A postcard from Bolivia - Una tarjeta postal de Bolivia

U 16.472-4: He fumbled out a picture postcard from his inside pocket, which seemed to be in its way a species of repository, and pushed it along the table. The printed matter on it stated: Choza de Indios. Beni, Bolivia.

Bloom, Stephen and others listen with rapt attention to D.B. Murphy, as he tells lurid tales of his travels on the Red Sea, in China, the Americas, and Russia. Speaking of South America, he states: “And I seen maneaters in Peru that eats corpses and the livers of horses. Look here. Here they are. A friend of mine sent me.” (U16.4700). All focus their attention, yet Bloom has growing suspicion of the accuracy of Murphy’s account: the postcard that the seaman brings out does not show man-eaters, nor is it from Peru.  It is a postcard of a “Choza de Indios” [“an Indian hut”] in Beni, north-eastern Bolivia.

Of the postcard itself nothing is known, though commentators often allude to it. While investigating early twentieth-century postcards for the JoyceImages website, I was fortunate enough to discover a postcard (undated) illustrating just the image that Joyce refers to:

Postcard in the writer’s possession

Joyce gives us more information about the picture itself. It represented:

a group of savage women in striped loincloths, squatted, blinking, suckling, frowning, sleeping, amid a swarm of infants (there must have been quite a score of them) outside some primitive shanties of osier. (U 16.475-8)


The publisher

The back of the “Choza de Indios” postcard gives the name of the publisher: Arnó Hermanos, i.e. Arnó Brothers. Arnó Hermanos was an important publisher in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and its principal commercial centre. Arnó owned a bookstore called La Universitaria that specialised in material of local Bolivian interest. In 1909 they issued a 55-page catalogue listing a large variety of the titles they carried in stock: these included: “Literature, Sociology, Law, Medicine, Sciences, Commerce, Arts and Novels by major authors, Theatre etc., etc.”1 In 1913, the size of their catalogue had swelled to 218 pages. They also sold stationery and were prolific publishers of postcards.

The era

The beginning of the nineteenth century up to WW1 saw a craze in postcard-sending and collecting. In 1903, it is estimated than more than 600 million postcards were handled by the postal system of Great Britain, and an estimated billion in Germany. No postal figures are available from Bolivia, but the availability of postmarked cards suggests that Bolivia was similarly swept by the postcard mania. The same scenes showed up on cards from different publishers, as black-and-white lithographs, as chromolithographs, or (less commonly) as real photographs.

The “Choza de Indios” image is thus also found as a colorised lithograph, slightly less cropped on one of the edges, and bearing a different legend: “Familia de Indios del Chaco, Bolivia” and with the imprint of a different publisher, Gonzalex y Medina. It now identifies (correctly?) the people represented as members of the group of South American Indians, the Gran Chaco.

Familia de Indios del Chaco (Bolivia)

The missing message

Bloom turns over the postcard, and takes particular notice that there was no message. In 1904 it would not be surprising if the back of a postcard bore no message. In fact postcards from that era are known as “undivided back”, with the back strictly dedicated to writing the address of the recipient. The message, if any, would be written on any available space around or within the image on the front of the card. Many postcards of that era in fact bear the printed legend “this side for address only” or, in Bolivia “En este lado debe escribir unicamenta la direccion” or a variation thereof. 

The back of a postcard from Bolivia (1904)

On March 1, 1907 the US Post Office allowed private citizens to write on the address side of a postcard, and postcards printed henceforth had a "divided back", with the left section being used for a message, and the right reserved for the address. This is the format still currently in use.


The addressing

The postcard in Ulysses is addressed to Señor A. Boudin, Galeria Becche, Santiago, Chile. The text of Ulysses does not explicitly state if the words were all written out. It is possible, as was sometimes the case, that the word "Señor" was already pre-printed on the card.

Postcard from South America (1904) with the word “Señor” pre-printed

The missing man-eaters from Peru

The image below shows a widely circulated postcard of “maneaters” in Peru. It is not clear if Murphy pulled out of his inside pocket the wrong postcard, or if this is an indication that he cannot read.

Murphy then comments on sleeping women and natives eating horse liver:

See them there stark ballocknaked eating a dead horse’s liver raw. (U 16.481) 

The horse-eating appears to be part of Murphy’s elaboration, rather than a direct commentary on the postcard - another example of the confusion and blurring that takes place in Eumeus.

Joyce was completing the Eumaeus episode in February 1921 (Rosenbach MS), and so this gives us a date before which the postcard must have been available to him

Aida Yared


1 Catálogo general de la librería y papelería la "Universitaria", por Arnó Hermanos (Imp. Velarde: La Paz, Bolivia, 1913).

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