Finnegans Wake, named after a popular Irish street ballad, published in 1939, is James Joyce's final novel. Following the publication of Ulysses in 1922, Joyce began working on Finnegans Wake and by 1924 installments of the work began to appear in serialized form, first under the title "A New Unnamed Work" and subsequently as "Work in Progress." (The final title of the work remained a secret between Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle, until shortly before the book was finally published.)
The seventeen years spent working on Finnegans Wake were often difficult for Joyce. He underwent frequent eye surgeries, lost long-time supporters, and dealt with personal problems in the lives of his children. These problems and the perennial financial difficulties of the Joyce family are described in Richard Ellmann's biography James Joyce. The actual publication of the novel was somewhat overshadowed by Europe's descent into World War II. Joyce died just two years after the novel was published, leaving a work whose interpretation is still very much "in progress."