The various examples of the letter, and particularly the Wake's narrative descriptions of it, are diverse, as indicated for instance in the manifold list of titles of ALP's 'mamafesta' at the outset of Book I.5. A discussion of the letter's function in the Wake must to some extent account for such a profuse variety. In attempting such a discussion (or at least adding to the wider literary discussion of the letter motif by Finnegans Wake critical works), this chapter explores the dichotomy of the letter in the context of male and female creativity, and in particular the duality between the genetic letter sent via sexual reproduction and the creative literary letter. That Joyce intended the letter to function on these two levels is indicated in the Buffalo Notebooks, as Roland McHugh shows in The Sigla of Finnegans Wake, where the letter Shaun delivers to the age of humanity is himself, yet Shem's letter is his fiction:
But VI.B.5.139 gives '
Shaun preserves the culture of the fallen HCE, and as a repressive acolyte of HCE, he establishes his father's religion, as indicated by the Buffalo Notebook's reference to the delivery of the cross (†). Moreover, the letter Shaun delivers, while genetically comprised of 'himself', includes the biological pattern or message of the deified primal HCE. Accordingly the letter Shaun delivers to Issy is described as his sperm:
may his hundred thousand welcome stewed letters, relayed wand postchased, multiply, ay faith, and plultiply! (FW 404.36-405.1)
— I see. Very good now. It is in your orangery, I take it, you have your letters. Can you hear here me, you sir?
— Throsends. For my darling. Typette!
— So long aforetime? Can you hear better?
— Millions. For godsends. For my darling dearling one. (FW 478.1-5)
Shem's letter, on the other hand, is purely textual. The accuracy of both messages, however, both spermatic and cultural, is questioned in the Wake and their diversity forms part of the fragmentation of HCE's picture over time. Shem's message is similarly a reconstruction of HCE, which as a literary fiction is also represented by the cultural icon of the 'cross' and can be perceived as the seed of a new 'religion'. While Shem's writing asserts the differences emanating from the sin, Shaun's retrospectively focuses upon enforcing the original unity of HCE (see below*). Paradoxically, Shem's art concerns the new 'nobodies' descended from HCE, 'perhops an artsaccord (hoot's hoot) might sing ums tumtim abutt the Little Newbuddies that ring his panch' (FW 415.17-19), and his emphasis upon difference subtly seeks to inhibit both the perception and resurrection of a unified HCE.
The duality of reproduction is bound up in paradoxical relationships between all the members of the Wakean family, and the dichotomy between the genetic message and cultural/linguistic artifact cannot be related solely to the social conflict between Shaun and Shem. Where Issy as temptress and Shaun as Buckley are directly associated with HCE's fall, they are similarly responsible for his genetic rebirth. Where Shaun lectures upon the deity's law against free love to the sexual Issy, in his manifestation as Father Michael he is nevertheless responsible for ravaging her. Both ALP and Shem focus upon the cultural aspect of HCE, yet ALP 'faces the wall' in her desire to vindicate HCE, while Shem undermines HCE through his literary production. Shem is opposed to the deity, and yet his writing in its unearthing and scrutiny of HCE nevertheless provides a rejuvenated, albeit differentiated, vision of the deity for a new cycle of history. Both Shaun and ALP can be associated with the stone motif, and its identification with an encapsulation of a past HCE. Conversely, Shem and Issy look forward in time, freeing themselves from the prohibitions of the fallen deity. The following diagram shows both the complementary and contradictory relationships between the family members in their conservation of an old and sexual/textual production of a new HCE:
The resolution of the dichotomies involved, however, rests in the cyclic reproduction of the fictive persona of HCE, an outcome which marginalises the female in the myth of the male deity.
1 Roland McHugh, The Sigla of Finnegans Wake (London: Edward Arnold, 1976), p. 41.