I will be presenting a paper at the 2010 Joyce Symposium in Prague. It should be a fun time. If you would like to attend the link to the conference home page is here. Here’s a brief synopsis of my paper:
Milk is a particularly useful topic to consider when examining Edwardian culture and cultural change in Ireland. As a common food item undergoing a transformation from local production to mass-production milk carries with it implications of class. As the staple of infants, milk is intimately related to cultural norms and societal attitudes regarding poverty, child rearing, motherhood, and the lot of women in society. Milk, as an agrarian product long associated with Ireland, carries with it implications of nationalism and historical symbolism that are exposed in the thoughts of Joyce’s characters.
Through milk imagery Joyce further indicates fine intra-class distinctions within the colonial Dublin middle class of Ulysses. Dublin was slow to benefit from the scientific advancements spearheaded in Europe at this time and Joyce exploits this fact. In subsequent decades many of these class markers disappeared from the developed world. A close study of Ulysses in light of milk imagery reveals these telling indicators of class that are now nearly forgotten.
This is the chapel at the summit of Croagh Patrick near Murrisk in County Mayo.
One fine day I met a man on the way up. We were both struggling. There is loose and jagged stone across one part of the path, and it gets fairly steep for a ways. I can’t imagine doing it barefoot as some do, and if you’ve a mind to do it and aren’t a spry youngster I’d recommend a walking stick.
Neither of us had the sense to be so prepared. My excuse was that it was my first time, and perhaps his was that it wasn’t, as he’d grown up in the area. Neither of us were old men, but we weren’t boys, either. I imagine as a lad he practically raced up and down the Reek like the Germans that passed us and waved twice, once on the way up, and again on the way down.
We could see his family home from a ledge where we sat and rested. I learned that he’d spent most of his working years in Birmingham. I don’t recall his trade, but it struck me at the time that it was something one could do in Ireland, if there was work to be had. For a man of his generation, starting a career in the nineteen sixties, though, that wasn’t an option.
It was a bright day, and clear, and we could see forever from the summit. The way back down was just as rugged, but we had gravity with us, and like my new friend, I knew the way by then.