Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in English
As nineteenth-century scientific and industrial developments in food processing were increasingly applied on larger scales, and to a greater diversity of food items, modernity made its mark on the early twentieth-century consumer’s daily foods. In addition to industrial and scientific developments, World War I and World War II brought significant changes to food production, distribution, and consumption as populations suddenly worried about the availability, allocation, and quality of food items. Early twentieth-century novels demonstrate a preoccupation with the newly modernized and altered foods and explore how food behaviors and tastes change during the period.
This project examines literary representations of food, food behaviors, and tastes through close readings of four modernist novels. I argue that the novels of E. M. Forster, Evadne Price, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Rhys demonstrate a modernist preoccupation with, and an active critique of, modernity’s foods, changing food behaviors, and tastes. Analyzing a diversity of narrativized food behaviors, such as the selection, consumption, and preparation of food, I investigate the historicity and cultural significances behind specific foods and food behaviors by drawing on food history, sociological and historical studies of eating, culinary science, theorizations of the written recipe as a genre, postcolonial investigations into particular global dishes, and, when productive, science. When conceptualizing taste, I consider both literal tastes, as one of the five senses and related to gustatory pleasure, and figurative tastes, which extend to aesthetics, manners, and socially appropriate etiquettes including food behaviors. To address taste’s literal and figurative usages, I turn to disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, and cultural studies.
In my first chapter I focus on the character Leonard Bast, a hungry modern autodidact attempting to balance comestible and cultural consumption, in E. M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), arguing that Bast engages in a type of snobbery through his judgments in taste and his efforts to gain cultural capital. In my second chapter on Not So Quiet… (1930), written by Evadne Price, I explore the importance of location in literary depictions of WWI food consumption, analyzing characters that eat both at (or near) the warfront and later return to dine in the home front’s domestic and public spaces. Focusing primarily on the famous boeuf en daube scene of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) and drawing upon both culinary science and the kinetic molecular theory of matter, my third chapter identifies and highlights the novel’s “liquid aesthetic” and the drawing of disparate individualized characters into community without collapsing their separate identities. My final chapter on Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939) explores the behaviors of dining, performing, and exhibiting to investigate the novel’s multifaceted theorization of national identities set in the complex, interwar, and cosmopolitan restaurants of Paris. The conclusion situates my project in the larger discourses and controversies regarding the expansion of modernist studies and the new formalists’ call to return to form, illustrates how my project relates to these conversations and debates, and highlights how others might view my project as a productive model for negotiating similar conflicts within the methodologies and theories of literary studies.
Becker, Michael David, "Bringing the World Inside: British Modernism and Taste – Gustatory, Social, and Aesthetic" (2015). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 312.