In Brief

Ulysses pays more attention to female breasts as sources of milk than as sites of sexual arousal. In their first chapters, both Stephen and Bloom associate women's mammary organs, unflatteringly, with those of animals. While both Bloom and Molly think of the sexual pleasures that breasts can afford, and Molly of the discomforts, the book takes a resolutely biological approach to this feature of the mammalian body.

Read More

In Telemachus Stephen watches the milkwoman measure out milk that is "not hers. Old shrunken paps.” 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's association of his wife's udders with a goat's seems to have been formed at a moment of high sexual excitement when he was quite aware of her breasts as young, full, and enticing. He recalls the rapturous 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. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me." In Circe the Howth goat returns, its full organs mirroring Molly's: "High on Ben Howth through rhododendrons a nannygoat passes, plumpuddered, buttytailed, dropping currants."

In Penelope Molly condenses into a short space thoughts about the pleasures of sucking on nipples, the purported beauty of breasts, their clear biological purpose, and 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."

There is more. Moments later, Boylan's love of sucking makes her think of men's strange urge to become infants again, and of her strange request to have Bloom suck her when she was enduring the pain of weaning Milly, and of his strange enthusiasm for using human milk as a food ingredient: "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 I had a great breast of milk with Milly enough for two what was the reason of that he said I could have got a pound a week as a wet nurse all swelled out the morning 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 that was his studenting hurt me they used to weaning her till he got doctor Brady to give me the belladonna prescription I had to get him to suck them they were so hard he said it was sweeter and thicker than cows then he wanted to milk me into the tea well hes beyond everything I declare somebody ought to put him in the budget if I only could remember the one half of the things and write a book out of it the works of Master Poldy yes and its so much smoother the skin much an hour he was at them Im sure by the clock like some kind of a big infant I had at me they want everything in their mouth all the pleasure those men get out of a woman."

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