restricted access "Don't eat a beefsteak": Joyce and the Pythagoreans
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"Don't eat a beefsteak":
Joyce and the Pythagoreans

On 8 October 1906, James Joyce went out into the countryside near Rome with Nora and, in the words of his letter to his brother the next day (9 October 1906), "ate and drank the greater portion of several larders" (SL 116). He provides the "full and exact list":

  • 10:30 A.M. Ham, bread and butter, coffee.

  • 1:30 P.M. Soup, roast lamb and potatoes, bread and wine.

  • 4.-P.M. Beef-stew, bread and wine.

  • 6.-P.M. Roast veal, bread, gorgonzola cheese and wine.

  • 8.30 P.M. Roast veal, bread and grapes and vermouth.

  • 9.30 P.M. Veal cutlets, bread, salad, grapes and wine.

(SL 116)

As he writes, "There is literally no end to our appetites." There are several things to notice about this list. First, that meat and bread figure in every single meal. Second, that he begins drinking wine at 1:30 and continues throughout the day. Third, that nearly a month later he complains, "I am still suffering from this indigestion" (6 Nov. 1906; letter to Stanislaus [SL 124]). The early letters from Rome and Trieste frequently reference meals, partially to evidence Joyce's well-being and partially to justify his frequent requests to his brother, Stanislaus, for more money. As he writes of this period, "I don't believe I ever was in better health except for the sedentary life I lead. I stand fascinated before the windows of grocer's shops" (SL 116).

Such gourmandizing was rare for Joyce, who generally came closer to Stephen's indifference to food than to Bloom's enthusiasm. The Leopold Bloom of Joyce's Ulysses is perhaps the most famous carnivore in modernist literature. Introduced in terms that emphasize his tastes—not just for meat but for organ meat—Bloom is initially defined by a catalogue of his gastronomic preferences. The familiar passage is worth quoting for the pleasure it provides:

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart [End Page 447] liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

(U 4.1–5)

His first act in the morning is to walk over to Dlugacz, the Jewish "ferret-eyed porkbutcher" to buy a fresh kidney; he fries it in butter with pepper, and chews "with discernment the toothsome pliant meat" (U 4.391). At the butcher's he notices the "moving hams" of the woman (U 4.172) ahead of him, and thinks of the women of Dublin as meat, all "beef to the heels." Later in the Ormond bar he has liver, which prompts a repetition of Bloom's appetite:

Pat served uncovered dishes. Leopold cut liver slices. As said before he ate with relish the inner organs, nutty gizzards, fried cods roes while Richie Goulding, Collis, Ward ate steak and kidney, steak then kidney, bite by bite of pie he ate Bloom ate they ate.

(U 11.519–22)

A page later we are again reminded, "Bloom ate liv as said before" (U 11.569), and we are finally told, "Steak, kidney, liver, mashed at meat fit for princes sat princes Bloom and Goulding. Princes at meat they raised and drank Power and cider" (U 11.608–09). Bloom's famous introduction and reiterated predilections help establish him as a creature of appetite. His ability to afford meat—"fit for princes"—demonstrates his socioeconomic status.1 His breakfast of pork kidney and later dinner of liver and bacon violate Jewish dietary law and tradition and help to establish his secularism. His frequent contemplation of food and his obvious enjoyment of his meals present him as a fully embodied character, and underline his distinction from Stephen, who barely eats.2 For that reason, it is all the more surprising that at lunchtime his carnivorous resolve fails. Bloom may begin his day feasting on the inner organs of beasts and fowls, but he lunches on cheese and bread.

The reason for this metamorphosis...