Vico Road

In Brief

"Vico Road, Dalkey" runs southwest from the town of Dalkey along the coast, approximately 10 miles southeast of central Dublin. Dalkey was a good address in the prosperous southern suburbs. As Finerty's caption indicates, it was a site for sea bathing, grand scenic views, promenades, and band concerts.

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Some readers, beginning with Stuart Gilbert, have heard, in this name at the beginning of a chapter on history, a reference to the eighteenth century historiographer Giambattista Vico, whose ideas figure prominently in Finnegans Wake. It is an intriguing possibility: Vico does seems an odd name to encounter in the context of a boys' school south of Dublin. But it is the name of an actual road, and Stephen has another reason to be thinking of it: it indicates that Armstrong's parents are "Welloff." Furthermore, Joyce modeled Armstrong on a boy named Clifford Ferguson who did in fact live in Vico Terrace (Ellmann, 153).

Joyce was certainly reading Vico by the time he composed Nestor, and he would not have used the philosopher's name without awareness that he might be sending his reader off in search of literary echoes. The question, though, is whether he built Viconian ideas into Ulysses. There are no other details in Nestor that might reasonably regarded as allusions to Vico.

However, Ellmann does note a possible echo in Scylla and Charybdis. He quotes a passage from Benedetto Croce's description of Vico's ideas in the Estetica: "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 2012
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: www.geograph.ie.
View of Dalkey from the northeast. Source: John F. Finerty, Ireland in Pictures (1898).