I will be presenting a paper at the 2010 Joyce Symposium in Prague. It should be a fun time. 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.