Friday, February 28, 2014

fictional dinners

The famous lines by Virginia Woolf:

“...a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

This morning I've been leafing through a book that's been on my shelf since university days - Writing the Meal: dinner in the fiction of early twentieth-century women writers by Diane McGee. In it, she talks about scenes in the works of Woolf, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, Edith Wharton, and Katherine Mansfield. I suppose if I were to drop everything and do a PhD (so totally not going to happen), my dissertation would have to be something about the convergence of the still life, food photography, and writers writing about food and still life. I'm sure I'd have to throw something about Pinterest and food blogging in there. Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party still resonates. I'm drawn to Laura Letinsky's leftovers. I'm drawn to the kitchen table.

McGee says that "in some fiction, the serving of food is linked - both metaphorically and literally - to women's creative potential." In the early 20th century, "their domestic experience may in fact supply them with a voice, and thus a creative bridge to their art." As is true with a study of still life, the examination of these written dinners have a 'great culinary, aesthetic, and symbolic importance." McGee says, "An exploration of a fictional dinner leads into questions about the larger domestic role of women, about the representation of mothering and nurturing, about the political, economic, and class situations that underlie a particular meal, about philosophical issues, about time and death."

All of this to say, I suppose, is that by Friday, the only photos I have left are of food. Which I always find to be strangely revealing. I'm no cook. No food blogger. But indeed, we have to eat.

The healthy Mac and Cheese is a recipe Chloe found - it contains pureed cauliflower and sweet potato, some sharp cheddar.

Lunch is always simple. Lately, some noodles, some veggies, and done.

Anyway, thinking about how we read the fictional meal in novels, had me thinking about the fiction that is Pinterest. (Which I love, btw). We pin all the meals we'd like to make, the clothes we'd like to wear, but in real life, it's a lot of Mac and Cheese, ramen, and grey sweaters, you know? 


  1. How interesting! Without thinking it through too much, Isak Dinesen's story Babette's Feast comes to mind, "the" story about women and food in my experience, and then Mrs Dalloway and all the different meal scenes in To the Lighthouse, the yellow and purple dish of fruit on the table... Hmm, I'll be thinking about this one today...and the mac and cheese:). Have a lovely weekend!

  2. I laughed when I read your post because when I was doing my Ph.D. work, I actually did think a lot about food and literature, but my dissertation went a different direction. In a way, that's a good thing because reading stuff like this is not "ruined" by over-study.

  3. I'm not too keen on brussel sprouts but yours look positively luminous!:)

  4. Leigh, yes, thanks - writing this post made me want to read through Woolf again in the context of food. And Manisha - true that. Quite possible to ruin interests/obsessions with over study :) I enjoyed looking at your blog this morning btw.

  5. Wow it looks sooo good ! I love the small bowl, but I don't know how to doze cooked pasta it would never get inside ahaha !

  6. I love dinner parties, particularly for the great discussions. You make a good point about the convergence too. And, it seems that there is far less in fiction these days in relation to dining or conversations at dinner. I too like Pinterest. a lot of scattered thoughts from me today

    1. I think you're right Diane - will have to make a point for seeking out dinner parties in current fiction....xo


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