Writing the Meal

Writing the Meal: Dinner in the Fiction of Twentieth-Century Women Writers

DIANE McGEE
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 221
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442683723
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  • Book Info
    Writing the Meal
    Book Description:

    The author proposes that the depiction of meals has particular significance and resonance for women writers, and that these presentations of meals reflect larger concerns about women?s domestic and public roles in a time of social and cultural change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8372-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction: ′A Time to Eat′
    (pp. 3-9)

    This study explores the role of dinner in fiction by Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin, as well as other early twentieth-century women writers. The meals in the works discussed here range from two people sharing simple food to formal dinners and parties. The dinner or dinner party is crucial not only in defining the characters, their world, and their relationship to that world, but also in structuring the novel or the story and, for the reader, in understanding the author′s relationship to her own world and her own historical times. Certainly, some male writers of the...

  4. 1 Hors d′Oeuvres: Food, Culture, and Language
    (pp. 10-23)

    Meals and the customs surrounding food are important texts of a culture, with many inherent levels of significance and signification. In most cultures, the transformation of food into meals has been largely women′s business: planning, preparing, presenting, serving, cleaning up; in general working with the raw ingredients that the woman herself may quite possibly have purchased, gathered, or planted and harvested. The customs and rituals surrounding all of these activities have also been practised, protected, and maintained by women, even though, in many cultures, the larger religious signification of food has historically been the provenance of men — rabbis, priests,...

  5. 2 The Angel in the Kitchen: Early Twentieth-Century Trends in Dining
    (pp. 24-37)

    The focus on meals in the writing of early twentieth-century women reflects a general concern with domesticity in the light of changing cultural values. The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century period was marked by new perceptions of food, meals, and the structures and systems surrounding them. If not necessarily a direct influence on writers, these current popular attitudes formed part of the context or background of literary production. Thus, before turning to an analysis of dining in early twentieth-century fiction, it is worth noting that other kinds of contemporary writing by and for women also responded to these changes. Food...

  6. 3 In with the In-Crowd: Edith Wharton and the Dinner Tables of Old New York
    (pp. 38-59)

    As described in the novels of Edith Wharton, the dining customs of the wealthy in the turn-of-the-century period are manifestations of a larger code of manners and social ritual which represented tradition, but also responded to economic and social change. It is significant that Edith Wharton, like and through her character Newland Archer, refers to upper-class New York society as a tribe: the people within a tribe, precisely because tribal life is their only reality, cannot imagine any other existence and do not see the relativity of their own customs and rituals. Nearly all of Wharton′s New Yorkers are complacent...

  7. 4 The Art of Being an Honoured Guest: The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country
    (pp. 60-80)

    If Newland Archer thinks of escaping from his social group, with its oppressively formalized dinners and enforced conventions, he ultimately elects to remain a part of that exclusive circle, despite his awareness of its limitations. But what of those on the outside? Even though the upper classes may sometimes have been unconscious of their social assumptions and, until they were broken, of the prescriptive nature of their often unstated rules, those wishing to find acceptance in higher circles were very much aware of the codes of behaviour of that class. The Undine Spraggs of New York certainly see membership in...

  8. 5 ′Hungry Roaming′: Dinners and Non-Dinners in the Stories of Katherine Mansfield
    (pp. 81-107)

    In her depiction of old New York, Edith Wharton points the way to changes in consciousness that are typical of the modernist period and that affect women and are expressed in the writing of women in very particular ways. The social change traced by her work is well established in the fiction of Katherine Mansfield. If, in Wharton, society is defined in large part by customs of dining and sociability, in Mansfield′s short stories, dining and attitudes to food in general are linked to the modern predicaments and modernist themes of homelessness, rootlessness, alienation, and isolation. In sum, Mansfield′s meals...

  9. 6 Through the Dining-Room Window: Perspectives of the Hostess in the Work of Mansfield and Woolf
    (pp. 108-146)

    Kezia′s looking through the dining-room window of her family′s abandoned house at the start of ′Prelude′ serves as a metaphor for Katherine Mansfield′s work: much of her insight into modernity, into gender roles, into marriage and the family, and into art is developed from the perspective of a woman′s relationship with meals. Yet the dining-room can also be a desolate place. Many of Mansfield′s characters, although they regard food with wary, tempted, or envious eyes, are nevertheless unwilling or unable either to cook or to eat. They avoid occupying the dining-room and seeing the world from this vantage point. Still,...

  10. 7 The Art of Domesticity
    (pp. 147-181)

    If the early twentieth-century period saw various changes in women′s roles within both the family structure and traditional forms of sociability, one response to these changes was through art. The links between creativity and the serving of meals are evident in bothTo the LighthouseandMrs. Dalloway, where organizing a dinner or a party is represented as an essentially creative activity. In a larger sense, however, for both fictional characters and the writer herself, preparing the meal is an especially important metaphor for artistic work. Some early twentieth-century fiction portrays the work of the woman artist as actually emerging...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 182-186)

    Our reading of literature in this study has occurred at the conjunction of an understanding of the power and imaginative resonance of dinner and a more prosaic perspective on meals as part of women′s domestic work. Virginia Woolf′s notion of the ′room of one′s own′ became a sort of rallying cry in the twentieth century for several generations of women. However, women have always had a room of their own: the kitchen or the dining-room. The literature discussed in this study explores women′s attempts to move out of these spaces into the rest of the house, at the same time...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-200)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 201-208)
  14. Works Consulted
    (pp. 209-214)
  15. Index
    (pp. 215-221)