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|GR: The tyranny of food
Written by Cheryl
(4/20/2003 12:01 a.m.)
In my pre-Group Read reading, I came across a fascinating paper submitted to JASNA for the 1998 AGM written by Maggie Lane (She is the author of the fabulous Jane Austen and Food, which is, unfortunately, out of print). The subject of the paper was how General Tilney uses food as a tool in his tyranny over and control of his family. She lumps Mr. Grant of MP with the General as the only other Austen character to show such excessive attention to food and says, “It is in forcing others to dance attendance on their eating that they delight in exercising their power.”
He is extremely punctual over meal times, insisting they start at a certain time, upset if anyone is delayed. Frederick is scolded for being late to breakfast in Bath. When they arrive at Northanger Abbey, Catherine is rushed to her room and told not to dawdle, Eleanor is anxious for her not to be late for dinner. They arrive to find
“General Tilney was pacing the drawing-room, his watch in his hand, and having, on the very instant of their entering, pulled the bell with violence, ordered ‘Dinner to be on table directly!’"
On the way to Northanger Abbey, there was that long two-hour layover at Petty-France (and just two hours after breakfasting in Bath) because of the extensive meal the General had special ordered, with no thought to the wishes of the other three members of the party who had to “…eat without being hungry and loiter about without anything to see…”
Then there is his excessive attention to the kitchen gardens and hothouses, and let’s not forget the dinner at Woodston! Poor Henry has to leave two days early to go prepare the “mutton” his father will partake. When Catherine asks why, Henry answers in his charming, amusing way
"Why! How can you ask the question? Because no time is to be lost in frightening my old housekeeper out of her wits, because I must go and prepare a dinner for you, to be sure."
He makes light of it, but he knows he had best have everything just so, so as to not risk his father’s displeasure.
Lane also points out that the only foods mentioned by name (not counting the mutton, for they did not have any!) are cocoa and French bread. Foreign foods. ‘Nuff said. ;-)
What do you all think of this idea?
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