Sunday, February 19, 2012


The Mayans seem to have used it years before the Spanish came. By the seventeenth century cocoa was a widespread drink, and in the nineteenth century, Cadbury had invented the candy bar. The connection with Eros anticipated St. Valentine by many centuries.  As an enthusiast of chocolate, I began to think about its presence in literature.

Joyce in Finnegans Wake, remarks, “Mine’s me of squisious, the chocolate with a soul.” And that made me remember all the references to Epps’s Cocoa, such as in Joyce’s letter to Nora when she was only 24 and much too thin for a mother of a 4 year-old. Joyce is away and tells her she must eat more to make her fuller and healthier.

In Ulysses Van Houten’s cocoa is mentioned frequently along with Epps’s cocoa, and chocolate takes on an aphrodisiac role in the Nighttown episode (Hades) when Bloom goes chasing after Stephen Dedalus. We see him, in his haste, “On the farther side under the railway bridge Bloom appears, flushed, panting, cramming bread and chocolate into a sidepocket.” That chocolate figures much later when he is in the company of Zoe, the accommodating lady of the night. Bloom is in an awkward position in the House of Bella Cohen, standing in a hallway not quite knowing what to say: “( A male form passes down the creaking staircase and is heard taking the waterproof and hat from the rack. Bloom starts forward involuntarily and, half closing the door as he passes, takes the chocolate from his pocket and offers it nervously to Zoe.)”

Zoe takes the chocolate only to return it a few lines later, when he has clearly understood where he is: “(a male cough and tread are heard passing through the mist outside. Bloom’s features relax. He places a hand in his waistcoat, posing calmly. Zoe offers him chocolate.)” The return of the chocolate is almost talismanic, and Bloom in his characteristic way begins to analyze the interchange, especially in light of the fact that he does not have anything more than social intercourse with Zoe: “(takes the chocolate) Aphrodisiac? Tansy and pennyroyal. But I bought it.” The chocolate implies a consummated deal, a metaphor for intercourse–the next best thing.

For an interesting detailed discussion of cocoa in Joyce see: Cocoa in the Wake