Feast: A History of Grand Eating

Overview

Sharing a grand meal has always been a complex social event. Feasts have been used to celebrate significant occasions, to parade rank and hierarchy, and to flatter and influence people. There has always been a theatrical element to the feast as well-from the nude dancers who entertained dinner guests in ancient Greece to the restrained rigors of the Victorian dinner party.
Sir Roy Strong examines this cultural phenomenon with knowledge, wit, and style-beginning with the ninth ...

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Overview

Sharing a grand meal has always been a complex social event. Feasts have been used to celebrate significant occasions, to parade rank and hierarchy, and to flatter and influence people. There has always been a theatrical element to the feast as well-from the nude dancers who entertained dinner guests in ancient Greece to the restrained rigors of the Victorian dinner party.
Sir Roy Strong examines this cultural phenomenon with knowledge, wit, and style-beginning with the ninth century B.C., when a Babylonian emperor discreetly invited seventy thousand guests for a ten-day celebration, and ending early in the twentieth century, by which time feasts had become somewhat more modest. Always attuned to how these celebrations mirror the societies that hold them and to the way they reflect shifts in power and class, this beautifully illustrated book offers a lively and illuminating history of grand eating.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
U. K. PRAISE FOR FEAST
"One of Britain's Living National Treasures . . . Strong is an acute observer of social nuance, and never less than a congenial companion through these millennia of convivial excess. Only the puritan-or the seriously dyspeptic-could fail to enjoy this book." -The Independent

"Strong has dug up these gems from what must have been a blizzard of documents and books, but his clear, scholarly eye has focused on the telling detail rather than showy frippery." -The Daily Telegraph

Publishers Weekly
British historian Strong (The Story of Britain) turns his attention to the history of feasting and the grand occasion. Formal eating has historically been a complex way of uniting and dividing people on many social levels. Power, position and the dishes served indicated status or lack of it throughout the centuries, Strong notes. From ancient times to the Victorians, encompassing the Romans, the medieval court, the Renaissance, French pomp and ostentation, food and the ceremony of dining provided a theater for marking marriages, victories, coronations and funerals, or for influencing and impressing. Strong thoroughly tackles the complex mechanisms of this social area of life, imbuing it with atmosphere while conveying enough scholarly detail to make this a comprehensive and authoritative history. He depicts not only the food eaten but also the setting, from the design and development of rooms for dining to the clothes, utensils, people and etiquette. Dividing the volume into eras, Strong describes the emergence of cooks and cookbooks in the Middle Ages, the advent of service la fran aise, the decline of formal eating during the French Revolution (Napoleon ate his dinner in 10 minutes) and the re-emergence of the formal dinner party in Victorian times and service la russe, which we would recognize today. Drawing on contemporary sources and liberally sprinkled with illustrations, the volume fills a gap in social history, and while seeming pompous at times, it's sure to charm and inform. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An entertaining survey of the table, Babylonian to Edwardian, examining the political and social forces that shaped what appeared on it. "The meal and everything connected with it has been and, to a very large extent still is, a vehicle determining status and hierarchy—and also aspiration—no matter what pattern of society prevails," British historian Strong (The Cult of Elizabeth, 2000, etc.) writes. From way back when, conviviality has been a cornerstone of civilization, though in this case keystone may be more apt, as Strong concentrates on upper-crust eating. Each chapter revolves around an archetypal feast, including the Greeks’ banquets ("expressions of equality—equality, that is, between members of a distinct group sharing the same values, and also political power"), the Roman convivia (tense efforts to marry personal frugality with lavish hospitality), and the Dark Ages’ uncouth revels ("the main purpose of barbarian feasting was to get drunk"). For each epoch, Strong has found a work of literature (or a wide selection) that captures its essential tone: the dramatic spectacles of the 13th century, which introduced form and color to the table; the ritualism of Renaissance events at which "super-abundance and luxury [were] the sole indicators of political power and status"; and the loosening of the corsets at 18th-century court dinners, where "the atmosphere was one of high fashion, flirtation, wit, and gossip." In each case, the author carefully draws the connections between what happened at the table and shifts in social power—for instance, "the division between an upper class that ate meat and a peasant class denied it," made explicit "through the imposition ofrestrictive game laws"—while he also pays attention to the evolution of etiquette, furniture, place settings, interior decoration, and attendant amusements. A broad and transporting canvas, as redolent of social nuance and detail as the pieces of cutlery on a Victorian table. (60 b&w illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151007585
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/3/2003
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Sir Roy Strong is a highly regarded historian, columnist, critic, and broadcaster. He is the author of many books, including The Story of Britain and The Spirit of Britain, and is a regular contributor to radio and television. He lives in Herefordshire, England.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Preface
Ch. 1 Convivium : when in Rome ... 3
Ch. 2 Interlude : fast and feast 45
Ch. 3 In the eye of the beholder 73
Ch. 4 Renaissance ritual 129
Ch. 5 From court to cabinet 211
Ch. 6 Dinner is served 269
Postscript : the eclipse of the table? 309
Notes and sources 313
Index 341
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