The expression “No followers allowed” remains unannotated by Gifford, though Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short note that it was “a common phrase in Joyce’s time to indicate that female servants were not allowed men friends”.1 Joyce often incorporated echoes of advertising text into Ulysses, and Bloom the advertising agent and most of his fellow Dubliners would have recognised “No followers allowed” as another cliché from this world.
The OED notes follower as “a man who courts a maidservant; esp. one who calls at the house to see her”, and dates its first usage to Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (1839):
Five servants kept. No man. No followers. (ch. 16, p. 140)
“No followers allowed” and its variants occurred widely in the small-ad columns of newspapers much earlier than this, and at least from the mid-eighteenth century. Initially, the expression appears as just one of a list of the expected attributes of a good and reliable servant:
Wanted also a discreet, quiet, good Sort of motherly Woman, who has been used to attend on People in Illness, and can do the usual Business of upper Servant, where two are kept, in a small retired Family, she must be humane and good-natured, one who can stay at home, and has no Followers.
Public Advertiser (London) (1761), 17 March
But it began to take hold, although at first it did not have the slogan-like brevity it soon acquired. In 1766 “No followers will be allowed” (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 3 June) for the “servant girl […] wanted for a companion for a young lady” in Hanover Square in London. But by 1774 the canonical form had established itself:
Wanted a Maid-Servant of all Work; also a handy Girl to assist in the House, about 17 or 18; and a Boy about 17 to wait at Table, clean Knives, &c. The above Servants with a good Character from their last Places, if reputable ones, may hear of a Place, by applying at Mr. Farrington’s, No. 3, in the Old Change, Cheapside. No Followers allowed.
Daily Advertiser (1774), 1 September
By the middle of the nineteenth century reference to one’s servants “followers” had become something of a literary cliché, and continued so throughout the century. In Samuel Lover’s Rory O’More: a comic drama (1837) Betty remarks:
And if we were discovered it would be the ruin of me; for the colonel says to me the other day, "Betty," says he, "you’ve no followers;" "No, sir," says I. "I never allow my servants to have their husbands coming here." (Act 1, scene 7, p. 19)
The genteel early Victorian poetry of Bentley’s Miscellany similarly included reference to the expression:
So, Felix vowed,
He wished his debts were paid;
Or else, that like his maid,
The Sheriff had – "no followers allowed!"
At the same time, “No followers allowed” continued to enjoy widespread use in the small ads. The Kerry Evening Post of 22 February 1845 encouraged suitable applicants to apply for a number of posts, including this one for which “liberal wages will be given”:
Wanted, a steady, respectable, and industrious woman, not under 26 years of age; a good cook, cleanly in her person, and an early riser. No followers allowed.
Dublin Freeman’s Journal naturally carried small ads which employed the expression “No followers allowed”: although it was a nationalist paper, it still took ads from the employing classes:
Housekeeper and Plain Cook – Wanted in the country a respectable Woman as above; to a steady person; cleanly in habits and appearance, with good references, a quiet home and liberal wages will be given; no followers allowed.
Freeman’s Journal (1878), 19 February p. 1
Today’s advertising standards did not apply in the nineteenth century, but as the women’s suffrage movement gained strength, there were occasional cries against the inhumanity of the social code that rendered young female servants almost prisoners in their employment. In 1894, the National Union of Women Workers held its conference at Glasgow, and the delegates listened to a household servant of long standing trying to shake off some of her shackles:
Mrs Rogers, who had been twenty-five years in service, pleaded with mistresses to abolish the rigorous rule of "No Followers allowed".
Irish Times (1894), 3 November p. 5
When Joyce drafted in the expression “No followers allowed” in June 1921 into the text of Ulysses, he was not simply making use of a time-worn if increasingly antiquated phrase from the small ads, but one which had become assimilated into the literature as a cliché from the world of household servants, but also one which had informed debate about women’s suffrage. Joyce himself would have been well aware of this, but we wonder how enlightened Leopold Bloom was as the phrase passed through his mind.