In Brief

As Bloom takes a bite of his gorgonzola sandwich, the "yellow blobs" of mustard under the cheese declare their potency: "A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom's heart." "Hanch" is a rare verb from the British Isles (Gifford calls it "Scots dialect") that means to snap at noisily and greedily. The OED's definition is vivid: "To snatch, snap at, or bite with violent or noisy action of the jaws; said of large dogs, wild beasts, cannibals, or greedy men."

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It perfectly suits the omnivoracious imagery of Lestrygonians to make a sandwich snap at the person eating it. And the conceit is not really all that fantastic: since plants cannot move to escape the creatures trying to eat them, they have evolved the defense mechanism of toxic chemicals that bite back when an animal takes a bite, causing it acute pain or discomfort. In mustards, the chemical is allyl isothiocyanate, a volatile organosulfuric compound produced when a herbivore chews on the plant and breaks its seeds. This oil is harmful to the plant itself, so it is produced only when the grinding of a seed makes an enzyme combine with another chemical. And mustard is produced, of course, by grinding the seeds of mustard plants.

One could argue that "hanched on Mr Bloom's heart" also does a decent job of evoking human physiological responses to hot mustard seeds. The aerosolized AITC chiefly assaults tiny pores in cells of the nose, eyes, and sinuses, but its gripping pains are also felt in the throat and bronchial passages, which might metaphorically be expressed as something snapping at the heart.

§ All texts of the novel before Gabler's, beginning with the first edition in 1922, had "hauched." There is no such verb in the English lexicon. If this error of a typist or printer were amended to "haunched," very different bodily metaphorics would result: a warm shock of air sat down heavily on Mr. Bloom's heart, like thighs and buttocks pressing on him. But no published text contains this word, and Joyce's handwriting in the Rosenbach manuscript can only be read as "u" or "n," not "un." Readers should almost certainly go with Gabler's team and hear mustard hanching at Bloom's heart.

JH 2019
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