In Brief

Standing outside the church in Lotus Eaters, Bloom checks his watch and figures that he still has plenty of time before the funeral: "How goes the time? Quarter past. Time enough yet. Better get that lotion made up. Where is this? Ah yes, the last time. Sweny's in Lincoln place." Walking "southward along Westland row" to its end, and crossing the perpendicular Lincoln Place, he enters Sweny's pharmacy under a façade that says "Chemist" and "Druggist"—traditional language in the 19th century. This business closed in 2009, but the physical shop has been lovingly preserved and repurposed by Joycean volunteers.

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When Sweny's opened in 1853, pharmacies were very new and the causes of most diseases were poorly understood, so medicines consisted of traditional herbs and a few chemicals and minerals known to produce strong effects in the human body, chiefly laxative and analgesic. Manufacturing was in no way standardized, professionalized, automated, or regulated. Pharmacists compounded cures from stocks housed on the premises in various jars, boxes, and drawers, sometimes following physicians' prescriptions but often engaging in entrepreneurial experimentation. They measured ingredients on heavy scales with little brass weights, crushed them in the "Mortar and pestle" mentioned in Lotus Eaters, mixed them with liquids, and poured the mixtures into bottles or rolled and sliced them into pills. Some products purported to treat particular ailments, but cure-alls and health-promoting "tonics" were legion.

Pharmacies also captured the kind of trade that today is handled by the cosmetics counters of department stores. They compounded soaps, hair oils, skin lotions, and perfumes, and Joyce's narrative notes that Sweny's also carries a stock of "sponges and loofahs." Bloom comes to Sweny's seeking more of Molly's skin lotion, which has been manufactured in the shop: "But the recipe is in the other trousers....When was it I got it made up last?...First of the month it must have been or the second. O, he can look it up in the prescriptions book."

The "chemist" flips through page after page of his book, prompting Bloom to tell him that the mixture contained "Sweet almond oil and tincture of benzoin," and also "orangeflower water," and finally "white wax." It seems clear that a lot of business was generated, in medicines as well as cosmetics, by appealing to customers' sense of smell. Almond products have a pleasing aroma, and "benzoin," like the opoponax of Molly's perfume, is an aromatic resin derived from an Asian tree (it is often used in perfumes). Prompted by the thought that "That orangeflower water is so fresh. Nice smell these soaps have," Bloom decides also to buy a bar of lemon soap.

In addition to these and other olfactory impressions ("Sandy shrivelled smell he seems to have," "the keen reek of drugs, the dusty dry smell of sponges and loofahs"), Joyce studded his snapshot of Sweny's with a couple of vivid visual details. Before he enters Sweny's Bloom thinks of chemists in general, "Their green and gold beaconjars too heavy to stir," which Gifford glosses (without citing a source) as referring to "Large hanging jars of colored liquid used to decorate (and advertise) chemists' shops." A bit later, inside the shop, Bloom observes "All his alabaster lilypots," which Slote glosses with a definition from the OED: "an ornamental jar decorated with a representation of a lily." I have not discovered photographs or drawings of these two kinds of ornamental jars.

Today, tourists in Dublin can retrace Bloom's steps, walking into a shop which has retained some of the trappings of the old pharmacy but which now pays the rent by selling used books and bars of lemon soap. Readings of Joyce's fictions take place throughout the week, some of them in French and Italian, and visitors are encouraged to take a seat in the cramped space and join in. Sweny's is a must-stop for Joyceans visiting Dublin. Although registered as a charity, it receives no money from the government and relies upon a group of energetic volunteers to keep things going. Rents are rising all the time in Dublin, and financial contributions are welcomed:


JH 2022
  1987 photograph of Sweny's when it was still a pharmacy, by Peter Chrisp. Source: peterchrisp.blogspot.com.
2020 photograph of the largely unchanged storefront. Source: www.frg.ie.
  2013 photograph by Peter Chrisp of a week's schedule of Joyce readings, posted on a chalkboard outside the shop, with bars of lemon soap in the tray. Source: peterchrisp.blogspot.com.
J. P. Murphy, one of the volunteers in charge of Sweny's, in 2013. Source: peterchrisp.blogspot.com.
People gathered inside Sweny's for a reading in 2012. Source: heritagenpm.wordpress.com.