Alfred Henry Hunter is the Dubliner long known to be the model for the hero of Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. In 1904, after rescuing Joyce from a drunken fight, Hunter took him home and showed him a paternal sympathy that resonated deeply with Joyce, who originally planned Ulysses as a short story based on the incident. It expanded enormously between 1914 and 1922, and the figure at its centre changed from the kindly Hunter to the Everyman Bloom.
The James Joyce Centre’s website (jamesjoyce.ie) still refers to Hunter as “an elusive figure”. Not a bit of it. With all the records now online, his life is an open book.
Here he is in Mount Street in 1901, with his wife Marion Bruére Hunter (née Quin). He gives his occupation as “Gentleman”, and then crosses it out. But Marion remains a “Lady”. Very Bloom-like.
In 1911 they’re in Great Charles Street, less than five minutes from Bloom’s Eccles Street address. Hunter is now an advertising agent, as Bloom was. His marriage to Marion took place in London in 1899: see freebmd.org.uk. He was born in Ballymacarret in 1866. His parents, William Hunter and Maria Lockhart, were married in Maghera in 1856. His death in 1926 was from “cardiac asthenia”, congestive heart failure. And Marion was listed as a voter in Rutland Street, in Dublin’s north city centre, up to 1942.
In 1890, Hunter even registered a patent of an invention “for facilitating the unlacing of boots and shoes and corsets and such like articles of wearing apparel”, as reported in The Weekly Irish Times of November 14 1890. And at least one other patent exists, for a cuff fastener. Bloomier and Bloomier.
Given Joyce’s penchant for using identifiable individuals, an intriguing question is why Hunter had to be re-imagined as Jewish. Perhaps Everyman as a Northern Protestant was a step too far, even for Joyce.
And what about the model for Molly, Leopold’s wife? It turns out that Alfred’s wife is just as accessible, and even 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 in 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 facsimile 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 facsimile 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, and more information:
Sister’s birth: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F5PT-M68
Parents’ marriage: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FGCL-R8L
Father’s will calendar entry: http://www.willcalendars.nationalarchives.ie/reels/cwa/005014887/005014887_00417.pdf
Father’s will fully transcribed at http://www.proni.gov.uk/index/search_the_archives/will_calendars.htm
Will calendar entry for Francis, Marion’s father:
Will calendar entry for Menella (née Wilcox), Marion’s mother, cousin of Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll:
Dodgson was friendly with Marion and her sister, the actress Elizabeth Menella (“Minna”) Quin, and in 1897, shortly before his death, gave Marion a personally-inscribed gift of a facsimile of the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – see Christie’s description.