Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert Boyle

Second Advisor

Strother Purdy

Third Advisor

John Pick

Fourth Advisor

John McCabe

Fifth Advisor

Francis Sheeran


Despite the vast amount of research that has been done on the writings of James Joyce, his mammoth achievement Finnegans Wake still remains terra incognita for many students, even scholars who have worked extensively with Joyce's earlier works. Because of the demands which Finnegans Wake makes on its readers, many serious students have chosen to terminate their study of Joyce with Ulysses and to leave Finnegans Wake to those ideal readers whom Joyce imagined as spending their lives explicating the Wake. The decision to ignore Finnegans Wake, though surely understandable and legitimate from the perspective of the reader who must spend his time as he sees fit, fails to regard the obviously incremental and developmental nature of Joyce's career. Certainly, Joyce considered Finnegans Wake the cap­ stone of his corpus; in it he modified, refined, and ela­borated many of the ideas, themes, and images which had preoccupied him from his youth. This developmental pattern has been traced by Father Robert Boyle, S.J., who examined Joyce's use of Eucharistic imagery and showed the marvelous growth in Joyce's imagination as he moved from the transmutation in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man through transubstantiation in Ulysses to transaccidentation in Finnegans Wake. The present study takes its cue from Father Boyle's example and from the writer's conviction that Finnegans Wake provides the clues--supplied by Joyce himself-­ for interpreting all his work. The present study, therefore, agrees with Robert S. Ryf's finding that in Joyce's work

continuity manifests itself in themes as well as characters. Alienation, isolation, the Fall, the search for the father, exile--all these and others function as leitmotivs, to recur again and again in this interwoven body of writing, a recurrence best epitomized by the cyclical rhythm of Finnegans Wake.

However, this writer disagrees with Ryf that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can serve as an adequate guidebook. Rather, he suggests that Finnegans Wake, as Joyce's last and most ambitious undertaking, must be considered the best guide to the interpretation of Joyce's total corpus.

With this idea as a basic principle the present study will discuss Joyce's use of the ideas, images, practices, and states of being associated with the Catholic concept of perfection. The study will not attempt to discover Joyce's personal relationship to Catholicism, but will focus on his use of Catholic materials in the creation of his fictional works. The present study will concentrate on Joyce's use of Catholic ideas and images in Finnegans Wake.

The dissertation will begin with a discussion of the Catholic notion of perfection. It will attempt to supply a description of the theological framework in which this notion operates. In so doing it will establish that in Catholic theology the notion of perfection becomes associated with three states of being, sainthood, priesthood, and angelhood, and that each state is marked by certain attitudes, practices, and postures. Next, the dissertation will show briefly how Joyce used these notions and especially the three states of perfection to describe the characters of Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Shaun the Post in Finnegans Wake. These characters have been chosen because they provide the fullest development in the Joyce canon of the Catholic notion of perfection. The dissertation will show how Stephen Dedalus, and then Shaun the Post are por­trayed under the images of saint, priest, and angel. Finally, the dissertation will examine in detail the character of Shaun the Post in his three roles of saint, priest, and angel. In this expanded discussion of Shaun the dissertation will accumulate evidence which both supports and denies Shaun's claims to perfection as saint, priest, and angel.

The method of the dissertation will essentially entail a close reading of the text, together with an attempt to correlate and explicate the relevant passages in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Finnegans Wake. To a lesser extent the dissertation will use materials from Dubliners and Ulysses which shed light on the themes and images under discussion. Finally, the dissertation will use, to the extent that is necessary and useful, the critical writings of other commentators on the texts under discussion.



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