Shelbourne Hotel

In Brief

The "Shelbourne hotel," recently restored to some of its former glory by the Marriott corporation, is a Dublin landmark on the north side of St. Stephen's Green. Bloom thinks of having gone there to buy some articles of clothing from a Mrs. Miriam Dandrade when he and Molly were desperately trying to make a living selling second-hand clothes. The experience of joining a rich lady in her hotel room to look through her underthings has made a vivid impression on Bloom.

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Built in 1824 and named after the second Earl of Shelburne, the hotel has always catered to what its builder, the Tipperary entrepreneur Martin Burke, called "genteel customers." At the turn of the last century a large proportion of these were females of advancing years. George Moore's Parnell and His Island (1887) wonderfully evokes the spectacle that would have greeted Bloom as he came to meet Mrs. Dandrade:
The Shelbourne is a large and commodious hotel. On entering, a winter garden on the first floor strikes a pleasant note of green, and a little fountain murmurs pleasantly among grey stone frogs. The pen of Balzac would be necessary to describe the Shelbourne Hotel: it is the pension of Madame Vauquier placed in aristocratic circles. For three pounds a week you can live there; and this liberality on the part of the proprietor is singularly appreciated by widows and old maids of all sorts. The ladies' drawing-room is on the right, and Flaubert's celebrated phrase may be applied to it, "It was the moral centre of the house." The walls are decorated with Swiss landscapes—mountains, chamois, cascades, and lakes. About the chimney-piece there are a great number of low chairs, chairs for invalid ladies, chairs made for novel reading and for wool-work. Nothing is spoken of but men and marriages; it is here that all the scandals of Dublin are laid and are hatched.
§ In Lestrygonians Bloom thinks of the upper-crust woman he saw leaving the Grosvenor Hotel in Lotus Eaters and is reminded of Mrs. Dandrade, a rich divorcée: "That one at the Grosvenor this morning. Up with her on the car: wishswish. Stonewall or fivebarred gate put her mount to it. Think that pugnosed driver did it out of spite. Who is this she was like? O yes! Mrs Miriam Dandrade that sold me her old wraps and black underclothes in the Shelbourne hotel. Divorced Spanish American. Didn’t take a feather out of her my handling them. As if I was her clotheshorse. Saw her in the viceregal party when Stubbs the park ranger got me in with Whelan of the Express. Scavenging what the quality left. High tea. Mayonnaise I poured on the plums thinking it was custard. Her ears ought to have tingled for a few weeks after. Want to be a bull for her. Born courtesan. No nursery work for her, thanks."

Mrs. Dandrade's status as one of "the quality," and her unruffled composure while Bloom fingers her frillies, allies her closely in his sexual estimation with the woman at the Grosvenor. These "horsey women" of the rich Ascendancy class are far out of his league, and he would be only too happy to bring them down a notch by bedding them—"Possess her once take the starch out of her," he thinks in Lotus Eaters—if only he were the copulative "bull" that he imagines them requiring. But Bloom is no conquering hero in the piston-and-cylinder department, and so his fantasy does something unexpected.

Rather than, or in addition to, imagining himself stripping the frillies off this haughty woman and taking her on her hotel bed, it seems that Bloom has been intrigued by the thought of being her and being so taken. In Circe Bello accuses him of adopting "various poses of surrender" while trying on women's clothes at the mirror, including "That secondhand black operatop shift and short trunkleg naughties all split up the stitches at her last rape that Mrs Miriam Dandrade sold you from the Shelbourne hotel." Bloom confesses his infatuation: "Miriam. Black. Demimondaine." But Bello insists that he confront the mimetic envy buried within his desire: "You were a nicelooking Miriam when you clipped off your backgate hairs and lay swooning in the thing across the bed as Mrs Dandrade about to be violated by lieutenant Smythe-Smythe, Mr Philip Augustus Blockwell M. P.," and ten or twelve or twenty other important and unimportant males.

The Shelbourne Hotel, then, lives in the novel as a site imbued with a middle-class man's ambivalent attitudes toward the landed gentry, as well as sexual proclivities that the reader comes to recognize as distinctively Bloomian: androgynistic curiosity about female experience, voyeuristic contemplation of the sex act, masochistic self-abnegation.

JH 2019
The Shelbourne Hotel in a Photochrom (color photolithograph) print made between 1890 and 1905, held in the Prints and Photographs division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.