Margarine Rides to Banbury Cross

While reading Ulysses by James Joyce, I came across Leopold Bloom mentioning “potatoes and marge” in the Laestrygonians chapter, and I had to look up the history of margarine because I thought it had been invented around World War I for soldiers in the field, and yet Ulysses takes place earlier in 1904.

Margarine was invented in 1869 by a Frenchman, Hippolyte Mége Mouries, who started his career as a pharmacy assistant and became an industrial chemist and researcher. The French government had offered a prize for the discovery of a process to make a substitute for butter, and there is speculation that this was the impetus for Mége to develop the new fat which he eventually called “oleo-margarine.” Fascinating stuff and completely forgotten apparently.

Also in Ulysses, was mention of “Banbury cakes” so I had to look that one up too. The cakes are made with puff pastry filled with currants, other fruit and spices, sprinkled with cane sugar. They look like what I call Eccles cakes, named after an English town as well, but Eccles cakes are round rather than oval as the Banbury cakes are. Same diff.

The Banbury cakes were supposedly brought back to Banbury, a town near London, by crusaders around the 13th century. The famous Banbury Cross of the nursery rhyme was situated in Banbury, but was destroyed by Puritans in 1602.

I’m not too fond of the book, or Joyce’s baffling meandering, but I am forging on after a month-long break due to an illness, largely because I like the character of Leopold Bloom, and I keep getting these fascinating bits to look up: odd words and expressions, food, celebrities of the day like the bodybuilder Sandow, music, art and statuary.

Perhaps I’m a trivia buff, but this is what makes the book interesting for me. It certainly isn’t the plot!

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2 Comments on “Margarine Rides to Banbury Cross”

  1. annainpdx Says:

    I like Bloom too, and dislike Stephen. However after Circe I wonder how much more weird psychological info about Bloom I can really stand to have. I am almost done with this book and I am sure that I am going to be glad I read it, but for now mostly I feel glad that I am nearly done (a few pages to go in Ithaca, then hopefully I can tear through Penelope – and go read something else!).

    • JJ ColourArt Says:

      Hi Anna,

      Oh lord, I’ve bogged down again! After my wonderful romp through the history of margarine, I couldn’t stand to read about Stephen in the library. I left halfway but must get back to that chapter and onward to further delight.

      As I said, my tangents are the only thing keeping me going. Even Jumping Jack Joyce is getting bored.


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