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53 2 TASTE AND MORALITY Motherhood and the Making of a National Body Good taste is that nice perception of fitness and propriety which leads a person to say and do whatever is suitable and appropriate in all possible circumstances. Such good taste is ordinarily the result of good feelings and well-cultivated mind, and an acquaintance with the world. Yet this correct taste is sometimes found in minds that have enjoyed but few advantages, but by nature are endowed with refined feelings and good commonsense. Catharine Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1846 CATHARINE BEECHER was a leading domestic expert in mid-nineteenthcentury America. She published extensively on topics ranging from furnishing one’s home to raising Christian children. Much like Amelia Simmons, Lydia Marie Child, and Mary Randolph, Beecher and her contemporaries believed that proper domestic practice could assure the future success of the young nation and that good taste was essential to domestic propriety. Midnineteenth -century experts, however, added to republican tastes a theoretical framework grounded in Protestant Christian morality and sentimental rhetoric. Thus, taste indicated both “good feelings” and intellectual cultivation. Beecher also emphasizes “an acquaintance with the world,” suggesting that observation and social interaction develop good taste. Finally, she discusses a democratic view of good taste, noting its availability to anyone God has endowed with “refined feelings and good commonsense.”1 With this statement, Beecher engages a theme of “refinement” common in nineteenth-century taste discourse, yet she describes it as an inherent quality bestowed by God rather than as a set of trained aesthetic judgments. Like many domestic experts, Beecher relied heavily on taste as a rhetorical device to position her advice as simultaneously natural and cultivated. However ,read in another way,rhetorical demonstrations of taste allowed women in the mid-nineteenth century to connect the subjectivity of their individual experi- 54 TASTE AND MORALITY ence with the authority of God and the church, as well as the communal values they represent. This approach indicates that for women in the mid-nineteenth century, taste exists on a continuum of physical perception, individual emotion ,social interaction,and universal morality.A rhetoric of taste gives women’s domestic work significance while simultaneously heightening one’s awareness of the material realities of the body and home as they inform the actions of the mind. Good taste, or the combination of “eating as a Christian should” and “that nice perception of fitness and propriety,” guided women’s actions in the domestic sphere.2 Women’s domestic charges included maintaining the health, intellectual and emotional development, and spiritual well-being of children and servants.These responsibilities played an integral role in the economic and moral success of the nation. Yet, those selfsame women whose communities called them to lead future generations of American citizens had little public voice with which to do so. Domestic literature—cookbooks, advice manuals, and fiction—provided women a rhetorical space in which to write and publish their methods and philosophies with remarkable success. The rise of the domestic expert soon accompanied this boom in women’s publishing, as authors such as Sarah Josepha Hale and Catharine Beecher published extensively throughout the nineteenth century. This chapter examines the complicated relationship of taste, morality, and the body in the cookbooks of two of the era’s most famous tastemakers: Sarah Josepha Hale and Catharine Beecher. In their hands, taste serves as both the construction and representation of the manners, conduct, and physical form of the ideal American mother. They explore the relationship of taste and morality in philosophical and sentimental discourses, thus bridging public and private spheres of influence and expanding the scope of women’s moral authority.Taste discourse guided rhetorical education, formed the basis of lyceum culture, and dominated women’s periodicals.As an everyday vernacular of domestic experience and cultural regulation, taste shaped women’s lives, both local and global. A discussion of morality in nineteenth-century texts most often points to regulatory practices, deployed through discourse, that enforce normative behaviors . A consideration of women’s roles in the nineteenth century often invokes Barbara Welter’s 1966 characterization of the “true woman” as “pious, pure, domestic, and submissive.”3 In Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, Nan Johnson notes that the ideology of true womanhood has become a “point of scholarly predisposition.”4 Scholars must read texts of this era,at least to some extent,through this framework.That is not to say that one must reduce all interpretations of domestic...


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