Wisdom Hely's

Wisdom Hely's

In Brief

Although "Wisdom Hely" is briefly mentioned in Lestrygonians, Circe and Ithaca, Joyce granted only the dimmest fictive presence to this representative of the wealthy Protestants who lived at such a vast remove from his middle-class characters. Hely's stationery shop, however, enjoys some prominence as one of Bloom's former employers. Joyce probably gave Bloom that job because his friend Thomas Keohler worked at Hely's for most of his adult life.

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Charles Wisdom Hely (1856-1929) was an Anglo-Irish businessman who ran a stationery and print shop on fashionable Dame Street. Joyce erred when he specified the address in Lestrygonians as "85 Dame Street" and again in Ithaca as "89, 90, and 91 Dame street." As Gifford notes, there were no such addresses on the street in 1904: the numbers ended at 81. In James Joyce in the Nineteenth Century (2013), edited by John Nash, John Strachan identifies the correct address as 27-30 Dame Street (98). The wealthy Hely also made money through a major investment in the pneumatic tyres invented in Ireland in 1887 by Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop. He lived with his wife Edith in a large gated house in the southern suburb of Rathgar that he grandly called Oakland. Hely was a busy socialite and also took on governmental responsibilities. In Circe Bloom calls him "Mr Wisdom Hely J. P.," i.e., Justice of the Peace.

In Hades, trying to remember who Bloom is, John Henry Menton asks, "Wasn't he in the stationery line?" "Yes, he was," Ned Lambert replies, "in Wisdom Hely's. A traveller for blottingpaper." Bloom had much the same job then that he now has at the Freeman's Journal: a traveling salesman, he tramped about Dublin to drum up business. Later in Hades Bloom thinks of Hely's as he ponders the value of gramophones: "Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn’t remember the face after fifteen years, say. For instance who? For instance some fellow that died when I was in Wisdom Hely’s." Has it been about 15 years, then? The question is answered in Lestrygonians when a string of men wearing sandwich-boards with the letters H E L Y 'S approaches Bloom on Westmoreland Street, prompting him to recall, "Got the job in Wisdom Hely’s year we married." The Blooms were married on 8 October 1888, so it has been 15 years and 8 months.

The novel suggests that Hely's was the place to go for quality writing products. In Nausicaa Gerty Macdowell cherishes the "violet ink that she bought in Hely’s of Dame Street." In Sirens Bloom writes his letter to Martha on "Two sheets cream vellum paper" that he bought when he worked there, and Ithaca reveals that his desk drawer contains "a butt of red partly liquefied sealing wax, obtained from the stores department." But Bloom's strongest response to this stationery shop is his scorn for the way it advertises its products. The ridiculousness of the sandwich-boards—"Y lagging behind drew a chunk of bread from under his foreboard, crammed it into his mouth and munched as he walked"—prompts some unusually sustained criticism from him:

Doesn't bring in any business either. I suggested to him about a transparent showcart with two smart girls sitting inside writing letters, copybooks, envelopes, blottingpaper. I bet that would have caught on. Smart girls writing something catch the eye at once. Everyone dying to know what she's writing. Get twenty of them round you if you stare at nothing. Have a finger in the pie. Women too. Curiosity. Pillar of salt. Wouldn't have it of course because he didn't think of it himself first. Or the inkbottle I suggested with a false stain of black celluloid. His ideas for ads like Plumtree's potted under the obituaries, cold meat department. You can't lick 'em. What? Our envelopes. Hello, Jones, where are you going? Can't stop, Robinson, I am hastening to purchase the only reliable inkeraser Kansell, sold by Hely's Ltd, 85 Dame street. Well out of that ruck I am.

Of these contemptuous observations, Strachan remarks that "The idea of the wealthy Anglo-Irish businessman Wisdom Hely, Justice of the Peace, Committee Member of the Irish Automobile Club and major shareholder in Dunlop Tyres, suggesting bathetic advertising copy such as the Jones-Robinson dialogue is comically unlikely and may possibly be intended as social satire on a rich Protestant" (99). Nowhere in the entire novel did Joyce give any personal particularity to Hely other than his refusal to consider Bloom's idea for an ad "because he didn't think of it himself."

Strachan observes that Hely's business was distinguished by its "multifariousness, being stationers, printers, publishers, and bookbinders. The company was a jobbing printers, but it also published books (such as Irish Rural Life and Industry (1907) and The 'Sinn Fein' Revolt, Illustrated (1916)), trade periodicals (the Journal of the Institute of Bankers in Ireland, for instance), posters (many First World War recruitment posters were printed at Hely's) and thousands of postcards, the majority on Irish themes. Its premises sold numerous stationery products—diaries, fountain pens, scrapbooks, photograph albums—for the home, alongside commercial stationery—bill-heads, deposit slips and ledger books for the office—as well as wedding accoutrements. However, the advertisements for Hely's which appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century see the company starting to resemble a Turkish bazaar, with a range of goods made at its Acme workshop (at nearby Dame Court), which were available at its large premises on Dame Street: cigarette cases, wrist bags, bridge sets, even carpets, linoleum and underlining, and the sporting guns used in the hunting of which the proprietor" was very fond (98-99).

JH 2021
CWH monogram on a wall outside the Oakland estate. Source: www.historyeye.ie.
Postcard view of College Green looking down Dame Street, with an ad for Wisdom Hely's on the tram in the foreground. Source: joyceimages.com.
The Hely's stationery store on Dame Street. Source: www.facebook.com.
Poster for the Acme Press operated on Dame Court. Source: www.facebook.com.