In Brief

When a hallucinated Josie Breen threatens to tell Bloom's wife that she has found him in Monto ("I know somebody won't like that. O just wait till I see Molly!"), he defends himself by saying that Molly too would like to walk by the whorehouses: "(Looks behind.) She often said she'd like to visit. Slumming. The exotic, you see. Negro servants too in livery if she had money. Othello black brute." As the accompanying racist fantasy of being serviced by a black stud makes clear, gazing on fallen women can be seen as an act of classist appropriation. For several decades people in London and New York City had been "slumming"––touring ghettoes to see poverty and depravity firsthand––although most of them probably imagined their motives to be noble. It seems possible that by 1904 Dublin was joining the trend.

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Slum tourism, also called poverty tourism or ghetto tourism, has attracted millions of paying travelers in the 21st century, often hyping its responsible practices and its contributions to the local economy in places like the South African townships and Rio's favelas. But according to Fabian Frenzel et al in an article titled "Slum Tourism: State of the Art," Tourism Review International 18 (2015): 237-52, the phenomenon began almost 150 years ago when upper-class Londoners began visiting the slums of their city. The first documented uses of the word "slumming" come from that time. The OED records an appearance in 1884: "I am not one of those who have taken to 'slumming' as an amusement." And another in 1894: "Slumming had not become the fashion at that time of day." The spread of this fashionable amusement to New York City has been well documented.

The urge to see "how the other half lives" (a phrase popularized by Jacob Riis in 1890) is an understandable human curiosity, particularly in cities with such huge disparities of wealth as existed in Joyce's Dublin, and perhaps the understanding gained on slum tours produces a net increase in empathy. It would seem that the earliest ones were conceived in philanthropic terms, following hard upon the visits of reformers like the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth. But voyeuristic pleasure at viewing squalor up close, while having a nice home to go back to, must always have played a part in people's attraction to the slums. Joyce recognizes such motives in Molly, or perhaps in Bloom's fantasies of what she likes.

Thanks to Vincent Van Wyk for calling my attention to slum tourism.

John Hunt 2023
"Doing the slums" in New York City, an 1885 wood engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, held in the Library of Congress.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A similar scene in London, date and publication venue unknown.