In Brief

Although Ulysses does pay some attention to female breasts as sites of sexual arousal, it more often refers to them as sources of milk, using unexciting words like "paps" and "bubs." In their opening chapters, both Stephen and Bloom unflatteringly associate women's mammary organs with those of animals, suggesting a resolutely biological approach to this feature of the mammalian body. Molly does not think in these barnyard terms, but she has a host of practical thoughts about breasts that seem never to occur to men.

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In Telemachus Stephen watches the milkwoman measure out milk that is "not hers. Old shrunken paps,” and he imagines her sitting beside a patient cow at daybreak, "her wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs." In Calypso Bloom stands beside Molly's bed, looking “calmly down on her bulk and between her large soft bubs, sloping within her nightdress like a shegoat’s udder.Circe recalls the goat's udders when Bello taunts Bloom for trying on Molly's clothes, displaying "behind closedrawn blinds your unskirted thighs and hegoat's udders in various poses of surrender."

Interestingly, Bloom seems to have associated Molly's breasts with goats' udders at a moment of high sexual excitement when he was quite aware of them as young and enticing. He recalls the scene in Lestrygonians: "She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman's breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed." The Howth goat returns in Circe, its teats mirroring Molly's full breasts: "High on Ben Howth through rhododendrons a nannygoat passes, plumpuddered, buttytailed, dropping currants."

In Penelope Molly passes quickly from thinking about the pleasure men get from sucking on nipples (and women from having them sucked) to the question of whether breasts are beautiful, to their clear biological purpose, and to the general grotesquerie of sexual organs: "yes I think he made them a bit firmer sucking them like that so long he made me thirsty titties he calls them I had to laugh yes this one anyhow stiff the nipple gets for the least thing Ill get him to keep that up and Ill take those eggs beaten up with marsala fatten them out for him what are all those veins and things curious the way its made 2 the same in case of twins theyre supposed to represent beauty placed up there like those statues in the museum one of them pretending to hide it with her hand are they so beautiful of course compared with what a man looks like with his two bags full and his other thing hanging down out of him or sticking up at you like a hatrack no wonder they hide it with a cabbageleaf."

Boylan's sucking makes her think of many things besides sexual pleasure: the pain men infict ("theres the mark of his teeth still where he tried to bite the nipple I had to scream out arent they fearful trying to hurt you"), the pain of lactation ("I had a great breast of milk with Milly enough for two," "I had to get him to suck them they were so hard," "hurt me they used to weaning her till he got doctor Brady to give me the belladonna prescription"), the taste of human milk ("he said it was sweeter and thicker than cows then he wanted to milk me into the tea well hes beyond everything"), its value in the marketplace ("he said I could have got a pound a week as a wet nurse"), men's annoying desire to gaze on strange women's breasts ("that delicate looking student that stopped in no 28 with the Citrons Penrose nearly caught me washing through the window only for I snapped up the towel to my face"), and their urge to become sucking babies again ("much an hour he was at them Im sure by the clock like some kind of a big infant I had at me").

JH 2017
The Milkmaid, oil painting by Jan Vermeer, ca. 1658, held in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Source: