Summing up the Madams
A cross-tabulation of various types of records (directories, registers, newspapers, etc.) shows that the lifestyle and interaction of the various Madams or brothel-keepers in the red-light district of Dublin is more complex than has been previously demonstrated. Joyce knew of this lifestyle through his own experience with prostitutes and through the stories that his father doubtless told him.
Some of the details of the foregoing account may have been misinterpreted, but the general picture of life in the area appears to be consistent with the facts. The distinction between owning and living in a property is sometimes problematic, but by reviewing all of the available details of the Madams it is clear that the amount of interaction and community between them was really quite extensive.
Map courtesy of Ian Gunn
The population of working girls in the area appears to be transient. When they are arrested – for soliciting, drunkenness, etc. – they do not tend to give the same address for a long period. The prison authorities also tabulated the addresses at which they were born, in order to try to keep better tabs on their prisoners. Of course, the prostitutes and madams might easily give incorrect information to the authorities all along the line, sometimes impersonating other prostitutes. But despite this there does seem to be a strong thread of continuity.
The Madams are a disparate collection of ladies. Some are Dublin women; others come from elsewhere in Ireland; others still come from England and Scotland (and there is a suggestion – as yet unconfirmed – of a cluster around Glasgow). It would not be surprising, therefore, that Zoe Higgins declares that she is English. Annie McEachern (a very close parallel for Mrs Annie Mack) probably comes from Scotland, and returns there after her wheeling and dealing days are over. Ellen Cannell (a very close parallel to Ellen Cohen) comes from England, as does her husband. But Meg Arnott and Lizzie Arnold appear to have been Irish girls. The lives of all four interact quite substantially both before and during the Mecklenburgh Street era.
Another factor: most of the women are widows in their forties and fifties at the turn of the century. They share a common situation and (probably) a common outlook. They are lodging-house keepers who turn their profession into a lucrative business (it was three times more profitable – we are told – to rent out rooms for prostitution than to “respectable” tenants). There are links with the Army (known frequenters of the district) – Harry Cannell was a Sergeant in the Army Service Corps when he married Ellen Charlton in 1883; Lizzie Arnold’s husband Leamington was stationed at the Military Baracks in Clonmel, Tipperary when he married her. Even if they were not married, they perhaps had some time on their own to manage their businesses. Perhaps Bloom's threat to expose Bella's son at Oxford is a hint that the Madams in part tried to maintain a facade of respectability with their wealth.
Each of these women had brushes with the law – some much more serious than others. But in general they evade the notice of the police more than do their girls, many of whom are constantly in and out of court and prison. When they are arrested or questioned, it is not for running a brothel (hard to prove and not necessarily the object of prosecution) but for associated crimes such as selling porter or spirits without a licence, or causing disturbances with their late-night champagne parties. All – or at least most – had short fuses and were capable of strong-arming their way through a dispute. They may have been respectful to Joyce, Gogarty, and their friends, but they will have made life hard for their girls – their direct sources of income.
More significantly, the names of the Madams seem sometimes to have become brand names, held by whoever was running the particular address at any time. Annie McEachern retires to Scotland in the 1880s, but her name Annie Mack remains (though falteringly in “Eliza Mack” in the 1901 census); Margaret Noble remains constant as a presence, but under a hatful of different names; Lizzie Arnold is a shadowy figure facilitating various activities but playing the role – on the surface at least – of an invisible actor; Ellen Cannell (with Ellen Cohen) lives a riotous life over several years in the late 1870s and early 1880s before settling (as far as we can tell) to the life depicted by Joyce in Ulysses.
There is doubtless much more that can be discovered about these disorderly ladies. Their birth and death records are still typically missing and the timelines of their lives flicker at times frustratingly. But the overall picture is clear: they ran successful businesses until the authorities closed in on them in the early twentieth century, and the atmosphere of their houses survives in the literature of the period.
This is the last of six related articles. Previous articles in the series:
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