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  • "A phantom city, phaked of philim pholk"Spectral Topographies and Re-awakenings in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and Sheridan Le Fanu's The House by the Churchyard
  • Katie Mishler (bio)

In the introduction to In a Glass Darkly, the most famous collection of short fiction and ghost stories by Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Tracy suggests that "Since Finnegans Wake is about the city of Dublin existing simultaneously at every period of its history, past, present, and future," it may be indebted to Le Fanu's short story "The Familiar," which features a "phantom city of the future through which [the protagonist] is pursued by his past."1 The temporal and spatial dislocations that permeate the Wake, evident within Le Fanu's gothic tales, may also be located within a more direct intertextual source. Le Fanu's historical mystery novel The House by the Churchyard is echoed in textual allusions throughout the Wake, which features in Joyce's text variably as "the old house by the churpelizod" (FW 96.7), "the old house by the coachyard" (FW 213.1), and "De oud huis bij de kerkegaard" (FW 264.12). Published in 1863, Le Fanu's novel reveals the secrets and mysteries surrounding the parish of Chapelizod in 1767. Recounted by a contemporary Victorian narrator, Charles de Cresseron,2 the central story of Churchyard unravels retrospectively; the discovery of the disinterred remains of a fractured skull instigates a haunted mystery featuring a series of deaths, resurrections, and revelatory dreams. These themes are, of course, continuously repeated in the Wake through its cyclical narrative structure. The central mystery of Churchyard is buried within a series of vignettes describing mundane village life and featuring comedic interludes, as the social intricacies of a tight-knit community provide the backdrop against which secret identities and past crimes are revealed. The Wake, which, like its [End Page 161] predecessor, transcends temporal boundaries, is likewise set in the seemingly quiet suburb of Chapelizod, a world interrupted by transgressive acts shrouded in secrecy and confusion. The complex narrative frames and subsequent dislocations of time in Churchyard invigorate readings of Derridean hauntology and ghostly intertextualities within the Wake, which features the city of Dublin across temporal planes.

By analyzing the relationship between Joyce and Le Fanu, this essay seeks to establish the gothic intertextuality that exists between these two writers, building a strong foundation for uncovering a number of textual linkages, and to further unpack the gothic as a key shared paradigm and structure. Le Fanu's novel evokes an intertextual haunting as a spectral return of the themes of transgression, death, and resurrection. Although the Wake may seem to lack the conventional trappings of the gothic order, by invoking Le Fanu's Churchyard and effectively retelling its central story through textual extracts as well as the repetition of its themes, Joyce brings the novel's intertextual ghosts to the fore, building a haunted narrative. "What is uncanny," states Julian Wolfreys in his reading of Derridean hauntology, "is the act of telling, the narrative act of bringing the ghost back in a temporally disjunctive manner, which destabilizes the cognition of temporal order as a perceived sequence of events. The spectral is, therefore, a matter of recognizing what is disorderly within an apparently straightforward temporal framework."3 The persistence of such intertextual interruptions into Joyce's work galvanizes the intertwined spatial and temporal dislocations which are themselves a central feature of The House by the Churchyard, creating a multilayered textual landscape.

By delineating and employing the tenants of Derridean hauntology, this essay seeks to establish how Wakean geography—particularly the Phoenix Park, the Mullingar and Phoenix pubs, the house by the churchyard as well as the nearby elm and stone on Chapelizod's main thoroughfare, and the River Liffey—is haunted by the specters of Le Fanu's novel. These investigations will touch on the Le Fanu-esque themes of death and resurrection, as the topographical, the temporal, and the thematic merge in each narrative, leading toward a final reading of the cyclical structures of death and rebirth within Joyce's novel as a whole. Existing criticism tends to downplay the significance of The House by the Churchyard...


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