The People of Gibraltar
1885 - James Joyce - Molly Bloom’s Gibraltar - Part 3
. . . Miss This Miss That Miss Theother . . . .they’d die down dead on their feet if ever they got a chance of walking down the Alameda with an officers arm like me on the bandnight . .  I knew more about men and life when I was 15 than they will know at 50 . . .

The “bandnight” at the Alameda Gardens

For most of the 19th century the military authorities tended to be philosophical about prostitution – large numbers of troops in fortress towns such as Gibraltar would invariable need to relieve their pent-up sexual urges at some time or the other. There was therefore a tendency to turn a blind eye on such matters. By the late 19th century the trade in Gibraltar gravitated towards a red light district concentrated around a street called Seruya’s Ramp -  known locally as Calle Peligro


The Ladies of Serruya’s Ramp - Note silhouette of policeman right at the end of the lane keeping a watchful eye  ( 19th century postcard )

During Molly’s days the authorities did try to introduce a programme of health checks which were supposed to regulate the trade. It didn’t work - VD infection rates actually went up and the blame was laid squarely on an increase in the activities of amateurs who showed a natural preference for secluded places such as the upper reaches of the Alameda Gardens for their trysts. Was Molly one of them? 

Well she certainly liked having sex and she certainly qualifies as an “amateur”. The sad fact is that nearly all the prostitutes in Gibraltar were Spanish nationals. When the brothels were finally closed down in the early 20th century by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien – a Governor obsessed with sexual hygiene - the women all left en mass back to Spain most of them setting up shop in the aptly named Calle Gibraltar in La Línea. 

As for Serruya’s Ramp it was renamed ‘New Passage’ in the hope of confusing visiting sailors - although I suspect that the name was changed because of the stigma attached to the old one.  

Calle Gibraltar – La Línea (Early 20th century )
. . . because the smell of the sea excites me of course the sardines and the bream in Catalan Bay round the back of the rock they were fine all silver in the fishermens baskets old luigi near a hundred they said came from Genoa . . . 
On the eastern side of the Rock Catalan Bay (see LINK) – or la Caleta - was both a working fishing village and a place for the locals to visit in summer for a swim. The inhabitants were almost all of them originally from Genoa. Grilled sardines, bream – and red mullet – offered by one or two tiny establishments in the village - were a delight to both tourists and locals alike – and obviously to Molly. 


Catalan Bay village on the eastern side with the looming Great Sand Dunes looming dangerously over it   (1800s )
. . . I wonder its like those names in Gibraltar Delapaz Delagracia they had the devils queer namesthere father Vial plana of Santa Maria that gave me the rosary Rosales y ORielly in the Calle de las Siete Revueltas and Pisimbo and Mrs Opisso in Governor street O what a name . . . and all the bits of streets Paradise Ramp and Bedlam ramp and Rodgers ramp Crutchetts ramp and the devils Gap steps . . . 
Gibraltar directories of the era list several De la Paz and De Gracias families and the Rev J. Vilaplana of the order of St Benedict was a priest in the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. Pisimbo is an unknown but Mrs Catherine Opisso of Governor Street was a milliner and dressmaker.


"Santa Maria" on the right  (1875 )

All the streets, ramps and steps mentioned are still extant in Gibraltar – some members of my own family still own a large house in Crutchett’s Ramp built by my grandfather (See LINK). Paradise Ramp was quite close to Arengo’s “Palace” – one of Gibraltar’s more romantic looking buildings. A member of the family - Magdalena Arengo (see LINK) married a Chipolina in the mid 18th century and eventually became one of my great, great etc etc grandmothers.


Arengo’s “Palace” – now demolished


The house in the middle section with a sloping roof and two dormer windows is 42 Crutchett’s Ramp aka La Calera

Calle de las Siete Revueltas is the old Spanish name for City Mill Lane which was further corrupted by Spanish workers in the 20th century to Siete Mil Lei. The 1890 Gibraltar Directory lists somebody called James O’Reilly as a resident there. Devil’s Gap (see LINK) in the south leads up to the Devil’s Bellows (see LINK) and the entrance to Windmill Hill

. . . those fairy cakes in Liptons I love the smell of a rich big shop . . . 

Gibraltar’s Lipton on the right – it no longer exists   ( Mid 20th century )
. . . and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all ends of Europe and Duke street  and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharon and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep in the shade of the steps  and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old and yes those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop  and Ronda with old windows of the posadas  . .  and the wine shops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat in Algeciras the watchman going along serene with his lamp  . . . 

The Convent or “governors house” but no sentries   ( Late 19th century – detail )
. . . and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rose gardens and the jessamine and geranium and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes  when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. . . 
The grand finale of the last chapter of Molly’s monologue, which is titled Penelope, and of Ulysses itself – which I won’t spoil by explaining it as it is in any case wonderfully self-explanatory. Whatever mistakes it might have – Duke Street and Larby Sharon - are hardly worth the telling.

So is Richard Brown right? I am not sure how Joyce managed it. Most of the facts are available to the persistent researcher. They can be found in various tourist handbooks (see LINK) and travelogues (see LINK) as well as local directories. (See LINK) But much of the detailed background colour could only have been obtained from somebody who had lived in Gibraltar for quite a while.

It is in itself amazing that Joyce should have taken such pains to write this chapter the way he did – there are so many other possible options. He could easily have coped out and nobody would have been the wiser. But perhaps the most admirable thing about the monologue is the way in which Joyce unerringly decided what to put in and what to leave out in what was after all the story of the daughter of a soldier living in a place that was undoubtedly one of the most oppressively of military fortresses anywhere in the world.

Even Molly’s military lovers are hardly given a word in - Joyce has them perform while Molly kisses and undresses and absolutely steals their thunder. Joyce tells the story from a purely civilian point of view while bastions and batteries, wars and sieges are forced into a shady background and never intrude. 

Yes, I think Richard Brown got it spot on; to quote him a second time, Molly’s monologue
. . . must surely count as one of the most significant, most atmospheric, not to mention sexiest, treatments of Gibraltar that exist in modern English, adding significantly to the ways in which it has been presented whether in imaginative or non-fictional literature

Lover’s Walk in the Alameda Gardens with Spain just across the Bay – Could that be Molly Bloom waiting for Jack Harry Mulvey?   (1865 - Gustave de Jonge )


1921 - James Joyce - Ulysses and Gibraltar – Introduction (See LINK
1885 - James Joyce - Molly Bloom’s Gibraltar - Part 1 (See LINK)
1885 - James Joyce - Molly Bloom’s Gibraltar - Part 2 (See LINK)