Moulin Rouge in the time of James Joyce

Moulin Rouge in the time of James Joyce.

In James Joyce’s novel, Dubliners (1914), Thomas Malone Chandler, known as Little Chandler and Ignatius Gallaher are in a bar in Dublin, Ireland. They are drinking whiskey and chatting about their friends.

Ignatius thinks Little Chandler is too serious and should have fun in the world. “Have you never been anywhere even for a trip?” Little Chandler says he’s been to the Isle of Man, to which Ignatius laughed.

“The Isle of Man! he said. “Go to London or Paris, for choice. That’d do you good.”

Ignatius had been to Paris, and he even adds a French word or two into his conversation. He calls for the barman – “Here, garçon, bring us two halves of malt whiskey.” And later, Thomas says that next time they meet, they should spend an evening together, and not just a few hours. Ignatius, says, “Yes, that’s agreed. Next year if I come, parole d’honneur” – word of honour. 

Little Chandler asks Ignatius whether Paris beautiful. Ignatius explains that Paris is more about its atmosphere than its beauty. “Beautiful? … It’s not beautiful, you know. Of course, it is beautiful … But it’s the life of Paris; that’s the thing. Ah, there’s no city like Paris for gaiety, movement, excitement …”

Ignatius adds, “I’ve been to the Moulin Rouge … and I’ve been to all the Bohemian cafés. Hot stuff! Not for a pious chap like you, Tommy!”

Moulin Rouge 1914

Moulin Rouge means Red Mill. Moulin Rouge is a cabaret nightclub, with its famed cancan dancers, near Montmarte Quarter in the 18th arrondissement. It is distinct for its exterior – a red windmill on its roof. 

French businessman Charles-Joseph Zidler (1831-1897) and his Spanish business partner Joseph Oller (1839-1922) established Moulin Rouge in 1889. It is likely that James Joyce’s fictional character Ignatius Gallaher visited Paris in the year that Joyce first visited the city for a few months in late 1902 to early 1903 – twelve years before Dubliners was published in 1914. 

Moulin Rouge burned down on 27 February 1915, but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1921 – a year after James Joyce arrived in Paris for the second time – this time with his wife and two children. He would live in Paris for twenty years, until the Second World War. 

Moulin Rouge 2019

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