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  • Letters
  • Sandra Tropp


May I suggest a possible source for the association of the earwig with HCE in Finnegans Wake? In Chapter IV of The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin writes:

With respect to the origin of the parental and filial affections, which apparently lie at the base of the social instincts, we know not the steps by which they have been gained; but we may infer that it has been to a large extent through natural selection. . . . Parental affection, or some feeling which replaces it, has been developed in certain animals extremely low in the scale, for example in star-fishes and spiders. It is also occasionally present in a few members alone in a whole group of animals, as in the genus Forficula, or earwigs.

In a forthcoming article, I show that in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Joyce drew upon Darwin’s theory of beauty as presented in The Descent of Man. It seems entirely possible that Joyce also noted Darwin’s claims about the social tendencies of some individual earwigs. In naming his everyman Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, Joyce likely indicated his view of both chance and evolution by tracing HCE’s origin from a special lowly earwig through a chimp to a chump named Humphrey.

Joyce may also have found pictures of an earwig family in one of Grant Allen’s scientific works, Flashlights on Nature, illustrated by Frederick Enock (New York: Doubleday & McClure, 1898)—see figure 1. This possibility may not be as farfetched as it seems in that Joyce apparently read Allen’s book on Paris (LettersII 25, 27) and drew upon Allen’s first book, Physiological Aesthetics, in developing his theory of beauty in A Portrait. (Evidence for this assertion is supplied in the forthcoming article.) Whether or not Joyce actually saw these illustrations, those who take pleasure in reading about the earwig in FW may also enjoy the attached portraits.

Finally, it is possible that Joyce read Leonard Huxley’s biography of his father, Thomas Henry Huxley, published in 1901. Chapter 14 contains a description of the famous 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce Debate at Oxford and notes that the evidence in favor of Darwin’s theory of natural selection “was completed by the unanswerable demonstrations of Sir W. H. Flower at the Cambridge meeting of the Association in 1862.” If other apparent references to Darwinian evolution in Joyce’s [End Page 851] works prove plausible, the zoologist Sir William Henry Flower (1831–1899) may be among the sources for Leopold Bloom’s nom de plume in Ulysses.

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Figure 1.

Illustrations of earwigs from Grant Allen’s Flashlights on Nature. [End Page 852]

Sandra Tropp
Boston University


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