Vico Road

Vico Road

In Brief

At the beginning of Nestor Stephen reflects that Armstrong's family lives on "Vico Road, Dalkey," which runs along the seacoast southwest from the prosperous suburb of Dalkey, approximately 10 miles southeast of central Dublin. According to Ellmann Joyce modeled Armstrong on a boy named Clifford Ferguson who did in fact live in Vico Terrace (153), and clearly the chief purpose of the detail is to indicate that the Armstrongs are "Welloff people." The land along the Dalkey Coast was (and still is) prime real estate, as the caption to the Finerty photo here suggests. But it is hard to dismiss entirely the possibility that Joyce may have been alluding to the philosophy of Giambattista Vico, which plays an important role in Finnegans Wake.

Read More

Joyce was certainly reading the 18th century historiographer by the time he composed Nestor, and he would not have used the name Vico without awareness that he was sounding literary echoes. Stuart Gilbert, to whom he imparted so many confidences, thought it meaningful that it should show up in a chapter about history: "The very atmosphere of Mr Deasy's study is 'historical'—it bears for Stephen an impress of the 'dingdong round' of cyclical return recognized by Vico. (It is significant that the name of Vico occurs in this episode...)" (James Joyce's Ulysses, 95). Another close acquaintance, Padraic Colum, recalled Joyce telling him about "Vico’s theory of the cycles in history. These historical cycles connected in some way with the Vico Road that follows the bend of Dublin Bay between Dalkey and Killiney—in Joyce’s mind they did anyway." (Our Friend James Joyce, 122).

The question for readers of Ulysses, though, is whether Joyce built Viconian ideas into the book. There are no other details in Nestor that might reasonably be regarded as allusions, but Ellmann does note a possible echo in Scylla and Charybdis. He quotes a passage from Benedetto Croce's description of Vico's ideas in his Aesthetic (1902): "Man creates the human world, creates it by transforming himself into the facts of society: by thinking it he re-creates his own creations, traverses over again the paths he has already traversed, reconstructs the whole ideally, and thus knows it with full and true knowledge" (Ellmann, 340n). As Ellmann recognizes, this sentence shows a striking resemblance to the theory of peripatetic solipsism that Stephen advances in the library.

JH 2022
Vico Road today, from the southwest. At the upper right lies Dalkey Island and beyond it the Muglins. Around the bend to the left are Dalkey, Bullock Harbor, Sandycove, Dun Laoghaire (formerly Kingstown), and ultimately Dublin. Source:
View of Dalkey from the northeast. Source: John F. Finerty, Ireland in Pictures (1898).