Spilling the beans

Eating, cooking, reading and writing in British women’s fiction, 1770–1830

Author: Sarah Moss

The study of food in literature complicates established critical positions. Both a libidinal pleasure and the ultimate commodity, food in fiction can represent sex as well as money, and brings the body and the marketplace together in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes unsettling. This book explores these relations in the context of late eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century women's fiction, where concerns about bodily, economic and intellectual productivity and consumption power decades of novels, conduct books and popular medicine. The introduction suggests ways in which attention to food in these texts might complicate recent developments in literary theory and criticism, while the body of the book is devoted to close readings of novels and children's stories by Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth and Susan Ferrier. Burney and Wollstonecraft explore the ways in which eating and not eating (mis)represent women's sexuality, and consider how women's intellectual and economic productivity might disrupt easy equations between appetites at the table and in bed. Edgeworth and Ferrier, Anglo-Irish and Scottish writers respectively, are more interested in cooking and eating as ways of enacting and manipulating national identity and class.

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