chapter  3
14 Pages

‘Just a morsel to stay your appetite’: Gissing and the Cultural Politics of Food

WithScott McCracken

Food is at once the most basic necessity and the most mediated of cultural forms. The place of food in the culture of late nineteenth-century Britain was a long way from today's obsession with public, journalistic, and televisual preparation and consumption. An investigation into the culinary belies George Gissing's reputation as a dour and serious writer. Focusing on food reveals one of the best kept secrets of Gissing's work – its humour. In an earlier passage from The Nether World, social Darwinism gives scientific authority to social prejudice, but that authority is subverted by Clem Peckover's robust enjoyment of both food and power. Feminist accounts of the relationship between nutrition and sex attempted to construct an ethical or political sphere beyond the natural where women could act to establish more equal gender relations. Gissing's work also anticipates that of Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss in its understanding of meal, or what anthropologists call the 'food event', as socially symbolic act.