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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This practice on the part of the young newsvendors would helpfully account for the apparent ridiculousness of these “headlines”.
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.
2 R. Brandon Kershner, The Culture of Joyce’s Ulysses, p. 88.
3 Irish Independent (1908), 16 January, p. 4. Gordon Bowker writes in his biography of Joyce (ch. 13) that Joyce’s brother Stanislaus was sending him in Rome, in 1906-7, copies of Sinn Fein and the Irish Independent, and there is no reason to suppose that this arrangement did not continue when Joyce moved back to Trieste in 1907.
4 Irish Independent (1908), 16 January, p. 4.
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