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‘Fitz-Epsykure’: The further adventures of Alfred and Marion Hunter

 

Quite a few legends still cluster around the figure of Alfred Henry Hunter, the man who in some sense stands behind Leopold Bloom, despite recent attempts to scotch some of them. For instance, the latest biography of Joyce, that by Gordon Bowker,1 continues to purvey the story of Joyce’s rescue by Hunter at the hands of an assailant, despite clear evidence of the very scanty factual basis for this belief.2 The same anecdote is also related in both versions of Danis Rose’s “Reader’s Edition” of Ulysses.3 Obviously the story is too good, and chimes too neatly with the events of Ulysses, to let go. Similarly, both authors continue to refer to Hunter as “reputedly a Jew” (Bowker) and “a putative Dublin Jew” (Rose). More recently, Scarlett Baron cites Joyce’s idea for “a new short story about a Dublin-based Jew called Alfred H. Hunter”.4

     The current state of Hunter studies (if one may use such a grandiose term in this connection) in relation to his possible similarities or otherwise to Leopold Bloom, which is of course the chief source of our interest in him, is as follows. On the debit side, as it were, he was not Jewish, though people in Joyce’s day may very well have believed that he was; he did not come from Dublin though he did live there, and any reliable evidence of his actual rescue of Joyce is sadly lacking. On the credit side, he was an advertisement canvasser (this occupation is given on his death certificate), his wife was called Marion (not Margaret, as Bowker has it) and there is some evidence that as a person he (and perhaps his wife) was indeed at something of an angle to conventional Dublin society as it existed at the time.5  

     More recent research allows us to paint a somewhat fuller picture of Hunter’s activities both pre- and post-1904. On 21 June 1913 the following advertisement appeared in the Co Cavan newspaper the Anglo-Celt:

A Cure for Epilepsy. A new remedy for epilepsy and kindred fits has just been discovered, and is being put on the market under the name of 'Epsykure'. It is a perfectly safe and reliable remedy, and has the great advantage of being devoid of bromide – the essential and somewhat dangerous ingredient of the older remedies. Particulars of this splendid new remedy may be obtained from Mr Alfred H. Hunter (formerly partner Trench’s Remedy), Dept. B., 12 D’Olier Street, Dublin.

     This ad was repeated on 5 July; a similar appeared on 12 July and on 19 July it was stated: “a case containing 3 bottles may be obtained for 4s 6d; or 6 bottles for 7s 6d.”. Various ads for Trench’s Remedy appeared in the Irish Times in the course of those years: e.g. 19 October 1907 we have:

Fits cured. – Write for Free Book, giving particulars of famous Cure for Epilepsy. 20 years' success. Testimonials from all parts of the world. Trench’s Remedies, Ltd. (Dept. I.T.), South Frederick Street, Dublin.

      An ad in the Tuam Herald of 20 January for that year states: “Mr Townsend Trench had been offering cures for epileptic fits since at least 1894.” Trench’s Remedies were still advertised well into the 20th century.

     On 17 October 1913, a small ad appeared in the Irish Independent:

Epsykure (Registered), Remedy for Epilepsy and Falling Sickness. Particulars, Secretary, Epsykure Laborotory Co. [sic], 12 D’Olier street, Dublin. Stamped envelope.

     The same ad appeared on 20 October and similar ones on 25, 27, 28, 30, 31 October and 1 November.


     On January 5 1915, the Irish Times featured a small ad:
 

Epsykure eradicates Epilepsy, post free 7/6. Write Epsykure, Great Charles street, Dublin.

     The Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist of 28 September 1912 includes an application to register the trademark “Fitz-Epsykure” by “A. H. Hunter, 23, Great Charles Street, Dublin”. 

Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist (1912), 28 September, p. 395

     And much earlier, the Weekly Irish Times of 15 November 1890 included “New Irish Patents... 17,433 – Alfred Henry Hunter and Robert Lindsey Gilmore, of Dublin”, for an invention of “An improvement for facilitating the lacing and unlacing of boots and shoes and corsets, and such like articles of wearing apparel”.

     If anything, the new material strengthens one’s sense of Hunter’s general affinity with Bloom. The highly dubious “Fitz-Epsykure” (one hopes it did no actual harm, though in all likelihood it would not have done any good) bears a general family resemblance to such Bloomian wheezes as the Royal and Privileged Hungarian Lottery, about which so sceptical a view is taken in “Cyclops”.6 The sense is of someone with very few resources deploying considerable ingenuity and little scruple to achieve the “stern task of living”, as it is called in Dubliners. As for the device to ease the unlacing of corsets, Bloomian parallels are almost embarrassingly obvious.

     A final word on the fate of Marion Hunter, Alfred’s wife. After his death in 1926, Marion lived on in Dublin, obviously in straitened circumstances. In 1938, she sold her valuable facsimile of the manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the precursor of Alice in Wonderland, inscribed to her by Carroll.7 In the late 1930s and early 1940s she was living in a multi-occupancy house in 14 Upper Rutland Street. The only remaining uncertainty regarding her is her date of death and place of interment, neither of which has so far emerged. But thanks to the hugely expanded facilities for family and social research available today, a figure who for a long time has been in the penumbra of Joyce studies has finally been given his due, and his wife, about whom only the rumour (which remains only a rumour) that she was “unfaithful” had ever been reported, has also stepped into the light.8

Terence Killeen


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I am grateful to John Simpson, who has generously allowed me to use his researches into the career of Alfred Henry Hunter in this article.

1 Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: a biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011).
2 Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: a biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011), p. 125. The author does not help matters by referring to Hunter as “Alfred Hugh Hunter” when all the evidence indicates that his middle name was Henry. Two articles by me in the Dublin James Joyce Journal, “Myths and Monuments: The Case of Alfred H. Hunter”, Dublin James Joyce Journal, No. 1 (Dublin: UCD Joyce Research Centre in association with the National Library of Ireland, 2008, 47-54) and “Marion Hunter Revisited: Further Light on a Dublin Enigma”, Dublin James Joyce Journal No. 3, 2010, 144-52, have attempted to distinguish the reasonably reliable from the attractively speculative in regard to the story of Hunter (and his wife).
3 James Joyce, Ulysses (ed. Danis Rose; London: Picador, 1997), p. xxviii and (Mousehole, Cornwall: Houyhnhnm, 2004), p. xv.
4 Scarlett Baron, ‘Strandentwining Cable’: Joyce, Flaubert, and Intertextuality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 133.
5 Fuller details are available in my two articles cited above.
6 See also “Fitz-Epsykure” in “He cures fits!” on this website.
7 The facsimile was resold in 1991 and 2006. The lot description and provenance, by Christie’s of London, may be found here.
8 Considerable documentation relating to Alfred and Marion Hunter (though not the history of would-be cures and patent applications outlined above) can be seen at irishtimes. com/ancestor/magazine/column/june1_15.htmirishroots@irishtimes.com. It might be noted that this site spells Marion Hunter’s middle name, Bruère, with an acute accent, whereas it is in fact a grave.