Newsboys and the child-biting bellows
U 7.966-9: — Telegraph! Racing special! […]
A newsboy cried in Mr Bloom’s face:
— Terrible tragedy in Rathmines! A child bit by a bellows!
Newsboys were a characteristic feature of Joyce’s Dublin, ill-kempt street urchins bumping up against the respectable citizenry in their attempts to hawk the various editions of the Freeman’s Journal, the Penny Journal, the special editions, the racing press. They make Bloom rather uncomfortable, mocking him as he leaves the newspaper offices in Aeolus to look for Alexander Keyes:
The Dublin newspapers relied on newsboys to sell the news on the street, and the newsboys themselves enjoyed something of a mythological status in the city. Readers of Ulysses have been perplexed by the fact that some of the headlines shouted by the newsboys are nonsensical. Was there really a newspaper that traded on a story about “a child bit by a bellows” in residential Rathmines? Did any of the Dublin papers announce a “sea serpent in the royal canal”?
Brandon Kershner notes that on page 3 of the Dublin Evening Telegraph for 13 June 1904, just before Bloomsday, we may find the sad headline “Child Drowned in a Bath at Rathmines”.2 Perhaps this informed Joyce’s headline, but there is a more solid source.
The Irish Independent for Thursday 16 January 1908 published a long article by “Dominic Dovetail” on Dublin street urchins. There can be very little doubt that Joyce saw this story. The writer, who contributed occasional articles on Dublin life to the paper at this time, is very much in favour of seeing the best in the street urchin, who is typically “regarded by some very respectable persons as a noisy animal, whose sole object in life is to annoy very respectable persons”. If the respectable person was to enquire a little further, we are told:3
These latter-day artful dodgers can be trusted, according to Dominic Dovetail, to mind your bicycle for a while (for a small consideration), and they are also often seen selling matches, if they do not have access to the more profitable newspapers.
Rushing back to the Telegraph
office in Middle Abbey Street to confront the editor with news about Keyes’s ad
Bloom is “caught in a whirl of wild newsboys”. The Irish Independent describes the typical situation:
Bloom feels jostled and uncomfortable – not in control. Then the journalist notes, in passing, that:
On reflection, this is true of Ulysses. The newsboys yell the names of newspapers, or the type of edition (“Racing special”), but Joyce does not have them shout realistic news items.
But he was clearly struck by the next statement in the Irish Independent piece:
On the face of it, this is an extraordinary statement of newsboy practice, but there would doubtless be an attraction in grabbing the attention of a passer-by, and perhaps even demonstrating the chirpy, Cockneyesque character of the street urchin, by throwing humour into the mix.
Later on in Ulysses we find Joyce offering just such imaginary news items in a dreamscape environment:
This practice on the part of the young newsvendors would helpfully account for the apparent ridiculousness of these “headlines”.
The Irish Independent in 1908 offers two instances of manufactured headlines, one of which made it into Ulysses:
Not a real headline, but one manufactured in an attempt to sell newspapers and carefully filed away by Joyce for use in his novel ten years later: one more element in his carefully constructed web of “windy” references for the episode called Aeolus.
See the article Stealing
Joyce's Allusions >