Tobacco

In Brief

In addition to being bathed in alcohol, Ulysses is suffused with the smell of tobacco. Cigarettes figure prominently in the book, backed by briefer appearances from pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff. As with alcohol, Bloom does not abstain totally, but he does resist the pull of this addictive substance, pondering its health effects as a "poison."

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Pipes had been the chief vehicle for smoking in the 19th century. Simon Dedalus smokes one in Sirens, Bloom remembers his father smoking one in Oxen of the Sun, Molly remembers the same of her father in Penelope, and in Circe a fantasized Bloom smokes a peasant's cheap clay pipe. But times changed with the arrival of machines for rolling cigarettes in the 1880s. The newfangled smoking sticks were catching on in a big way by the turn of the century, and by 1920 the "swaggerroot" (Zoe's fanciful coinage in Circe) had largely supplanted pipes.

People offer cigarettes to one another in Telemachus, Aeolus, and Circe, and in Lotus Eaters Bloom thinks about the companionly comfort of the habit as he passes by the drivers at the cabstand: "Like to give them an odd cigarette. Sociable." Smokers seem to relish lighting up in restaurants even more than in pubs. Kevin Egan "rolls gunpowder cigarettes" as he sits in a Paris café in Proteus, and in Lestrygonians Bloom inhales "sweetish warmish cigarette smoke" and "reek of plug" in the Burton.

Women enjoy the weed equally with men. Gerty MacDowell thinks of "the nice perfume of those good cigarettes" that Reggie Wylie smokes, and she remembers the night when Cissy Caffrey "dressed up in her father’s suit and hat and the burned cork moustache and walked down Tritonville road, smoking a cigarette." As Bloom walks through the streets of the Monto he sees prostitutes smoking in doorways and open windows. Their "birdseye cigarettes" cohere with the hundreds of animal transformations in this chapter, but birdseye was a technique for cutting tobacco leaves across the central stem, giving a distinctive appearance to the strips.

When Bloom gets home he sees that Molly and Blazes Boylan have been smoking cigarettes at the piano, and when Molly imagines her husband bringing Stephen to the house she thinks "we can have music and cigarettes I can accompany him." Ithaca observes that in the Blooms' bedroom the odor of "Muratti's Turkish cigarettes" hangs about Molly's clothes. In Penelope she recalls smelling cigarette smoke in one of Milly's dresses.

Among other retail outlets, many specialized smoke shops catered to Dubliners' tobacco needs. In Wandering Rocks Father Conmee walks past "Grogan's the Tobacconist" on North Strand Road, and in Lestrygonians Bloom thinks of "Tobaccoshopgirls." Numerous Irish entrepreneurs at this time went into the business of manufacturing tobacco products. In an article titled "The Production and Consumption of Tobacco in Ireland, 1800-1914," in Irish Economic and Social History 25 (1998): 1-21, Andy Bielenberg and David Johnson document that "At the time of the 1907 census of production, tobacco manufacturing was one of Ireland's largest industries," even though the country imported nearly all of its leaves (1).

(In Eumaeus the patriotic proprietor of the cabman's shelter declares confidence in Ireland's ability to grow even warm-weather crops: "You could grow any mortal thing in Irish soil, he stated, and there was that colonel Everard down there in Navan growing tobacco." Gifford notes that "Navan was a small market town in County Meath, twenty-eight miles southeast of Dublin. Col. N. T. Everard was a gentleman farmer  who in 1904 was conducting what he regarded as a successful twenty-acre experiment in tobacco growing." Such aspirations notwithstanding, the climate in Ireland is not conducive to growing top-quality tobacco plants.)

Amid the wave of enthusiasm for tobacco Bloom displays his characteristic skepticism. The cigar that he reluctantly accepts in Cyclops is a defense not only against being "treated" to countless alcoholic drinks but also, it seems, against the omnipresent consumption of cigarettes. When Zoe tries to bum a cigarette off of him, he replies, "Rarely smoke, dear. Cigar now and then. Childish device. (Lewdly.) The mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed." He then launches into a denunciation of Sir Walter Ralegh for bringing to Europe "a poisoner of the ear, eye, heart, memory, will, understanding, all."

Bloom clearly believes that tobacco may affect the body in harmful ways. When he sees a desperately poor boy "smoking a chewed fagbutt" in Lotus Eaters he thinks of telling him that "if he smokes he won't grow."  He seems also to believe that the stuff may have deranging mental effects. In Lotus Eaters these appear to him under a pleasant guise—"Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic"—but in Eumaeus he tells the incapacitated Stephen that "it wouldn’t occasion me the least surprise to learn that a pinch of tobacco or some narcotic was put in your drink for some ulterior object." The drug seems to lodge in his imagination as a dangerous pleasure, as treacherously seductive as sex:
(Gaudy dollwomen loll in the lighted doorways, in window embrasures, smoking birdseye cigarettes. The odour of the sicksweet weed floats towards him in slow round ovalling wreaths.)
THE WREATHS
Sweet are the sweets. Sweets of sin.
JH 2018
John J. Clarke, photograph of two gentlemen walking past a tobacconist's on Grafton Street, ca. 1897-1904. Source: www.google.com/culturalinstitute.
1902 ad for Muratti's cigarettes in a German magazine, touting their use of the finest Turkish tobacco. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph of a woman smoking, date unknown. Source: www.pinterest.com.