James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses describes the appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom as he wanders through Dublin on an ordinary day, June 16 1904.
There are many references to food and eating as he moves through the day. In fact it begins with two breakfasts and lots of tea making. In the tower at Sandycove, Stephen and Haines eat the fry, and the bread and honey prepared by the ‘mercurial Malachi’:
- The blessing of God on you , Buck Mulligan cried, jumping up from his chair. Sit down. Pour out the tea there. The sugar is in the bag. Here, I can’t go fumbling at the damned eggs. He hacked though the fry on the dish and slapped it out on three plates, saying:
- In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Haines sat down to pour out the tea.
- I’m giving you two lumps each, he said. But, I say, Mulligan, you do make strong tea, don’t you?
Buck Mulligan, hewing thick slices from the loaf, said in an old woman’s wheedling voice:
- When I makes tea I makes tea, as old mother Grogan said. And when I makes water I makes water.
By the time Ulysses was published the Joyce family finances were improving. Joyce, Nora, and their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, arrived in Paris in July 1920. The familiar pattern of flat-hopping began. ‘We chase flats and are worn to exhaustion,’ Joyce commented.
Ulysses had taken seven years to write. It was being serialised in the American journal The Little Review until it was prosecuted for obscenity, and all episodes ceased. Fortunately Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookshop Shakespeare and Company, bravely stepped forward, and published the book in its entirety in 1922. This event, together with the patronage of the generous Miss Weaver, gave the Joyces financial security they had never experienced before.
Joyce became extravagant. He opened an account at Fouquet’s restaurant (which is very much still there on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées ), where at 5pm tea was served with lots of cake. There were lots of parties there too. Nora always hated when Joyce got ‘blithered’. He loved white wine and had expensive tastes. He was often the toast of the party, and amused everyone with his famous ‘spider dance’. Still he loved Nora to cook for them at wherever they were living. He especially liked her roast chicken. He liked to say, ‘My wife used to cook over an open turf fire in Ireland’.
Although Bloom is a tolerant and humanistic sort of a fellow, he is of partial Jewish descent, and is sometimes ridiculed and threatened because of this. He is not a practicing Jew; and converted to Catholicism to marry his Molly. But his un-Irish pedigree gives his character a rare richness, and we enjoy his pleasure as he observes every-day Dublin life. His taste in food is rapacious.
‘He ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs, fried hen cod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave his palate a fine tang of faintly rented urine.’
The day ends with his wife Molly’s sleepy reverie which combines food and sex in a delicious concoction of female sensuality. She remembers a picnic on Killiney Hill when she was ‘all stayed up’, which made walking difficult, and ‘the lovely teas we had together scrumptious current scones and raspberry wafers I adore’.
Bloom is ‘on the pop’ of proposing marriage in the kitchen as she is rolling out potato cakes, up to her arms in flour. The first time she notices him she is eating; ‘at dessert when I was cracking the nuts with my teeth I wished I could have picked every morsel of that chicken out of my fingers it was so tasty and browned and tender as any thing only for I didn’t want to eat everything on my plate those fish forks and fish slices were hall-marked silver too I wish I had some I could easily have slipped a couple into my muff,’
James Joyce celebrated life in his work. Molly Bloom closes the most written about novel in the 20th century with a multiple yes to sex and food, two of the pleasures in life:
‘What’ll I wear shall I wear a white rose or those fairy cakes in Liptons I love the smell of a rich big shop at 7 1/2d or the other ones with the cherries in them and the pinky sugar 11d a couple of lbs of course a nice plant for the middle of the table Id get that cheaper in wait wheres this I saw them not long ago I love flowers Id love to have the whole place swimming in roses God in heaven theres nothing like nature…. the day I get him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was a leap year like now Yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes….and then he asked me would I 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….’
So there! Joyce is full flow, and if you havn’t read Ulysses then this Christmas may not be a bad time to start. Skip the bits you don’t like, but keep going..
A Peaceful Christmas to all my 17 readers (at least that is the number of letters and texts I received. Thank you )