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.
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 hierarchyand also aspirationno 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 equalityequality, 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 powerfor 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)