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‘The Old Woman of Prince’s Street’: Ulysses and The Freeman’s Journal

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 4, 2011
pp. 14-30 | 10.1353/djj.2011.0007

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Plate 1. 

Emblem of The Freeman’s Journal.

‘Sufficient for the day is the newspaper thereof’

(U 7.736).

It is 10 o’clock in the morning on 16 June 1904, and Mr Bloom is walking southwards along Westland Row, towards Lincoln Place. He has purchased that morning’s issue of The Freeman’s Journal and ‘[a]s he walked, he took the folded Freeman from his sidepocket, unfolded it, rolled it lengthwise in a baton and tapped it at each sauntering step against his trouserleg’ (U 5.48–50). There are many such casual references to the Freeman in Ulysses. More importantly, Leopold Bloom is employed as an advertisement canvasser for the Freeman’s evening newspaper, The Evening Telegraph, and the ‘Aeolus’ episode is set in the Freeman’s offices in North Prince’s Street, beside the GPO. In the opening sequence of ‘Aeolus’, the then editor of the newspaper, W.H. Brayden, makes a brief appearance: his ‘stately’ arrival in the Freeman’s offices is observed by Bloom who, noticing Brayden’s ‘fat folds of neck’, recalls Simon Dedalus’s gibe that ‘all his brains are in the nape of his neck’ (U 7.44–50). The Freeman is described in ‘Aeolus’ as ‘a great daily organ’ (U 7.84). Later, however, in the ‘Circe’ episode — set in Dublin’s nighttown — its title and that of its weekly compendium edition, the Weekly Freeman, are transmogrified into the ‘Freeman’s Urinal and Weekly Arsewiper’ (U 15.812); this is far less polite than an earlier reference by Joyce to the Freeman as the ‘Freeman’s General’ in Dubliners (D ‘The Sisters’ 9.234).

In addition, the Freeman’s famous emblem of a sunburst behind the old Irish parliament building (now the Bank of Ireland) in College Green is an image that recurs at intervals in Ulysses — sometimes obscurely, but eventually it assumes a complex symbolism in Leopold Bloom’s imagination. This emblem (see Plate 1) was adopted by the newspaper in 1891 as an expression of its political aspirations, home rule for Ireland as sought by the Irish parliamentary party at Westminster. It occasioned the cruel jibe deprecating home rule as a somewhat tawdry concept which Bloom recalls in the ‘Calypso’ episode and attributes to Arthur Griffith, the radical journalist and future Sinn Féin leader:

Sunburst on the titlepage. He smiled, pleasing himself. What Arthur Griffith said about the headpiece over the Freeman leader: a homerule sun rising up in the northwest from the laneway behind the bank of Ireland. He prolonged his pleased smile. Ikey touch that: homerule sun rising up in the northwest

(U 4.100–4).

The Freeman’s Journal had been the semi-official organ of the Irish party since Parnell’s time, and it was unquestionably the foremost nationalist daily newspaper published in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century. It did not long retain that eminence and ceased publication on 19 December 1924. The fact that the newspaper features so prominently in Ulysses reflects the central position which it once had in Irish public life, and Joyce’s use of the Freeman’s affectionate sobriquet ‘The Old Woman of Prince’s Street’ — with its echo of ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, the metonym by which another pillar of the establishment, the Bank of England, is sometimes known — underlines the newspaper’s eminence in the Dublin of Ulysses (U 7.684 and U 12.218). While we must be cautious about reading Ulysses as history, it is nevertheless deeply rooted in actuality and suffused with a sense of history: it is, to quote Elizabeth Bowen about her novel The Last September, ‘fiction with the texture of history’1 . Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is briefly to outline the Freeman’s long and chequered history, and to provide some further background information which is relevant to Joyce’s treatment of the newspaper in Ulysses.

Ulysses is, however, only one of three novels associated with the Freeman—and the last to be published. The others are Matthias McDonnell Bodkin’s White Magic, published in 1897, and Fannie Gallaher’s Thy Name is Truth, published in three volumes in...


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