‘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
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:
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:
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.
October 1913, a small ad appeared in the Irish
Epsykure (Registered), Remedy for Epilepsy and Falling
Sickness. Particulars, Secretary, Epsykure Laborotory Co. [
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:
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
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).
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