Ulysses vs. the Wake


My first real contact with Ulysses, after a leering glimpse in the early twenties, was in the thirties at a time when I was definitely formed as a writer and immune to any literary influence. I studied Ulysses seriously only much later, in the fifties, when preparing my Cornell courses. That was the best part of the education I received at Cornell. Ulysses towers over the rest of Joyce’s writings, and in comparison to its noble originality and unique lucidity of thought and style, the unfortunate Finnegans Wake is nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room, most aggravating to the insomniac. Moreover, I always detested regional literature full of quaint old-timers and imitated pronunciation. Finnegans Wake‘s facade disguises a very conventional and drab tenement house, and only the infrequent snatches of heavenly intonations redeem it from utter insipidity. I know I am going to be excommunicated for this pronouncement.

From an interview with Nabokov, Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, spring 1967.