Populated by Minnows and Whales in Effusion: Joyce’s Dublin 1904

A BOOK REVIEW by Frances Devlin-Glass

Vivien Igoe: The Real People of Joyce’s Ulysses, a Biographical Guide, University College Dublin Press, Dublin, 20169781910820063

ISBN: 978-1-910820-06-03

RRP: €40

This is a book that few lovers of Joyce will be able to resist, and they should be urged not to resist.

We’ve known since the Linati schema was produced in 1920 that the impulse that led James Joyce to document Dublin was encyclopaedic. In many ways, looking at the novel through a variety of lenses, this has been tested and found to be true. What this book does is to demonstrate, in fine and almost exhaustive detail, how true it is of the hundreds of characters named in the novel who actually were known to Joyce or his family and based on real living Dubliners, or people known to Joyce in Trieste or Zurich (where most of the novel was written).

This book, itself an encyclopaedia, could only have been written by a Dubliner with excellent connections.  Igoe is such a person. Her mother was born in 1909 at the Holles Street Hospital, when Andrew Horne was Master. This hospital is, of course, the setting for Chapter 11, ‘Oxen of the Sun’. Being a generation-and-a-half younger than Joyce, Eileen Veale was to become an early Joycean and exposed her daughter, our author, to descendants of named characters in the novel, and to folk who could strip away fictional names to find the real persons on whom the fictions were based. She is also a person with a very strong sense of the history of Dublin and her sense of being part of it. Association with Joyce landmarks, and later with Joycean scholars, transformed her legacy into something we can all be very glad about – a carefully researched tome which reveals what we already know, but did not know so clearly, how little Joyce could forget of  the people who populated his formative years in Dublin.

The book begins (almost) in what I think of as a catholic manoeuvre: it cites a catalogue of 53 omissions: a list of characters who do not line up as identified with any real-life person. The list on pp.5-6,  curiously, does not include Gerty MacDowell and needed to, though the author does identify someone who might have been her mother and her sisters. What the reader is offered is rich and scrupulously documented. Maybes and possibilities are recorded where certainty was elusive. One category of omission is curiously not mentioned: the catalogue of saints in Ch. 12. Perhaps these were in the camp of ‘too well-known’ to qualify, and might have extended the size of the work considerably. It’s a hefty tome, standing at 312 pages, with as many as three or four entries per page, plus editorial and scholarly machinery.

Igoe’s sources are many and varied and she spells out her methodology with care: oral history was clearly important, especially in identifying those to whom Joyce gave fictional names; the census returns for 1901 and 1911 are naturally a rich source for addresses and ages, marital status and place of birth; Thom’s Directory over many years (1904’s was at Joyce’s elbow as he wrote); and the grave plots of Dublin cemeteries (and elsewhere); and monastery and diocesan records were also useful. One of the stranger features of the book is its insistence on giving final resting places, to the minute extent of recording graveplots (but I guess it gives certainty about someone having lived). Entries also often provide histories of individuals beyond 1904, which is intriguing, if not strictly relevant to their lives in the book. Contacts in Gibraltar also helped Igoe fill out Molly’s history on the British garrison.

For someone like me, trained in literary studies in the 1960s to hold a fine disregard for the real world to which some fiction points, this work challenges some assumptions. What was advocated in my day was an engrossment in the world of the novel as a self-contained imagined universe.  Vivian Igoe’s enterprise to document the connections between real individuals and their fictional counterparts, therefore, becomes an object lesson in the pleasures and uses of actually paying attention to the real-world that fiction gestures towards, a manoeuvre that has become much more familiar in the decades since I was trained. The worlds of fiction and real-life Dublin are so heavily intertwined in Joyce’s fiction that one ignores one or other at one’s peril.  It’s clearly not just naturalism that is in play, however.

To read this encyclopaedia is to be drawn into the overgrown village that was Dublin in 1904 and for the years Joyce lived there, and into the gossip of his wider family and friends. Readers and critics have long paid their dues to the vernacular quality of the text, its creation of a myriad of talking voices with distinctive points of view.  The talking points of this gossipy world are often of compelling interest.  For instance, if you ever wondered why Bloom takes the name Henry Flower as his pseudonymous erotic pen-pal identity, the factual back-story is more bizarre than one could imagine. A member of the Dublin Military Police, Flower was falsely accused of the murder of Brigid Gannon, a serving woman, aged 30 in 1900. He’d been with her the night she drowned or was pushed into the Dodder River. He was happily acquitted, the judge suggesting that it might have been an accident, but the incident ruined the life of Flower’s brothers. Whether Joyce lived to hear that a dying woman 40 years later (around 1940) confessed to the murder, Igoe does not say. This was a case where the after-life of the choice of identity was extremely interesting, though hardly relevant to Joyce’s choice of name before 1922. It strikes me that there’s a further thesis to be written on the significance of Igoe’s findings on this and other similar instances. For example, in the case of Henry Flower, how significant is this choice given that Bloom is himself the object of much gossip and innuendo? What did Dubliners know about this case independently of what emerged in court?

