegans Wake. Accordingly, Fweet offers a "Books" brevity, which lists dozens of books, from the often-mentioned The Book of the Dead (Budge), The Book of Kells (Sullivan), or Poverty (Rowntree) to the more esoteric works of Kinane, Lane-Poole or Young. By way of example, let us pick a source identified as part of the work of Ingeborg Landuyt at the University of Antwerp, Crépieux-Jamin's Les éléments de l'écriture des Canailles, whose references can thus be easily seen to cluster primarily in chapters I.5 (as the source deals with écriture) and I.7 (as it also deals with Canailles). [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Complementing the "Books" brevity are similar ones covering allusions to newspaper articles, to the books of the Bible, to the works of Shakespeare, and to other classics. In addition to such shorthands covering allusions to external (intertextual) sources, Fweet also offers shorthands for internal (intratextual) allusions in the form of the "Motifs" and "Clusters" brevities.

In the "Motifs" brevity you may find quite a few well-known recurring motifs of Finnegans Wake, motifs, such as acronyms (e.g. HCE, ALP), pairs (e.g. dove/raven, tree/stone), phrases (e.g. the Quinet quote, the first riddle of the universe) or sets (e.g. 4-stage Viconian cycle, 7 items of clothing), among many others. Also included are motifs associated with the text of the Letter, for example the "born gentleman" motif, which was mentioned earlier, with the shorthand offering access to quite a few more relevant elucidations than the free-text search did, elucidations where the motif appears in distorted form, such as "bawl gentlemale" or "ungeborn yenkelmen". [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Whereas motifs are spread throughout Finnegans Wake, clusters are concentrated in relatively short passages, often a page or two. Some clusters are very large and famous, such as rivers in "Anna Livia Plurabelle", Lord-Mayors in "Haveth Childers Everywhere" or insects in "The Ondt and the Gracehoper", while many others are somewhat smaller and more obscure, for example the two clusters referring to playing cards on pages 286 and 405-406, accessible through the "Cards" shorthand in the "Clusters" brevity. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Finally, to move to more genetic issues, the "Notebooks" brevity allows one to view relevant entries from Joyce's Finnegans Wake notebooks. As of May 2006, the collection contains entries from seven notebooks (VI.B.10, 3, 25, 6, 1, 16 and 5), obtained, of course, from the wonderful Deane–Ferrer–Lernout edition. Obviously, as elucidations always refer to specific pages and lines of Finnegans Wake, only notebook entries that made it all the way into Finnegans Wake in half-recognisable form are included. For example, selecting the "VI.B.10" shorthand reveals a list of more than 200 entries from notebook VI.B.10 that made it into Finnegans Wake. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Many notebook entries have already been traced to an external source, which is listed in a separate elucidation for the same line of Finnegans Wake as the notebook entry elucidation. This is easily accessed by clicking on the line number of the elucidation in question on the result page. For example, if studying an elucidation for 384.22 reading "VI.B.10.118b (r): 'love seat (1 1/2)'", one may click on the ".22" and receive all the elucidations for that specific line, including one that traces this entry to an article in the Irish Times of 26 January 1923. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

By further clicking on the option that enables the display of Finnegans Wake text on the results page, we can see alongside one another, three stages of the same 'love seat' unit: the Irish Times source, the VI.B.10 notebook entry and the final Finnegans Wake text. The missing interim stage, the drafts stage, is currently not part of the Fweet collection and is not likely to become one in the near future, at least not until someone, most likely not me, takes the time to transcribe them in full. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].

Another useful set of shorthands under the "Notebooks" brevity offers the ability to search the currently-incorporated notebooks by crayon colour. For example, searching for blue-crayoned entries from the seven previously-mentioned notebooks well exemplifies the clustering of such entries from the three earliest notebooks (VI.B.10, 3, 25) in the first five pages of I.2. [Open this link in a new window to see the search results].



There are much more options and capabilities to this website than were covered in this brief overview. Some are covered by the tutorial, which you should most definitely go through if you plan on using the site, and all are described, if tersely, in the user's manual. The site is a work in progress and new features and elucidations are being added to it on a weekly basis, so visit often.

As a penultimate word about this website, I feel duty-bound to make it abundantly clear that it would be a mistake to expect any form of completeness or perfection from any feature on this site, least of all the collection of elucidations itself. There are surely numerous errors throughout, both of omission and of commission, testifying first and foremost to my own ignorance. Do not assume any shorthand, any brevity, any elucidation or any page to be complete or perfect.

Which brings us to the last, but not least, feature to be mentioned here – the "Comment on Me!" page. Every page on the Fweet website flaunts a garish little button bearing the ominous words "Comment on Me!". By clicking on this button, you are directed to a form through which you can easily report any error or deficiency you detect, from trivial to monstrous, anywhere on the site. Please take the time to use it, thereby contributing to the slow improvement of the site and the collection. [Open this link in a new window to see the "Comment on Me!" page].


Works Cited

Deane, Vincent and Ferrer, Daniel and Lernout, Geert, eds. The "Finnegans Wake" Notebooks at Buffalo series. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2001-2004.

McHugh, Roland. Annotations to "Finnegans Wake," first and revised editions. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, 1991.

Slepon, Raphael, ed. The Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury (FWEET) Website. <>. Updated 19 May 2006.