Henry Flower

In Brief

Bloom's surname is an English-language approximation of the Hungarian "Virag" that his father changed after he moved to Ireland. To conduct clandestine erotic correspondence, Bloom has devised yet another such name, "Henry Flower." Countless details in the novel suggest that he cherishes his name's association with flowers, most often in the context of romantic longing—fittingly, since flowers are a plant's sexual organs.

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Virág, which means flower, is a common Hungarian surname used also as a female given name. It first comes up in Cyclops, when the list of foreign dignitaries attending the execution includes a Hungarian aristocrat with a flowery middle name: "Countess Marha Virága Kisászony Putrápesthi." Later in the same chapter, when Jack Power asks whether Bloom is related to "Bloom the dentist," Martin Cunningham replies, "Not at all. . . . His name was Virag, the father’s name that poisoned himself. He changed it by deedpoll, the father did." Ithaca reveals that Bloom's desk drawer contains a newspaper cutting announcing this legal change: "I, Rudolph Virag, now resident at no 52 Clanbrassil street, Dublin, formerly of Szombathely in the kingdom of Hungary, hereby give notice that I have assumed and intend henceforth upon all occasions and at all times to be known by the name of Rudolph Bloom."

The cosmopolitan Rudolph must have known people with names derived from the German and Yiddish words for flower—the Austro-Hungarian empire no doubt had many Blumes, Blums, Rosenblums, and Weissblums—and he would have found these names much easier to Anglicize than Virag. When he named his son Leopold, he performed a corresponding transliteration of the given name of his father Lipóti. The Hungarian does not evoke any close English-language equivalents, so Rudolph resorted again to German. The ancient Germanic name Luitbald (meaning "brave people"), modernized over the centuries as Leopold, had become quite common in Austria.

Bloom has perpetuated the family tradition of naming sons after grandfathers, making a four-generation chain: Lipoti (the proto-Leopold), then Rudolph, then Leopold (Poldy), then Rudolph (Rudy). His grandfather "Lipoti Virag, basilicogrammate" (Gifford and Slote translate the Greek title as "royal secretary," Slote noting that it "is attested in papyri") appears in Circe and holds forth at great length, justifying his name by being an expert on human sexuality and author of "Sexology or the Love Passion which Doctor L. B. says is the book sensation of the year." His introduces himself: "My name is Virag Lipoti, of Szombathely. [Hungarians use the Eastern name order.] (He coughs thoughtfully, drily.) Promiscuous nakedness is much in evidence hereabouts, eh?" For a short time in this chapter, Virag shares the stage with a fifth male Bloom, the fictive Henry Flower.

"Henry Flower, Esq," the name that Bloom reads on Martha's "typed envelope" in Lotus Eaters, no doubt appears also on the printed calling card that he has just handed to the postmistress behind the window. In choosing this pseudonym, he has indulged an affection for the resonances of his family name, and perhaps also a wish to integrate himself more deeply into Anglophone Christian society. "Bloom" still carries echoes of German and Jewish surnames. "Flower," by contrast, goes far back in the family records of medieval England, and some Irish people too have borne the name. Similarly, although the name Henry came originally from Germany (Heinrich means "home ruler"), it was naturalized in medieval England and Ireland and sounds far less exotic than Leopold.

Some readers, including Vivien Igoe, see "Henry Flower" as having been inspired by a real person of that name who worked for the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1887 to 1900. Constable Flower was a burly working-class man from the countryside who would seem to fit Bloom's stereotype of policemen in Lestrygonians: "A squad of constables debouched from College street, marching in Indian file. Goosestep. Foodheated faces, sweating helmets, patting their truncheons. After their feed with a good load of fat soup under their belts. . . . Let out to graze. Best moment to attack one in pudding time. A punch in his dinner. A squad of others, marching irregularly, rounded Trinity railings making for the station. Bound for their troughs. Prepare to receive cavalry. Prepare to receive soup." Bloom could hardly identify with such men or aspire to become like them in the fantasy realm of his erotic correspondence. His abhorrence of gluttony, his physical tenderness, his pacifism, his subversive politics, his memory (likewise recorded in Lestrygonians) of almost being viciously beaten by constables while attending a political protest—all these things make it unlikely that he is modeling himself on a policeman.

However, Bloom's creator may have intended to identify him with Constable Flower. If so, it must have been because this policeman was accused of a sexual crime. Igoe summarizes the story of how a young domestic servant named Brigid Gannon was found drowned in the River Dodder and strong suspicion fell on Henry Flower. A grand jury declined to indict him, but he resigned from the force in disgrace and left Dublin in 1900. (Long after the publication of Ulysses, a dying old woman confessed that she had taken Gannon's money, pushed her into the river, and framed Flower.) There may be a connection to the Bloom who is accused of unspeakable things in Circe. Joyce did not place Henry Flower, who does appear in that chapter, in any of these accusatory scenes, but he did include one detail that links Bloom's amatory persona with sexual criminality. In the moment when Henry Flower and Lipoti Virag appear together, Henry the lover briefly becomes Henry the murderer: "HENRY: (Caressing on his breast a severed female head, murmurs.) Thine heart, mine love. (He plucks his lutestrings.) When first I saw..."

Bloom's thoughts about his persona evoke something closer to Flower Power poet Henry Gibson and the Make Love Not War generation of late 1960s America. The lute, harp, dulcimer, and guitar that Henry Flower variously carries in Circe make him a comical troubadour: "(In a low dulcet voice, touching the strings of his guitar.) There is a flower that bloometh." The flower blooms with erotic longing. When Bloom was courting Molly, the romantic gestures that impressed her included the birthday "when he sent me the 8 big poppies because mine was the 8th," and the picnic on Howth Head when he called her "my mountain flower." In Nausicaa he thinks that women "Open like flowers, know their hours, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes, in ballrooms, chandeliers, avenues under the lamps." At the end of Lotus Eaters he sees his own sexual organ as "a languid floating flower." Molly is entirely in sync with this way of thinking: "yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is."

Martha Clifford loves the sensitivity implied by Henry's "beautiful name," and she attempts to communicate with him in the language of flowers, a tongue that Bloom seems to speak at least a little. When he replies to her letter in Sirens he continues the play, as shown in the list of themes at the beginning of the chapter: "I feel so sad. P. S. So lonely blooming." Henry's flowery sadness is informed by the grief Bloom feels at Boylan's departure for Eccles Street. The posy on his table in the Ormond dining room tells him that the flower of his wife's body is opening to another man: "Light sob of breath Bloom sighed on the silent bluehued flowers."

JH 2019
Orchis italica, the naked man orchid. Source: www.boredpanda.com.
Actor, poet, and singer-songwriter Henry Gibson in a still from the Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In TV show in 1969. Source: Wikimedia Commons.