On this day…21 May

On 21 May 1904 Bloom borrows The Stark Munro Letters from Capel Street Library.

In the ‘Ithaca’ episode of Ulysses, Bloom, looking in the mirror, reviews the books stacked on two shelves. Among them is Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Stark Munro Letters which Bloom borrowed from the Capel Street Library on Whitsun Eve, Saturday 21 May 1904. The book was due back on 4 June, and is by now thirteen days overdue.

Bloom thought of the book earlier in the day, in the ‘Calypso’ episode, while discussing Paul de Kock’s book with Molly. Bloom realised he must get the book renewed or the library will write to his guarantor, Kearney (who may be the Mr Kearney from the story ‘A Mother’ in Dubliners). In ‘Eumaeus,’ as he reached into his pocket, he felt the copy of Sweets of Sin which reminds him that the book he borrowed is out of date.

The Stark Munro Letters is ostensibly a series of letters written by J Stark Munro, a young medical graduate, to a friend about his experiences in his first medical practice. The book was based on Doyle’s own experiences as a young doctor. Doyle’s The Tragedy of Korosko was in Joyce’s Trieste library.

It was also from the Capel Street Library that Miss Dunne, Blazes Boylan’s secretary, borrowed Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Miss Dunne doesn’t like it as she thinks there’s “too much mystery business in it,” and she thinks she’ll return it and get a book by Mary Cecil Hay instead. Hay (ca. 1846-1886) wrote sentimental novels with titles like Old Myddelton’s Money, Back to the Old Home, A Wicked Girl, and Nora’s Love Test.

According to his brother Stanislaus, Joyce borrowed regularly from the Capel Street Library. The librarian, ‘Old Grogan,’ was concerned about some of the books Joyce was reading, and even warned John Joyce that his son was reading Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Joyce would send his brother to the library to get books for him, and would give him a list of books he wanted in order of preference, in case his first choice was out.

On one occasion, Joyce had put Hardy’s Jude the Obscure second or third on the list, but finding it hard to make out Joyce’s scribble, Stanislaus thought it was called Jude the Obscene. He was fully prepared to demand the book out loud from Old Grogan if it came to it, but Joyce’s first choice book was available and so Stanislaus didn’t have to ask for it. Joyce thought it was hilarious when he heard of Stanislaus’ misreading. Joyce said he would have loved to have been there when Stanislaus asked Old Grogan for Jude the Obscene.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, edited with an Introduction by Richard Ellmann, Preface by TS Eliot, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.