Where did Bloom take his bath?
He may have imagined a Turkish bath,
but, in James Joyce's Ulysses,
he never took one on Bloomsday

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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16 June 1904—Bloomsday

Of all the fictional characters linked to a Turkish bath, one of the most famous was certainly Leopold Bloom. In Ulysses, James Joyce relates Bloom's doings in Dublin throughout the whole of one specific day, 16 June 1904, now known—and celebrated each year—as Bloomsday. Yet Bloom did not actually have time to take a Turkish bath that day.

The Lotus eaters and Ithaca episodes

In the Lotus Eaters episode, Bloom calls in at the chemists for some lotion and a bar of soap. The smell of the various soaps appeals to him.

Nice smell these soaps have. Time to get a bath round the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage. Dirt gets rolled up in your navel. Nicer if a girl did it. Also I think I. Yes I. Do it in the bath. Curious longing I. Water to water. Combine business with pleasure. Pity no time for massage. Feel fresh then all day.

Leaving the chemists, he briefly met Bantam Lyons, and then,

He walked cheerfully towards the mosque of the baths. Remind you of a mosque, redbaked bricks, the minarets.

Later, in the Ithaca episode, Bloom is shown to have visited the Turkish and Warm Baths at 11 Leinster Street.

…he had proceeded to the oriental edifice of the Turkish and Warm Baths, 11 Leinster street…

The first reference to 'mosque of the baths' and the second to 'the oriental edifice' has led more than one commentator to suggest that Bloom visited the Oriental baths built by Richard Barter.

Did Bloom really visit 'the mosque of the baths'?

But Bloom could not possibly have visited these baths. By the time Joyce was writing Ulysses he had already been away from Dublin for several years. Clearly the references are to Joyce's memory of the Lincoln Place Baths which were designed and built in oriental style by Richard Barter, and opened on 2 February 1860.

However, Bloomsday was in 1904, and the Lincoln Place establishment was closed in 1899. It was later converted to other uses until its demolition in the 1970s.

We never find out, alas, what thoughts might have passed through Bloom's fertile mind if he had been able to find time to take a Turkish bath. But his warm bath at 11 Leinster Street is fully described:

Enjoy a bath now: clean trough of water, cool enamel, the gentle tepid stream. This is my body.

He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.

His final accounts at the end of the day showed his pleasure itemised in the debit column:

1 Bath and gratification . . . £0.1s.6d.


This page slightly revised 03 September 2017

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The Lincoln Place Turkish baths—now and then


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