In October 1899, James Joyce, aged 17, attended all three days of the trial in Dublin of Samuel Childs for the brutal murder of his brother. This allowed him later to stitch references to the case throughout his novel Ulysses, including a moment when his protagonist Leopold Bloom and others are on their way to Paddy Dignam’s funeral in Glasnevin cemetery and pass Bengal Terrace, where the murder occurred: “Gloomy gardens then went by: one by one: gloomy houses.” When one man says: “That is where Childs was murdered … The last house,” Simon Dedalus replies: “So it is … A gruesome case. Seymour Bushe got him off. Murdered his brother. Or so they said.”
This, as Adrian Hardiman writes in his fascinating, painstaking book on Joyce and the law, “is the first mention in Ulysses of the Childs murder case. In one way or another the case or its protagonists are referred to more than 20 times in the text, sometimes very plainly, at other times obscurely. The case thus emerges as just one of the numerous threads, often submerged but constantly recurring, that form the fabric of the novel.”
Is James Joyce’s Ulysses the hardest novel to finish?
Hardiman takes us through a number of law cases that are referred to in this way in Ulysses with such clarity and vivid use of detail that it is easy to imagine how they preoccupied the characters as they wandered in Dublin on 16 June 1904.