Ulysses, James Joyce’s landmark novel, is considered a classic piece of modernist literature. In this ode to Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, Joyce particularly attempted to capture his home city of Dublin quite precisely, even using characters that closely resembled people he knew. Like many of Joyce’s novels the locations and places he used often existed in real life. One classic location is Sweny’s Pharmacy which appears in the fifth episode, Lotus Eaters, where one of the protagonists, Bloom, purchases a bar of lemon soap in the exact building that still stands today.
Sitting in the heart of town, not far from the birthplace of Oscar Wilde, the building is a key part of the capital’s culture and nostalgia. Its beautiful Victorian style, which still maintains the same floor that Joyce and other pharmacy patrons would have walked on, is preserved by a team of committed volunteers. In addition to providing a dedicated place for readings of Joyce’s work by the white-coated volunteers, visitors and regulars, it is also home to a selection of secondhand books – and of course the lemon soap can be found on the counter along with shelves lined with old-time pharmacy paraphernalia.
Not many real-life literary landmarks remain and in the face of increasing rent prices, this memorial is at risk of sadly being lost forever. Sweny’s has been raising money on crowdfunding site Patreon to try and cover the huge increase in rent. Donors can sponsor portions of the monthly rent in exchange for benefits, organized into tiers based on the contribution amount. The end goal is to obtain a preservation order from the government to receive full protection as a historical site, ensuring the building will remain intact and with fixed rent.
In an interview by Ally Findley for Lit Hub, Jack, one of the volunteers from the store, explains the magic that is still very much alive in the building,
“the very fact that this is so unique as a place, it’s so wonderful, the old wood. This is the wood they would’ve all touched, all these amazing people and the people who knew them. Nora [Barnacle] used to work in the hotel out the back, Joyce would’ve been in
here…George Bernard Shaw used to hang out in the gallery…Bram Stoker, he could’ve passed through on his way to Oscar Wilde’s mother’s salons, you know, literally pass the door.”
If you would like to learn more about preserving this literary landmark, you can visit Sweny’s Patreon site here.