Ben Dollard

Ben Dollard

In Brief

The character called "Ben Dollard" was probably based on a man named Christopher Dollard, one of the many friends of John Stanislaus Joyce who figure in Ulysses, particularly Hades, Wandering Rocks, and Sirens. Dollard was a singer with a resonant bass voice, and this attribute is central to the fictive character's "basso profondo." The real Dollard died in 1885, however, so it would seem that Joyce gave him a fictive afterlife.

Read More

Sources that one might expect to have something to say about Ben Dollard (e.g., Jackson and Costello's John Stanislaus Joyce and Fargnoli and Gillespie's James Joyce A-Z) mostly ignore him, probably because no real person of that name, or any recognizably similar real person, was active in the 1904 Dublin that Joyce knew. But Vivien Igoe's The Real People of Joyce's Ulysses (2016) has identified Christopher Dollard (1839-85) as a likely model. Igoe reports that "John Stanislaus Joyce and Dollard occasionally shared the same platform at concerts and Dollard's rich bass voice received much praise in the press from 1863." She mentions two "Grand Concerts" held in the Antient Concert Rooms on 27 and 28 April 1880, conducted by Professor W. G. Goodwin and featuring amateur singers that included Joyce and Dollard.

Since James Joyce was three years old at the time of Christopher Dollard's death he could only have known him through his father's recollections. But the fact that he puts a character named Dollard on a stage with Simon Dedalus in the Sirens episode suggests that Igoe's identification is probably correct. Many details in his portrait are presumably fictional, but the central one is historical: Dollard is a bass singer with stirring power. Other characters appreciate the rich dark resonances of his voice. In Wandering Rocks Father Cowley, himself no mean musician, asks, "And how is that basso profondo, Benjamin?" (The Italian term refers to a powerful bass voice with an exceptionally low range.) In reply,

     Ben Dollard frowned and, making suddenly a chanter's mouth, gave forth a deep note.
     — Aw! he said.
     — That's the style, Mr Dedalus said, nodding to its drone.
     — What about that? Ben Dollard said. Not too dusty? What?
     He turned to both.
     — That'll do, Father Cowley said, nodding also.
In the next chapter this big voice thrills the people in the Ormond bar, confirming what Tom Kernan has said in Hades about Dollard's singing of The Croppy Boy. People call him "Big Ben" in recognition of the Westminster-like majesty of the voice. In Lestrygonians Bloom appreciates the different nickname coined by Molly: "She used to say Ben Dollard had a base barreltone voice. He has legs like barrels and you'd think he was singing into a barrel. Now, isn't that wit. They used to call him big Ben. Not half as witty as calling him base barreltone. Appetite like an albatross. Get outside of a baron of beef. Powerful man he was at stowing away number one Bass. Barrel of Bass. See? It all works out."

Dollard is a big man, and characters in both Wandering Rocks and Sirens joke about how he fills out his trousers. In the latter chapter they recall an emergency in which he borrowed a too-small pair from Leopold and Molly Bloom for a concert and had his genitals all too visibly displayed. He inspires robust male camaraderie in both chapters, encouraging Father Cowley over a landlord's and a creditor's efforts to extract money, teasing Simon Dedalus over the effect alcohol is having on his singing, and inspiring sexual bravado in both Cowley and Dedalus:
     — War! War! cried Father Cowley. You're the warrior.
     — So I am, Ben Warrior laughed. I was thinking of your landlord. Love or money.
     He stopped. He wagged huge beard, huge face over his blunder huge.
     — Sure, you'd burst the tympanum of her ear, man, Mr Dedalus said through smoke aroma, with an organ like yours.
     In bearded abundant laughter Dollard shook upon the keyboard. He would.
     — Not to mention another membrane, Father Cowley added.
Circe briefly converts Dollard into a figure like the larger-than-life Celtic hero from the beginning of Cyclops: "rubicund, musclebound, hairynostrilled, hugebearded, cabbageeared, shaggychested, shockmaned, fat-papped." Underneath the machismo, though, Sirens offers glimpses of ill health and destitution. When Dedalus, "clapping Ben's fat back shoulderblade," says that he is "Fit as a fiddle only he has a lot of adipose tissue concealed about his person," Dollard growls, "Fat of death, Simon." (Christopher Dollard died in his mid-40s.) Bloom thinks that he is a "Decent soul. Bit addled now," and he remembers a huge "comedown" brought on by alcoholism: "Big ships' chandler's business he did once. Remember: rosiny ropes, ships' lanterns. Failed to the tune of ten thousand pounds. Now in the Iveagh home. Cubicle number so and so. Number one Bass did that for him." Whether this detail comes from John Stanislaus Joyce's memory or from his son's imagination is not known. Slote observes that late 19th and early 20th century newspapers reported many cases of ship chandlers being declared bankrupt, but he notes that most of them were in Belfast or Cork. 

The Iveagh House, founded in 1903 by a charity fund associated with one of the two principal heirs of the Guinness fortune, was a lodging-house for indigent single men. Gifford notes that it contained "386 rooms or cubicles, off New Bride Street in central Dublin." Slote, citing F. H. A. Aalen's The Iveagh Trust (1990), says that it was "on Bride Road, near St Patrick's Cathedral" and "contained 508 cubicles, with each one measuring 2.3m x 1.5m." Pondering the ale-brewers' charity, the abstemious Bloom thinks, "Ruin them. Wreck their lives. Then build them cubicles to end their days in. Hushaby. Lullaby. Die, dog. Little dog, die."

John Hunt 2023