The Chew-Chew school and Mr Purefoy’s whisker problem

In ‘Lestrygonians’ Bloom reflects on Mr Purefoy’s eating habits:

Eating with a stopwatch, thirtytwo chews to the minute. And still his muttonchop whiskers grew. (U 8.360-1)

Purefoy here is following one of the many food fads that were popular at the beginning of the twentieth century. The most influential among these was Fletcherism, devised by Horace Fletcher (1849-1919), an American businessman who, without any medical training, managed to convert many of the great and good to his dietary philosophy, including William and Henry James (the latter called him “the divine Fletcher”) and Franz Kafka, but also, crucially, a number of influential medical practitioners. The basic principle was a simple one: thorough mastication of all foodstuffs before swallowing. This process of “buccal thoroughness”, known popularly as the “chew-chew method”, was believed to increase the nourishment derived from each mouthful while unburdening the digestive system and keeping the intestinal flora (of which Fletcher had a very poor opinion) at bay. Although his diet included meat and fish, Fletcher believed in a reduced protein intake and his method emphasised the role of carbohydrates, which attracted vegetarians and those concerned with ensuring a nourishing diet for the poor.

In the 1904 edition of his book The New Glutton or Epicure, Fletcher identifies a forerunner in W. E. Gladstone, who advised his children to chew their food thirty-two times to each mouthful,1 but the author later qualifies this, adding that:

Some morsels of food will not resist thirty-two mastications, while others will defy seven hundred.2

The aim was to reduce food to a liquid in the mouth before the involuntary swallowing mechanism, termed “Nature’s Food Filter”, kicked in. Whatever fibrous residues remained after this process should be spat out.3

Fletcher also reported how in London:

“Munching Parties” were inaugurated to teach attention, to encourage mouth preparation of food for digestion, and also for the æsthetic purpose of gaining all the gustatory pleasure possible from food while conserving the economies of nutrition. The method employed was most ingenious, and with some modification is approved by the author. When a course was served at “Munching Lunches”, the manager of the ceremony employed a stop watch to time the treatment of the first morsel of food by each of the guests. It was an extravagantly long delay over any one morsel, but it set the pace of deliberation, and time, under the circumstances of a social function, was not a matter of moment.4

The system had the added advantage of reducing the amount of food consumed, so was often followed as a means of losing weight. On 6 May 1904 Henry James wrote to his brother William:

I continue to found my life on Fletcher. He is immense—thanks to which I am getting much less so.5

But Fletcher also claimed that his method had healing powers.

I will not presume to say what and whom good Doctor Appetite, with the assistance of Doctor Taste, can cure. They have both cured and greatly relieved rheumatism, gout, eczema, obesity, under-weight, bleeding-piles, blotches and pimples, catarrh, “that tired feeling”, muddy complexion, indigestion, and yellow-tongue, within four months.6

It is difficult to appreciate the force of Fletcherism at that time, not only among food faddists, but among the scientific community. In January 1904 The Lancet had praised Fletcher as ‘the popular medical idol of the moment’.7 Fletcher could count among his supporters Dr Leonard Huxley (son of T. H. Huxley) and Sir Thomas Barlow, private physician to Edward VII, Dr Russell Chittenden of Yale, members of the Harvard Medical School, as well as the Medical Department of the U.S. Army.8 By 1908 Fletcher was invited to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the following year he received an honorary M.A. from Dartmouth College. Up to the end of WWI his theories influenced British government food policies. Some of this influence may have been due to his personal charm and powers of persuasion; but it was also suspected that his reputation as a man of means (among his many addresses he occupied a palazzo in Venice) and the perception of him as a source of funding may have played a role. Certainly by the time of his death in 1919 most of the magic had disappeared. In a letter to his brother, dated 31 October 1909, Henry James wrote his valediction in tortured prose that seemed to parody the style of the late novels:

There are other things, or mainly one other — which I might sum up as being at last, again, definitely & unmistakeably, the finally proved cul-de-sac or defeat of literal Fletcherism — might so sum up if I could go at all into the difficult & obscure subject by letter. I can’t do so — though I will return to it on some future writing, & after more results from my of late — that is these last 3 months’ very trying experience — which has abated since queer lights (on too prolonged Fletcherism) have more & more distinctly & relievingly come to me. But meanwhile communicate nothing distressful to poor dear H.F. if he is in America — his malady of motion, a perfect St. Vitus’s Dance of the déplacement-mania, make me never know where he is. I am worrying out my salvation — very interesting work & prospects, I think, much aiding — & “going into” the whole fearsome history intelligibly this way is an effort from which I recoil.9

Within a few years many more of its former adherents had abandoned Fletcherism, leaving the field to a few intransigents, such as Kafka.

