Turkish baths

Turkish baths

In Brief

In Calypso Bloom thinks of taking a bath in "Tara street." In the next chapter, standing in the chemist's shop near the corner of Westland Row and Lincoln Place, he thinks that he has "Time to get a bath round the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage." After leaving the shop and dodging Bantam Lyons as quickly as possible, "He walked cheerfully toward the mosque of the baths," thinking that they "Remind you of a mosque, redbaked bricks, the minarets." These are two different public bath establishments, and in Ithaca we learn that between Lotus Eaters and Hades Bloom has in fact visited a third one.

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The Tara Street establishment was the Dublin Corporation Public Baths, Wash Houses, and Public Swimming Baths. Gifford notes that its superintendent was one J. P. O'Brien. Bloom thinks that a "Chap in the paybox" at the Tara Street baths "got away James Stephens," so the "O'Brien" who passes through his mind just after this is quite likely J. P., rather than William Smith or James Francis Xavier.

A for-profit bathhouse in the style of a "mosque" stood for some years on the west side of Lincoln Place, not far from Bloom's location on Westland Row, but the business had closed in 1900. Ithaca mentions that Bloom actually visits another Turkish-style bathhouse on Leinster Street, just past the Lincoln Place one. The Leinster building did not have an oriental-looking exterior. Working from memory, Joyce appears to have conflated the two establishments.

"Hammam" is the Turkish and Arabic name for public baths, often laid out in a series of rooms providing different degrees of moisture and heat. The ones that were constructed in Victorian Ireland were not derived directly from Turkish practice. Nor did the Turks hold any monopoly on the tradition: similar baths had been built throughout the Islamic Near East and North Africa, not to mention the eastern part of the Roman empire.

On his scholarly website, victorianturkishbath.org, Malcolm Shifrin provides the following definition of the Victorian version: "a type of bath in which the bather sweats freely in a room heated by hot dry air (or in a series of two or three such rooms maintained at progressively higher temperatures), usually followed by a cold plunge, a full body wash and massage, and a final period of relaxation in a cooling-room." The dry heat of these establishments distinguished them from actual Turkish baths, which are typically steamy. Many of them also offered ordinary baths in private rooms fitted with tubs, as reflected in the name of the house that Bloom visits: the Leinster Turkish and Warm Baths.

Bloom does not have time to get a full "Turkish" bath before the funeral, but he thinks of the massage he could get if he did: "Nicer if a nice girl did it. Also I think I. Yes I. Do it in the bath. Curious longing I. Water to water. Combine business with pleasure. Pity no time for massage. Feel fresh then all the day. Funeral be rather glum." His impulse to masturbate in the water implies a private bath, and this interpretation coheres with the enameled tub that he imagines several paragraphs later in Lotus Eaters: "Enjoy a bath now: clean trough of water, cool enamel, the gentle tepid stream. This is my body. / He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved."

Much later in the day, in Nausicaa, we learn that Bloom has in fact visited the baths before going to the cemetery, but has not indulged his impulse to masturbate in the water: "Damned glad I didn't do it in the bath this morning over her silly I will punish you letter." Ithaca provides the exact address (attached to the wrong fa├žade): "the oriental edifice of the Turkish and Warm Baths, 11 Leinster street."

Nine separate Turkish bath establishments were built in Dublin in the second half of the 19th century, following a trend initiated in Cork in 1858. In 1904 several of these businesses remained, hotly competing for customers. In addition to the Leinster Street baths, there was one on Upper Sackville Street and one near Stephen's Green. The furnishings in these establishments were sumptuous and exotic: attendants wore exotic near-eastern costumes; customers could fortify themselves with Turkish coffee and smoke tobacco from long-stemmed Turkish pipes while reclining on ottomans; crescent shapes abounded; colored glass doors, windows, skylights, and lamps created rich visual impressions both during daylight hours and in the evening. A customer of the Upper Sackville Street hammam quoted on Shifrin's site wrote, "When the whole building is lighted up it has more the appearance of a scene in one of Scheherazade's beautiful tales than of a solid, bona fide brick and mortar business in the centre of a great city."

Shifrin emphasizes the exotic appeal of these establishments: "Today, television brings the sights and sounds of foreign countries right into our living rooms, people travel easily to the Middle East and beyond, and there is hardly a major city in the British Isles which is without at least one purpose-built mosque. We have become familiar with the appearance of Islamic, or as it was often called, Saracenic architecture in our midst. It is, therefore, difficult to imagine how ordinary people must have reacted on their first sight of this exotic addition to the often distinguished, but very Western, buildings of Dublin. / A visitor from England signing himself 'A moist man' wrote on his return, 'The morning was raw and wet and cheerless when I left my hotel, and, after a sloppy walk, found myself before a building of oriental architecture, crowned with fantastic minarets, as rich with Saracenic ornament as plaster of Paris and stucco could make them.'"

Bloom's reflection on this exotic locale aligns with many such moments in Joyce's writings: the boy's longing to visit the bazaar in Araby; Bloom's fantasy of walking through an Arabic souk in Calypso; Stephen's fancies of Moorish mathematics in Nestor; Stephen's dream of the Baghdadi ruler Harun al-Rashid in Proteus, followed by Bloom's appearance as that figure in Circe; Stephen's interest in "The pillared Moorish hall" in Scylla and Charybdis; Bloom's thoughts of Mohammed and his cat earlier in Lotus Eaters; the many references to the Mohammedan religion in Finnegans Wake; and so forth.

JH 2015
William York Tindall's 1954 photograph of the mosque-like building in Lincoln Place that once functioned as a Turkish bath. Source: The Joyce Country.
Richard Hamilton, "He foresaw his pale body" (1990), one of eight Hamilton etchings of Ulysses from the 1980s and 90s. Source: www.tate.org.uk.
Cold room in James Street Turkish Baths, Carlisle, England. Source: www.cultureleisurelife.com.
Hot room at Victoria Baths, Manchester, which opened in 1906. Source: www.victoriabaths.org.uk.
Cooling room at Nevill's New Broad Street Turkish Bath in London, early 1900s. Source: www.victorianturkishbath.org.