‘The Wages of Sin is a Month in the Locke’: Irish Modernism and the Politics of Venereal Disease

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. This week’s posting comes to us from Lloyd Houston, who has recently completed a M.St. in English Studies (1900-Present) at Brasenose College, Oxford.

In the midst of the psycho-sexual phantasmagoria of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ visit to Bella Cohen’s Mecklenburg Street brothel in the “Circe” episode of Ulysses (1922), the prostitute Kitty Ricketts presents an affectingly stark account of the occupational hazards facing women in her profession:

Mary Shortall was in the lock with the pox she got from Jimmy Pidgeon in the blue caps had a child off him that couldn’t swallow and was smothered with convulsions in the mattress and we all subscribed for the funeral’ (U 15.2578-81).[1]

The ‘lock’ in question was Dublin’s Westmoreland Lock Hospital, which, since its establishment in 1755, had served as the capital’s dedicated centre for the treatment of venereal disease.[2]

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