Venereal disease

Venereal disease

In Brief

The recruiting poster for the Royal Dublins that Bloom sees on a wall of the post office makes him think of "an army rotten with venereal disease." The efforts of people like Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith to get British soldiers off the streets at night may have overhyped this rallying cry, but it is a fact that Dublin brothels and streetwalkers did a brisk trade in servicing servicemen. And Bloom's thoughts throughout the day suggest that venereal diseases from gonorrhea to syphilis were widespread in the city.

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Gifford remarks that Bloom's characterization is "A frequently quoted (and largely unfounded) bit of demagoguery at the British army's expense." But Dublin had by far the largest red-light district in Europe, and its size corresponded to the huge numbers of troops stationed in barracks throughout the city. The curators of the website at observe that "The presence of so many prostitutes was determined, at least in part, by the significant military presence in the city. And the military do not seem to have disappointed prostitutes seeking business, judging by the inmates of the isolation ward at the Royal Military Infirmary" (accessed 28 Nov. 2013). It would seem that the trade in sexually transmitted diseases was brisk. Slote, citing Joseph O'Brien's Dear, Dirty Dublin (1982), observes that "The British army had the infamous distinction of having one of the highest rates of venereal disease among world armies at the turn of the century."

Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a brilliant "Ode to Welcome" Irish regiments returning from the Second Boer War. Cyril Pearl notes that it was published anonymously "in Dublin's leading—and most snobbish—society magazine."

The Gallant Irish yeoman,
Home from the war has come
Each victory gained o'er foeman,
Why should our bards be dumb?

How shall we sing their praises
Or glory in their deeds?
Renowned their worth amazes,
Empire their prowess needs.

So to Old Ireland's hearts and homes
We welcome now our own brave boys
In cot and hall; 'neath lordly domes
Love's heroes share once more our joys.

Love is the Lord of all just now,
Be he the husband, lover, son,
Each dauntless soul recalls the vow
By which not fame, but love was won.

United now in fond embrace
Salute with joy each well-loved face,
Yeoman, in women's hearts you hold the place.

"There was an unprecedented demand for the magazine," Pearl observes, "when the intelligence was flashed through Dublin pubs and clubs that the initial letters of each line spelled out a less rapturous acrostic: THE WHORES WILL BE BUSY" (Dublin in Bloomtime, 14).

Bloom's concern about sexually transmitted diseases resurfaces again and again, from his alarm in Lestrygonians that Boylan might give one to Molly ("If he...? / O! / Eh? / No... No. / No, no. I don't believe it. He wouldn't surely? / No, no"), to Zoe's alarm in Circe (perhaps hallucinated) that he has "a hard chancre" on his penis, to the dismay he expresses to Stephen in Eumaeus that the streetwalker he sees going past the shelter ("a wretched creature like that from the Lock hospital, reeking with disease") can be brazen enough to solicit business, to his opinion in Ithaca that brothels should be "state inspected and medically controlled."

JH 2013
Photograph of sex workers in the Monto district (Joyce's "Nighttown"), date unknown. Source: