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Feast: A History of Grand Eating
     

Feast: A History of Grand Eating

by Roy Strong
 

A unique and fascinating history of grand eating by one of the UK’s best-known communicators.

Sharing a meal, in particular a grand one, has always been a complex social mechanism for uniting and dividing people. Such an event could signal peace, a marriage, a victory, an alliance, a coming-of-age, a coronation or a funeral. The feast was a vehicle for

Overview

A unique and fascinating history of grand eating by one of the UK’s best-known communicators.

Sharing a meal, in particular a grand one, has always been a complex social mechanism for uniting and dividing people. Such an event could signal peace, a marriage, a victory, an alliance, a coming-of-age, a coronation or a funeral. The feast was a vehicle for display and ostentation, for the parade of rank and hierarchy, for flattering and influencing people as well as providing a theatre in which to exercise the art of conversation and the display of manners.

In an age that has virtually abolished the shared meal as a central feature of daily living, Feast presents a revelatory picture of a world we have lost. Beautifully illustrated, it traces fashions in food and the etiquette of eating — from the elegance of the Roman villa to the austerity of the monastic refectory, from the splendours of the Renaissance banquet to the rigours of the Victorian dinner party.

Editorial Reviews

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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780224061384
Publisher:
Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date:
11/05/2002
Pages:
400

Meet the Author

Sir Roy Strong was Director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1967 to 1973 and Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1974 to 1987 when he resigned to become a full-time writer, broadcaster and consultant. His previous books include The Story of Britain, The Cult of Elizabeth and The Spirit of Britain.

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