Would a Leopold Bloom be accorded greater respect on 16th June 2020 than he was on 16th June 1904? Would the anti-Semitism described in James Joyce’s Ulysses have disappeared, or is it only in polite society that prejudice becomes invisible? Would begrudgery have become a thing of the past, or would there still be as many people who would attribute a person’s success to unfair conditions rather than hard work?
It seems common for people to have no objection to media stars and sports personalities being paid millions, but feeling a profound sense of injustice if a person in their street is paid a thousand more than they are.
Nosey Flynn is a character in a novel published a hundred years ago. He might easily find a place in a Twenty-First Century story.
In Joyce’s novel, Davy Byrne and Nosey Flynn sit in a bar in conversation concerning the apparent wealth of Leopold Bloom. Flynn has not entertained the idea that Bloom is diligent in his work and careful in spending money in bars; if Bloom has cash to spare, it must be because he is in the Freemasons, and has therefore progressed unfairly:
When the sound of his boots had ceased Davy Byrne said from his book:
— What is this he is? Isn’t he in the insurance line?
— He’s out of that long ago, Nosey Flynn said. He does canvassing for the Freeman.
— I know him well to see, Davy Byrne said. Is he in trouble?
— Trouble? Nosey Flynn said. Not that I heard of. Why?
— I noticed he was in mourning.
— Was he? Nosey Flynn said. So he was, faith. I asked him how was all at home. You’re right, by God. So he was.
— I never broach the subject, Davy Byrne said humanely, if I see a gentleman is in trouble that way. It only brings it up fresh in their minds.
— It’s not the wife anyhow, Nosey Flynn said. I met him the day before yesterday and he coming out of that Irish farm dairy John Wyse Nolan’s wife has in Henry Street with a jar of cream in his hand taking it home to his better half. She’s well nourished, I tell you. Plovers on toast.
— And is he doing for the Freeman? Davy Byrne said.
Nosey Flynn pursed his lips.
— He doesn’t buy cream on the ads he picks up. You can make bacon of that.
— How so? Davy Byrne asked, coming from his book.
Nosey Flynn made swift passes in the air with juggling fingers. He winked.
— He’s in the craft, he said.
— Do you tell me so? Davy Byrne said.
— Very much so, Nosey Flynn said. Ancient free and accepted order. He’s an excellent brother. Light, life and love, by God. They give him a leg up. I was told that by a — well, I won’t say who.
— Is that a fact?
— O, it’s a fine order, Nosey Flynn said. They stick to you when you’re down. I know a fellow was trying to get into it. But they’re as close as damn it. By God they did right to keep the women out of it.
Davy Byrne smiledyawnednodded all in one:
— There was one woman, Nosey Flynn said, hid herself in a clock to find out what they do be doing. But be damned but they smelt her out and swore her in on the spot a master mason. That was one of the Saint Legers of Doneraile.
Davy Byrne, sated after his yawn, said with tearwashed eyes:
— And is that a fact? Decent quiet man he is. I often saw him in here and I never once saw him — you know, over the line.
— God Almighty couldn’t make him drunk, Nosey Flynn said firmly. Slips off when the fun gets too hot. Didn’t you see him look at his watch? Ah, you weren’t there. If you ask him to have a drink first thing he does he outs with the watch to see what he ought to imbibe. Declare to God he does.
— There are some like that, Davy Byrne said. He’s a safe man, I’d say.
— He’s not too bad, Nosey Flynn said, snuffling it up. He’s been known to put his hand down too to help a fellow. Give the devil his due. O, Bloom has his good points. But there’s one thing he’ll never do.
His hand scrawled a dry pen signature beside his grog.
— I know, Davy Byrne said.
His character dissected without warrant, Leopold Bloom is pigeon-holed. The possibility of him having achieved anything on merit is dismissed.
Byrne and Flynn are easily recognizable. Everyone will know people like them. Bloomsday has an abiding relevance.