6.3 Wetting the Tea
Patrick McCarthy points out that the final version of the letter is written on eggshells (FW 615.10) which he suggests is significant both because of the food themes in the final version of the letter, and the close association of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme with the fall of HCE.5 The egg theme of the final letter should also include cognisance of the human 'egg'. If the letter is read on broken eggs shells, it was written on an unbroken egg, and is the fragmented and scattered remains or 'report' of an HCE figure. This fallen HCE is the Shem/HCE of the previous age of humanity, for as McCarthy notes 'the tea stain specified at FW 111.20 (and alluded to elsewhere - 28.28-29, 112.30, 369.32) is missing in Book IV'.6 While he suggests this maybe the consequence of the text not providing a statement of the condition of the letter manuscript, the lack of a tea stain could also be a consequence of Shem/HCE's use of a condom in Book III.4. The letter in Book IV describes the commercial HCE of the previous chapter when it acknowledges that his 'cheek is a compleet bleenk' (FW 617.1) and whether referring to a blank cheque, shooting blanks, an unsigned or blank letter, or his innocence with respect to the 'domestic service' (FW 616.36), ALP understands that ultimately the outcome is identical to the fate Patrick/Shem suffered at the hand of Balkelly/Shaun: 'one two four. Finckers. Up the hind hose of hizzars' (FW 617.2-3). A similar action occurs in the Story of How Buckley Shot the Russian General when Butt overcomes Taff's hesitancy when he 'shouts his thump and feeh fauh foul finngures up the heighhohs of their ahs!' (FW 352.28-29). Yet the Shem/HCE of Book III.4 is not the only Wakean creator to fall as a result of not signing his letter. King Mark of the Tristan and Isolde chapter is persecuted because of literary and sexual impotence, and a flatulence (as opposed to solid creativity) reminiscent of HCE's confession in Book II.3 (see above, *):
poor Mark or Marcus Bowandcoat, [...] the poor old chronometer, all persecuted with ally croaker by everybody, [...] because he forgot himself, making wind and water, and made a Neptune's mess of all of himself, [...] and because he forgot to sign an old morning proxy paper, a writing in request to hersute herself. (FW 391.14-20)
Like King Mark in the above, Shem is also depicted as 'broking wind' (FW 149.8-9) and additionally ALP describes him as 'windblasted tree of the knowledge of beautiful andevil' (FW 194.14-15), both phrases alluding to Stephen's parody of the Last Supper in the Oxen of the Sun chapter of Ulysses: 'Desire's wind blasts the thorntree but after it becomes from a bramblebush to be a rose upon the rood of time' (U 14.290-92).
The union of male and female is a 'sham' when the letter is not an act of conception but either fornication which does not lead to reproduction of HCE or a sterile literary creation which must be content to describe in graphic detail the sexual activity of the genetic letter. Schaffer suggests that Shem/HCE's sexual act of Book III.4 is a failure as HCE does not come. The phrase 'never wet the tea' (FW 585.31) is equally applicable to not coming or wearing a condom, or indeed perhaps both, and there are many sightings of a condom in this chapter:
man's gummy article, pink. (FW 559.15-16)
a pinky on the point. (FW 567.7)
a good washable pink. (FW 574.25)
burst his dunlops. (FW 584.13)
auricular of Malthus. (FW 585.11)
That HCE did come (in amongst the various crowings of the cock) might well be indicated by the comment which apparently requests secrecy (and thus a silence surrounding the delivery of the letter) concerning the sexual act: 'mercy, good shot! only please don't mention it!' (FW 585.13-14). Following his failure to 'wet the tea', however, the narrator insists HCE 'go rightoway back to your Aunty Dilluvia, Humphrey, after that' (FW 585.32-33), emphasising the 'river of life' in its censure of HCE's breach of catholic law. This phrase also refers to the 'antediluvious' (FW 14.16-17) period of the time scale set out in Book I.1. One clue as to why Shem/HCE is wearing a condom, and why this crime is as significant in Wakean mythology as it is in the catholic, might be gleaned from the subsequent instruction to Shem/HCE: 'Retire to rest without first misturbing your nighboor, mankind of baffling descriptions. Others are as tired of themselves as you are' (FW 585.34-36). There is a similar divergence in attitude between Shaun and Shem to the wasting of seed in Shaun's depreciating references to Shem's literature as masturbation (see also,*, *, *) and both forms of Shem's 'deviance', sexual and textual, are related to his non-participation in the reproduction of a patriarchal logos of violence.
5 Patrick McCarthy, 'The Last Epistle of Finnegans Wake', James Joyce Quarterly, 27 (1990), 725-34 (p. 732).
6 Patrick McCarthy, 'The Last Epistle of Finnegans Wake', p. 727.
7 Mary Lowe-Evans suggests that 'a good washable pink' (FW 574.25), 'is undoubtedly a diaphragm because it is ''washable'' and ''good for the figure''', in '''The Commonest of All Cases'': Birth Control on Trial in the Wake', in the James Joyce Quarterly 27 (1990), 803-14 (p. 808). Washable condoms, however, were used far more extensively before the disposable versions became widely and legally available, and condoms are equally a preventative to the ravages of pregnancy upon the female figure.