W hen Finnegans Wake was first published in 1939, it received over 400 reviews. Critical opinion, then as now, was divided between those who dismissed it as incomprehensible rubbish and those who were astonished by Joyce’s lexical virtuosity and were prepared to regard it as something remarkable. Harold Nicolson declared it “indecipherable”, Alfred Kazin said Joyce had developed “a compulsion to say nothing”, Richard Aldington found it wearisome. “The boredom endured in the penance of reading this book”, Aldington wrote, “is something one would not inflict on any human being.” By contrast, G. W. Stonier while considering the language more difficult than Chinese, said that a patient reading of the book carried its own lucidity, and “where the meaning fades music tides us over”. Padraic Colum wrote: “We have novels that give us greatly a three dimensional world: here is a narrative that gives a new dimension”.
more from Gordon Bowker at the TLS here.