Blazes Boylan

Blazes Boylan

In Brief

The name of the man who will cuckold Bloom comes up twice in Calypso, when Bloom scans Milly's letter and sees the words "Blazes Boylan's seaside girls" and moments later when he asks Molly who her letter is from: "— O, Boylan, she said. He's bringing the programme." This man, called "Hugh E. (Blazes) Boylan" in Ithaca, pops up in conversation and in person far more often than Bloom would like on June 16. He is a promoter of various business ventures, including the concert tour in which Molly will be singing in a few weeks. His clearest real-life model, a Dubliner named Augustus Boylan, was himself a singer, but Joyce appears to have conceived the character very freely, drawing on other people and adding other properties: a criminally entrepreneurial father, a taste for showy clothes, a large sexual appetite and a member to match, and enough outgoing confident energy to justify puns on blazing and boiling.

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Although Ulysses presents Boylan only as a musical impresario, he clearly can sing: during his visit to 7 Eccles Street he and Molly rehearse the Là ci darem la mano duet from Don Giovanni, and she recalls that "he was in great singing voice." Vivien Igoe reports that the historical Boylan was associated with the other piece Molly will be singing, Love's Old Sweet Song, and also with Seaside Girls, the song that Milly connects with him. Augustus Boylan, the actual Dubliner born in 1872, sang in public concerts for many years and won several awards in singing competitions. He appeared onstage with J. C. Doyle, the baritone scheduled to sing with Molly in the upcoming concert tour, and with John McCormack, the soon-to-be-famous Irish tenor. Igoe notes that in 1904 McCormack and Boylan "sang at a concert held at the Rotunda to raise funds for McCormack's first American tour. It was so popular that another one was held at the Mansion House. On both these occasions Boylan's singing was well received and certainly contributed to the success of the tour in America, which established McCormack's reputation."

Augustus Boylan was the son and grandson of coopers at the Guinness brewery and he followed them into the barrel-making trade, working at the brewery from his teenage years until retirement age. But Joyce makes Blazes Boylan the son of a horse trader: "Dirty Dan the dodger's son off Island bridge that sold the same horses twice over to the government to fight the Boers. Old Whatwhat. I called about the poor and water rate, Mr Boylan. You what? The water rate, Mr Boylan. You whatwhat?" The accusations fly fast, furious, and fuzzy here: Dan Boylan was a "dodger" (like the Artful Dodger of Dickens' Oliver Twist? or, as Gifford suggests, "a shirker or malingerer"?); he made money selling horses to the British army (the second Boer War was hugely unpopular in Ireland); he cheated the army procurers (profiteering is especially easy in wartime); and he attained some position of civic authority (election to the Corporation?) in which he neglected his constituents' complaints (the poor rate and water rate were property taxes that funded civic operations).

Efforts have been made to tie the fictional Dan Boylan to actual Dublin horse-sellers, one of whom, James Daly, did have a business in Island Bridge, a riverside neighborhood slightly west of central Dublin. But Joyce's main concern here may have been to link Blazes Boylan with a father whose business was the 1904 equivalent of used-car sales. In Eumaeus Corley calls him "Boylan, the billsticker," identifying him with the lowest forms of advertising. Shortly before the narrator of Cyclops slanders Dan Boylan, Alf Bergan tells everyone that Blazes "made a cool hundred quid" off the Keogh-Bennett boxing match: "He let out that Myler was on the beer to run up the odds and he swatting all the time." Apparently he has been involved in organizing and promoting the bout and has used his insider's position to manipulate the betting odds and make a quick killing. While everything said in Cyclops must be taken with a grain of salt, this detail suggests that the apple has not fallen far from the tree. A reputation for unethical business dealings is no doubt one reason that Bloom thinks of Boylan in Hades as the "Worst man in Dublin."

The horse-dealing connection comes up also when Molly's romantic reveries are interrupted by something that annoyed her: "I wonder was he satisfied with me one thing I didnt like his slapping me behind going away so familiarly in the hall though I laughed Im not a horse or an ass am I I suppose he was thinking of his father I wonder is he awake thinking of me or dreaming am I in it." Later in Penelope she thinks again of the haunch-slapping: "has he no manners nor no refinement nor no nothing in his nature slapping us behind like that on my bottom because I didnt call him Hugh the ignoramus that doesnt know poetry from a cabbage thats what you get for not keeping them in their proper place pulling off his shoes and trousers there on the chair before me so barefaced without even asking permission and standing out that vulgar way in the half of a shirt they wear to be admired like a priest or a butcher."

This is one of several ways in which Molly balances appreciation of Boylan's sexual performance with dislike of his personality, and by the end of Penelope it seems clear that she does not view him as a keeper. Other parts of the novel create the impression of a boorish seducer: in Wandering Rocks he flirtatiously ogles the shopgirl who is helping him assemble gifts to send to the waiting Molly, and in Sirens and Circe Lenehan's sycophantish admiration of his sexual prowess strongly echoes Lenehan's relatonship with Corley's in the Dubliners story "Two Gallants." Women seem to be charmed by Boylan's boisterous self-confidence and drawn by his displays of wealth, but the reader feels no such attraction. For Bloom, in that passage in Hades, the moral ugliness seems to constitute part of the attraction: "Is there anything more in him that they she sees? Fascination. Worst man in Dublin."

Boylan's virile energy is conveyed in puns on his name. In Wandering Rocks Tom Rochford tries to get Lenehan to interest him in investing in his little music hall invention: "Tell him I'm Boylan with impatience." The pun lingers into the next chapter: "With patience Lenehan waited for Boylan with impatience, for jinglejaunty blazes boy." Boylan comes in and has a quick drink but leaves before Lenehan can tell him about the invention: "— Come on to blazes, said Blazes Boylan, going." As he rides up to Eccles Street, the sexual cause of his impatience becomes clear: "By Bachelor’s walk jogjaunty jingled Blazes Boylan, bachelor, in sun in heat, mare’s glossy rump atrot, with flick of whip, on bounding tyres: sprawled, warmseated, Boylan impatience, ardentbold.... Slower the mare went up the hill by the Rotunda, Rutland square. Too slow for Boylan, blazes Boylan, impatience Boylan, joggled the mare." All this blazing and boiling acquires a darker cast in Penelope when Molly remembers how he reacted to losing his bet on the Gold Cup race: "he was like a perfect devil for a few minutes after he came back with the stoppress tearing up the tickets and swearing blazes because he lost 20 quid he said he lost."

Ulysses again and again offers contrasts between Bloom and other male Dubliners. That men too mostly seem to admire Boylan's flash and dazzle, preferring him to the ineffectual but thoughtful Bloom, is a major way in which Joyce's protagonist is marginalized. It might be said of Boylan (with apologies to Gertrude Stein) that there's no there there—the novel gives him no interesting personal presence—but that poverty does not seems to bother or disadvantage him. Appearances carry the day in Dublin, and Boylan is a master of appearances. His wide straw boater, his fine blue suit, his tan shoes and socks with skyblue clocks, his red flower, his fine singing voice, his self-promoting blather, his financial schemes, his splashy purchases, his eye for the ladies, his reputation for sexual performance: assets like these let him sweep triumphantly through streets and meeting rooms and bedrooms while Bloom plods on unnoticed.

John Hunt 2022
Augustus Boylan in a detail of a photographic portrait with John McCormack taken ca. 1904. Source: