“A FASHIONABLE DINNER IS ARRANGED AS FOLLOWS”: VICTORIAN DINING TAXONOMIES

Bibliographic Details
Title: “A FASHIONABLE DINNER IS ARRANGED AS FOLLOWS”: VICTORIAN DINING TAXONOMIES
Authors: Kapetanios Meir, Natalie
Source: Victorian Literature and Culture; March 2005, Vol. 33 Issue: 1 p133-148, 16p
Abstract: OVER THE COURSE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, England saw the publication of numerous social instruction handbooks, household manuals, cookery books, and restaurant guides focusing on the proper methods for dining. These dining handbooks provide a systematic account of the most minute details for both attending and hosting a dinner party, including such information as how to word the invitations, ornament the table, order the courses, or arrange guests according to precedence. To the extent that formal dining becomes standardized in the conduct literature, a dining taxonomy begins to emerge–a classificatory system whereby formerly idiosyncratic aspects of this social experience are codified, or reduced to a code, and routinized, or rendered routine.For further discussion of the context in which nineteenth-century cookery books codified dining knowledge and thereby provided increased detail, see Beetham, who argues that the form of the cookery book was systematized and consolidated by the end of the century owing largely to Mrs. Beeton's contributions. While the content of handbooks (the social conventions) is arranged into a taxonomy, something more interesting can be seen to appear as well: conventions for the dining taxonomy itself. That is, within the large body of Victorian dining handbooks, there is not only a striking repetition of content from one handbook to the next, but also a repetition of narrative styles, patterns, and devices that imply that the procedures under discussion are universal phenomena, divorced from human agency, interpretation, and variable social circumstances.For further discussion of the narrative forms of nineteenth-century cookery books, see Newlyn, who discusses their relationship to the construction of femininity. For a historical account of Victorian etiquette books, see Davidoff, The Best Circles; St. George; and Curtin. For a broad critical discussion, see Carré. In other words, these handbooks render the conventions natural.
Published: March 2005
Database: Supplemental Index

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