Martin Harvey

In Brief

Both Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom think of "Martin Harvey," a handsome English stage actor who toured widely in the early 1900s. Molly has seen Harvey perform on stage but the actor's visage was also widely available in promotional photographs, one of which Gerty owns.

Read More

John Martin-Harvey was born in 1863 and joined Sir Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre company in 1882. His career took off in 1899 when Irving gave him the lead role of Sydney Carton in The Only Way, a new stage adaptation of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. When Irving died in 1905 Martin-Harvey took over the business and added many production credits to his acting résumé. He was knighted in 1921, and played Sydney Carton in a 1927 film production of The Only Way that was a box-office success.

Martin-Harvey toured extensively in the UK and in North America. Gifford notes that his autobiography describes his visits to Dublin in the early 1900s as "a series of triumphs." On her Irish photography weblog, Dublin librarian Orla Fitzpatrick observes that "according to The Irish Times of the 26th November 1904, crowds thronged to see him in the Theatre Royal where he performed Hamlet. His photograph was taken in the same month by Chancellor’s of Dublin and doubtless it sold well."

Sitting across from Bloom on the strand, Gerty sees "the image of the photo she had of Martin Harvey, the matinee idol, only for the moustache which she preferred because she wasn't stagestruck like Winny Rippingham." Even accounting for the lateness of the hour and the rosy glow that drapes all of Gerty's romantic affections, this comparison is very flattering. Bloom may not be the most muscular or dashing man on Dublin's streets, but clearly it would be a mistake to assume that he is sexually unattractive. Molly too implies that he possesses some smoldering good looks. She remembers that in his courting days he had a "splendid set of teeth he had made me hungry to look at them," and she thinks that "he was very handsome at that time trying to look like lord Byron I said I liked though he was too beautiful for a man."

Molly also recalls a time in the recent past when she went with Milly to see "the Only Way in the Theatre royal." Milly was quite taken with Martin-Harvey's performance: "she clapped when the curtain came down because he looked so handsome then we had Martin Harvey for breakfast dinner and supper I thought to myself afterwards it must be real love if a man gives up his life for her that way for nothing."

Molly's thoughts about true love are a response to the story of The Only Way (1899), which Gifford summarizes: "The play de-emphasizes the novel's dark, melodramatic concentration on the human cost of the French Revolution and concentrates instead on the pathos of the dissipated hero Sydney Carton's Platonic love for Lucie Manette (the Marchioness St. Evremonde), a love that prompts him to go to the guillotine in place of her condemned husband." The play, Gifford notes, was written by an Irish cleric named Freeman Crofts Wills with the help of another churchman, Frederick Langbridge.

JH 2017
London stereoscopic photo of English actor John Martin-Harvey as Sydney Carton in The Only Way, as first produced at the Lyceum in 1899. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Another London stereoscopic photo of Martin-Harvey, date unknown. Source: