Old Mrs Thornton

Old Mrs Thornton

In Brief

The midwife who delivered the Blooms' children, "Mrs Thornton in Denzille street," is named for an actual Mrs. Thornton who lived on that street and delivered several of Joyce's siblings. In Circe she appears dressed in a "nursetender's gown," suggesting that Molly gave birth in what Bloom in Hades and Josie Breen in Lestrygonians call "the lying-in hospital"—an expression that reflects the old medical view that women should lie immobile for a considerable time after giving birth.

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Ellmann notes that "Margaret was apparently the first Joyce baby to be delivered by the midwife Mrs. Thornton of 19A Denzille Street," and that she "also delivered Charles, Eileen, and Florence Joyce" (748). Vivien Igoe agrees that Mary Thornton, "a professional midwife" living at 19A, delivered Margaret (January 1884), Charles (July 1886), and Eileen (January 1889), but she includes Stanislaus (December 1884) on the list and makes no mention of Florence. "Mrs. Thornton was popular with all the Joyce family," she observes.

Bloom thinks of Mrs. Thornton as warmly as did the Joyces. In Calypso he remembers her as a "Jolly old woman," and in Lestrygonians he thinks, "Old Mrs Thornton was a jolly old soul. All my babies, she said. The spoon of pap in her mouth before she fed them. O, that's nyumnyum." In Circe she attends him "In nursetender's gown" as he gives birth to eight male children: "Embrace me tight, dear. You'll be soon over it. Tight, dear." The midwife's home on Denzille Street probably holds interest of a second kind for Bloom, unrelated to childbirth, and its location near the National Maternity Hospital also deserves comment.

§ In Calypso Bloom thinks of the June morning fifteen years ago when Milly was born, "running to knock up Mrs Thornton in Denzille Street." Denzille, now part of Fenian Street, lies quite near the NMH on the northeast side of Merrion Square but some distance from the Blooms' home. Gifford, apparently wondering about Bloom's stamina as a runner, observes that her address "would locate her approximately one and a half miles northeast of Bloom's residence in Lombard Street West if the Blooms were living there in 1889." His reasoning is questionable on two counts. First, the Blooms were almost certainly living in Pleasants Street, not Lombard (though not very far from it) in 1889. More importantly, if Molly gave birth in the hospital, Bloom probably first accompanied her there and then went to fetch the midwife, in which case his running the short distance from Holles to Denzille would be quite unremarkable—if, in fact, the NMH was open for business in 1899.

JH 2018
Midwives in a British maternity ward of the late 19th or early 20th century, location and date unknown. Source: www.rcog.org.uk.
Another maternity ward of the time period, location and date unknown. Source: www.fitpregnancy.com.com.
Detail of map of Dublin made for Thom's Almanac, showing the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street (blue) and Denzille Street (red). Source: digital.ucd.ie.