High school

In Brief

The "high school," "High school," or "High School" that Bloom attended as a teenager was the Erasmus Smith High School, a fee-paying Protestant institution sponsored by the Church of Ireland, known then and now simply as The High School. Today it is co-educational and located in Rathgar, but in 1904 it was a boys' school on Harcourt Street in south central Dublin, not very far from the Bloom family's house.

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Oxen of the Sun recalls the teenage Bloom, "precociously manly, walking on a nipping morning from the old house in Clanbrassil street to the high school, his booksatchel on him bandolierwise, and in it a goodly hunk of wheaten loaf, a mother’s thought." The walk from Clanbrassil Street to the school was less than a mile, perhaps about one kilometer. 

Founded in 1870 by the Erasmus Smith Trust (Smith was a 17th century English merchant who practiced educational philanthropy), The High School originally sought to prepare boys for careers in business. In Lotus Eaters, though, Bloom thinks of the science he studied with Mr. Vance as  part of "The college curriculum." Gifford observes that "High schools in the national school system were primarily vocational in their emphasis, but the possibility of a 'college curriculum' (i.e., college preparatory course) was enhanced in 1878 (when Bloom was twelve) by the establishment of a Board of Intermediate Education, which held annual examinations and distributed subsidies to secondary schools according to the results."

Bloom did not go on to college, however. The same passage in Oxen remembers him "a year or so gone over, in his first hard hat (ah, that was a day!), already on the road, a fullfledged traveller for the family firm, equipped with an orderbook." Bloom was born in the spring of 1866, and Ithaca refers to "his ultimate year at High School (1880)." If young Bloom went into the family business immediately after graduating, this would make him only 14 years old. But the novel seems conflicted on this point. In Circe, as Bloom celebrates the "Halcyon days" with five classmates, he exclaims, "Again! I feel sixteen! What a lark! Let’s ring all the bells in Montague street. (He cheers feebly.) Hurray for the High School!"

The novel memorializes several defining experiences in Bloom's years at The High School. Circe makes infamous a class "excursion" or field trip to the Poulaphouca waterfall, when Bloom may have wandered off from his classmates and masturbated in the woods. It also suggests that his affinity for imagining himself a woman dates to his performance as a "female impersonator" in a school production of the play Vice Versa.

With a wonderful feeling for the mixture of adult intellectual growth and childish physical simplicity that characterizes the secondary school years, Ithaca notes Bloom's superlative "execution of the half lever movement on the parallel bars in consequence of his abnormally developed abdominal muscles," his ability to project the highest stream of urine "against the whole concurrent strength of the institution, 210 scholars," and his declaration to Percy Apjohn of "his disbelief in the tenets of the Irish (protestant) church (to which his father Rudolf Virag (later Rudolph Bloom) had been converted from the Israelitic faith and communion in 1865 by the Society for promoting Christianity among the jews)." This was of course the very church that ran the school, though The High School has a tradition of tolerating many faiths and even lack of faith.

The school also figures in Nausicaa, when Gerty thinks that Reggie Wylie "was going to go to Trinity college to study for a doctor when he left the high school like his brother W. E. Wylie who was racing in the bicycle races in Trinity college university." In the lives of the Protestant, upwardly mobile Wylies we glimpse a very different trajectory from that of Bloom.

JH 2018
52 Clanbrassil Street (red arrow) and 40 Harcourt Street (blue), in a schematic map of the south central Dublin area of Bloom's childhood. Source: John Henry Raleigh, The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom.
The Erasmus Smith High School at 40 Harcourt Street, Dublin. Source: ulyssespages.blogspot.com.
Boys leaving The High School, date unknown, from the main entrance featured centrally above. Source: ulyssespages.blogspot.com.