As might have been expected, most of the Fletcher-related notes appear under ‘Lestrygonians’ headings, in Notebooks NLI MS 36.639/5A, 5B.10 These include, ‘chew 32 times’ (5A.51; U.8.360), ‘fellow chew chewing’ (5A.8; U.8.660), as well as ‘eat with watch’ (5B.10; U.8.360). The phrase ‘that tired feeling’ can be found under the ‘Nausikaa’ heading (5B.10; U 13.86-7).11 These are late notebooks, dating from late 1918 to 1921, which gives some piquancy to Joyce’s references to a faded cult, which he placed in the time of its heyday.

But what about Purefoy’s whiskers? The juxtaposition and the use of ‘still’ may cause the reader to wonder whether this manner of eating was supposed to modify the growth of Purefoy’s facial hair. In fact Bloom’s mental image of Purefoy has simply led him to recall the words of a once-popular comic song, published in 1894, with words by the evocatively named Albert Hall and music by C. W. Murphy, composer of ‘Has anybody here seen Kelly?’

Tim Burke was like a beardless boy,

although a man he’d grown,

He bought some hair restorer for a bob,

He rubbed it all around his chin

to make the whiskers grow,

Then went to bed to sleep upon the job.

But when he woke next morning, what a sight!

His whiskers had been growing all the night;

They’d grown so much, that really, on my life,

The hair had suffocated all his children and his wife!

And still his whiskers grew,

still his whiskers grew;

He cut them off and he shaved them off,

He bit them off and he chew’d them off,

But still his whiskers grew,

still his whiskers grew!

They covered his face, and covered the place,

But still his whiskers grew!

Joyce noted the title ‘& still his whiskers grew’, also under a 'Lestrygonians' heading, in notebook NLI MS 36,639/5A, on page 9, and added it to the typescript known as Buffalo V.B.6 (JJA 12:309). The preceding entry on the same notebook page is ‘muttonchop’, which was added later, to Placard 17 (JJA 18:106).12

The 1896 Columbia Phonograph recording can be heard on Youtube.

Here the words have been varied slightly for the American market: ‘for a bob’ becomes ‘for a dime’; ‘sleep upon the job’ becomes ‘sleep for quite a time’.

Vincent Deane


1 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, 8-9. Gladstone’s dictum was apparently related to the number of teeth in the human mouth.

2 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, 127.

3 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, 110, 122.

4 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, 273.

5 Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley, eds. William and Henry James: Selected Letters (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1997), 446.

6 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, 179.

7 ‘A Praiseworthy Fad’, The Lancet, January 1904, 308. Cited in L. Margaret Barnett, ‘Fletcherism: The Chew-Chew Fad of the Edwardian Era’. In David Smith, ed. Nutrition in Britain: Science, Scientists and Politics in the Twentieth Century. (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 1997), 6. I am indebted to this chapter for much of the biographical material in the present article.

8 Horace Fletcher, The New Glutton or Epicure, xv, 43, 45, 325.

9 Philip Horne, ed. Henry James: a Life in Letters (London: Allen Lane, 1999), 485-6.

10 As the episode headings suggest, these are second-order notebooks, so it is much less easy to trace the entries to their sources.

11 See Harald Beck’s JJON article ‘That Tired Feeling’, which traces the history of this phrase. As can be seen from Fletcher’s list of curable ailments quoted above, he places it in quotation marks, indicating that it was a general catch-phrase at the time. Its occurrence in the NLI notebook suggests that Joyce may have taken it from some Fletcher-related source.

12 The checking of these and the foregoing entries against the images on the NLI website has been greatly simplified by the use of the James Joyce Digital Archive (