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Alexander Hammond Literary Commerce and the Discourses of Gastronomy in Poe’s “Bon-Bon” In Evert Duyckinck’s well-known review of MobDick in the Literary World for November 1851, he pronounces Melville’s novel “a most remarkable sea-dish-an intellectual chowder of romance, philosophy, natural history, fine writing, good feeling, [and] bad sayings.”’ While Duyckinck finds the chowder Melville serves up not wholly to his taste, his linkage of the production of literary textswith cooking and of reading with the consumption of food was not uncommon. In her 1984study Novels, Readas, and Reviewers:Responses toFictioninAntebellumAm’ca,Nina Baym observes that “drinking and eating were the activitiesmost often compared to novel reading” by American reviewers of the era.‘ Arguing that such “gustatory”language “goes far beyond the elaboration of the submerged metaphor of literary taste,” Baym contends that reviewerstypicallyused such tropes to rank novels in terms of the kinds of appetites they aroused or fed and the presumed moral and psychological effects of their consumption. To cite a few of her examples:The New YorkReviewin 1839callsnovels “intellectualfood”but observes that “thethirst for light readings is fed and not quenched by being gratified.”In 1846,the NorthAmm’canworriesthat “theappetite for fiction [canbecome] a sicklycraving , from much cramming with crude, unnatural food.” In 1847, the Literary World damns French novels as“highly-spicedand unhealthy. ..dishes” but argues in the same year that fiction can serve as “an intellectual cordial to restore the healthy action of other faculties”and further suggests in 1849that fiction can provide the “higherfaculties” with “nutriment denied them in real life.”3 In the years following Baym’s study, considerable scholarship has called attention to the cultural and economic grounds of such imagery. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw’s special issue of the Southern Quarterlyfor1992dealswith how fictional and autobiographical representations of food, cooking, dining, and kitchens reproduce or resist racial, class,and gender hierarchies in the South: Virginia Blum’s 1993 “MaryWilkinsFreeman and the Taste of Necessity”exploresFreeman’sposition asa woman writerwho literalizeswritingand reading as cooking and eating and who reflects in her treatments of hunger the tensions she negotiated between the need to write for sustenance and the desire to create art that transcends the material conditions of its prod~ction.~ Mark McWilliams’s 2003 “DistantTables:Food and the Novel in Early America”extensivelysurveyshowfood imagery in US. cultural production ranging from early nineteenth -century novels to Child’sFrugal Housewife reproduces the attitudes toward class, republican simplicity,and European luxury reflected in the food imagery of Baym’s reviewers6 More generally , Tamara S. Wagoner and Narin Hassan’s2007 Consuming Culture in the Long Nineteenth-Century assesses the current state of scholarship on such discoursewhile featuring new cultural and literary studies with a transatlantic range.’ Thispaper callsparticular attention to anearly Poe tale whose comparisons of literary texts to French food drawsupon the emerging nineteenthcentury discourse of gastronomy. As Stephen Mennell observes,“Theword ‘gastronomy’,learnedly derived from the Greek, seems to have been invented by Joseph Berchoux in 1801 . . . [and] was rapidlyadopted both in Franceand England to designate ‘theart and scienceof delicate eating.”’8 James Brown’s carefully theorized 1984 monograph ,FictionalMeals and 7’heirFunctionin theFrench Novel, 1789-1848,9 recognizes the importance of both gastronomy and the rise of the restaurant in Literary Commerceand Gastronomy 39 itsanalysisof fooddiscoursein nineteenthcentury French fiction,and various criticsaddressaspects of the topicin articlesonAmericanwriting.Steven Mailloux’s 1990 essay “The Rhetorical Use and Abuse of Fiction:EatingBooksin LateNineteenthCenturyAmerica ”offersaFoucauldeananalysisof tropes of “eatingbooks” in responses to Alcott’s Little W m ,the vogue of “Bad-Boy”stories, and HuckleberryAnn.loIn 2002,MichaelSchnellargues that Jean-Anthelme BrillatSavarin’sPhysiology of Taste of 1825-a classic example of gastronomic writing-and the food imagery in Irving’s Sketch Book of 1819 emerge from a nineteenthcentury shift to constructing the self as consumer that marks both “newarts”of producing and consumingfood and new attitudestoward producing and consumingliterature.” My own explorationof food imageryin Poe’s earlyfiction,“Consumption, Exchange,andthe LiteraryMarketplace ,”appeared inRichardKopley’s 1992 collection Poe’s “ q m’? CriticalExplorations. In it, I argue that Poe “elaborated gastronomic tropes into a satiric conceit for author/reader/ marketplacerelationships”in the literarybanquet settingof “Talesof the FolioClub”of 1833-35 and (re)scripted those same tropes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 38-45
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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