Consuming and consumed: James Joyce and the spoils of empire

Lynne Ann Bongiovanni, Fordham University


Generations of scholars have sought to define the nature of James Joyce's portrayal of Ireland and its relationship with England. But while early critics read Joyce as an international High Modernist figure whose work transcends political concerns, more recent scholarship tends to overestimate Joyce's republican leanings. Joyce was always aware of his country's almost impossibly intricate political situation, but his clearest expression of Ireland's conflicted position in empire is located in the multitude of colonial commodities that color the landscape of his fiction, particularly Ulysses. Joyce seems especially interested in Ireland's consumption of the variety of foodstuffs that have been gathered during other colonial conquests and introduced to the Irish marketplace. When Leopold Bloom recalls that even the potato, the culinary symbol of Ireland and the staple of its diet, was brought to Europe by returning Spanish conquistadors, Joyce underscores the irony that Ireland's culture and economy are built upon the same imperial system that oppresses it. Even as figures like the citizen of the Cyclops episode rail against the English occupation of Ireland, they avidly (and hypocritically) enjoy, and even depend upon, the fruits of imperial campaigns that stretch across larger oceans. In addition to examining Joyce's portrayal of the political implications of the Irish appetite for potatoes, sugar, tea, and spices, this dissertation explores Joyce's depiction of the ways that the Irish middle class consumes images that promote the cause of English capitalism and the advancement of empire. After considering Joyce's treatment of the imperial propaganda that seeks to enslave Ireland to England's burgeoning commodity culture, this study also interrogates Joyce's employment of Irish Orientalism, which links Ireland with ancient Eastern civilizations in order to assert its cultural superiority to England. In doing so, however, the Irish only objectify and further subjugate other colonized people for their own purposes. For Joyce, this support of empire weakens the fervor of Ireland's cries for independence and makes any discussion of Irish nationalism fraught with complexity.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Bongiovanni, Lynne Ann, "Consuming and consumed: James Joyce and the spoils of empire" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3083149.