‘Milly Bloom’, Apprentice Photographer, Mullingar, 1904
June 16, 2011 by jacolette
In my mind’s eye, I like to think that Leopold Bloom’s daughter, Milly, looked a little like this young girl who was photographed by Chancellor’s of Dublin. In Ulysses, fifteen year-old Milly is portrayed as a lively and headstrong girl who was sent from Dublin to the midlands town of Mullingar to serve her time as an apprentice photographer. She reports her progress to her father in a letter stating that she is ‘getting on swimming in the photo business now.’ Bloom appeared to think that her aptitude for photography might be hereditary citing a cousin in Hungary who ran a successful photographic studio.
The career of photographer was probably a good choice for a sociable young girl. The other duller option, which is mentioned in the novel, was to send her to a Skerry’s secretarial college to learn shorthand and typing. However, Bloom also hints that Milly was sent to Mullingar to keep her occupied and out of harm’s way.
So what was the the probability of a young girl being apprenticed to a photographer in early 20th century Ireland? The 1901 census reveals that 110 of the 485 photographers in Ireland were women. Of these, 91 were single women and 74% of the total were under the age of 31.
James Joyce was familiar with the town of Mullingar having spent a period there in 1900 and 1901 (see Leo Daly, James Joyce and the Mullingar Connection, Dolmen Press, 1975) . During this time there were several photographic studios operating in the town, the largest and best known was that of Philip Shaw. In the 1901 census, his 17 year-old niece Ethel was his apprentice. Could this studio and Ethel have been Joyce’s inspiration?