This book gives wonderful insights into how Joyce worked. His own and his father’s many friends and acquaintances get guernseys, often just in passing. As one might suspect, whom he notices smacks of serious democracy. Mrs Fleming, a cleaning woman employed by the Blooms, mentioned only once in Ulysses in Ch.6, is, according to Igoe, based on a cousin of Joyce’s best friend, J. F. Byrne (transformed into the character Cranly). She is demoted from vestment maker to cleaner/mender because of her competitive gossiping, and a particularly galling conversation that occurred during Joyce’s stressful visit to Dublin in 1909, when he stayed at the Byrnes’ family home in 7 Eccles Street. The visitors may have expected more focus on himself, Igoe implies, but not in any judgmental way. It is quite moving to have minnows in the Dublin world noted, even if in passing, such as the National Library attendant Thomas Henry Evans, half a century in work there and almost certainly known to Joyce in that connection, or perhaps as a singer. And to know about the improbably-named but factual bar-fly, Hoppy Holohan, who stayed in the hotel where Nora Barnacle worked, and who tried to seduce her while she was courting Joyce. The list, like Joyce’s lists generally, are wonderfully heterogeneous. For example,  Sir Nugent Talbot Everard, gentleman farmer and tobacco grower,  gets the briefest of mentions in Chapter 16 for his attempt to introduce tobacco growing into Ireland (it failed on the manufacturing side). I should not be astonished that Joyce knew of his agricultural doings in Navan, but I am. And I relish the scale and scope of the fictional universe he creates out of the fragments of a world he’d left for 18 years at the point that Ulysses was published. The surprises proliferate: it is piquant to know that Lady Fingall, of Killeen Castle, Galway, was active in the Irish Industries Association, and supported cottage industries in Ireland. These class crossovers do their work of confounding categories, and raising questions about inclusiveness, a typically Joycean manoeuvre.

Joyce relocates some real-life personages from the streets of Trieste or Zurich to Dublin.  The motives are sometimes to honour, as in the case of the only storekeeper –  Moses Dlugacz – not listed in Thom’s Directory of 1904 (further underlining the significance of that source). He was not the pork butcher he is in Joyce’s fiction, but  had been a English student of Joyce’s in Trieste and possibly taught him some Hebrew and the brand of Zionism Bloom espouses. As a cashier for the Cunard Line, he helped poor Jews to escape to the USA before World War I. Sometimes, though, Joyce uses his transposed characters to settle scores: the consular official Compton in Zurich, whom Joyce quarrelled with in Zurich in 1918, gets turned into a thuggish British soldier in Nighttown; and similarly, the British Ambassador to Zurich Sir Horace Rumbold has his name used for the barber/executioner of the patriot who closely resembles Robert Emmett.

Sometimes the coincidences themselves are intriguing and show the fictionist at work, freely able to borrow an attribute and radically alter its meaning: although it is Bloom who is able to hold in his head multiple identities and is the object of scorn as a Dublin Jew who is Irish by birth, and The Citizen has his own real-life counterpart in hyper-nationalist Gaelic Leaguer Michael Cusack, so it is by a twist of moral logic that Moses Herzog, a grocer, is an actual one-eyed Dublin Jew.

I’m delighted to find too some unexpected Antipodean connections: I had known but forgotten that Alexander J. Dowie, the theatrical Evangelist preacher grew up in Australia and returned to Adelaide in the 1870s before his career took off in the USA.  He was in Europe ( but not Dublin) on 11-18 June 1904, and was subsequently accused of funds mismanagement and polygamy in 1906. Could Joyce have been aware of this? The second connection is with a bit-part I have played: Lady Dudley who was Vicereine not only in Dublin on 16 June 1904, but also served in the same position as wife of the Governor General in Australia from 1908 -1911. She founded the Bush Nursing Scheme, and ran a hospital for Australian soldiers in northern France in WWI.

There is much to learn from this book: how Skin-the-Goat got his name or how the term ‘Jimmy Johnson’ entered the Dublin slang lexicon; why ‘Timothy of the battered naggin’ became a by-word for dishonesty;  that a well-known prostitute,  Becky Cooper, possibly the counterpart for Kitty Ricketts from Bella Cohen’s brothel in Tyrone Street, was a generous philanthropist to the poor and often treated her clients to new outfits; and how vivid the Dublin opera scene was in 1904 and why Joyce was so drawn to the idea of a career in song or opera. The intrigue and piquancy are seemingly endless.

This is a book lovers of Joyce will have to have.  I recommend it.

Frances Devlin-Glass is a member of the Tinteán collective, a lover of Joyce and the founding Director of Bloomsday in Melbourne which annually celebrates James Joyce with an adaptation or a play inspired by Joyce’s fiction.