Irish Roots


June 22 2015

Molly Bloom: curiouser and curiouser?

John Grenham

A while back I wrote about Alfred Henry Hunter, the reputed real-life original of Joyce's Leopold Bloom, to demonstrate just how much information is now accessible on-line. It turns out that Alfred's wife is even more accessible, and more interesting.

First, like Bloom's Molly, she was christened Marion. The baptism took place in the Church of Ireland Mariners' Church in Dún Laoghaire on May 19 1864, with her full name given as Marion Bruére Quin. She was the daughter of Francis Quin, a professor of music, and Menella (née Wilcox). Molly's musical bent, so important to Ulysses, clearly has a background in Marion's family.

Her mother's side are even more intriguing. The Wilcoxes, from just outside Sunderland, were cousins of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen-name, Lewis Carroll. As an adult Dodgson regularly visited - he composed "Jabberwocky" while staying with them - and corresponded frequently with Marion's mother, Menella. He also took an interest in Menella's daughters, encouraging Marion's elder sister Elizabeth Menella ("Minna") Quin in her acting career, for which she used the stage-name "Norah O'Neill".

Marion herself also knew Dodgson very well. In 1897, he gave her a hand-written manuscript of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground", the original of what was to become Alice in Wonderland, inscribed "Marion Quin, with the Author's Love".

In later life, after the death of Alfred in 1926, she appears to have fallen on hard times. She sold the manuscript at auction in London in 1938, and lived her final years in a North Dublin tenement, sharing 14 Upper Rutland Street (now Seán O'Casey Avenue) with at least six other households.

There is no doubt that the original from which Joyce drew most of Molly's character was his wife, Nora Barnacle. But he borrowed from everything and everybody in the Dublin he knew. And he clearly knew (or knew of) Marion Bruére Hunter.

[Full links at the Alfred Henry Hunter article.]

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