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Austerity Measures: Presenting Food in British Writing, 1939-1954

Rationing measures in force in the United Kingdom from the beginning of the Second World War in December of 1939 until July of 1954 ostensibly ensured an egalitarian access to food and resulted in a general levelling-up of standards of nutrition in the general populace. The restrictions and shortages that plagued larders and plates, however, meant that variety and stability became preoccupations for the British public on the home front. Against the backdrop of socially levelling austerity measures, popular writers used the public’s food consciousness to explore anxieties surrounding the demarcation and performance of identities challenged by the threats to Britain’s physical and ideological borders. Food is an invaluable lens through which to examine the shaping of identity during a period that challenged food and ideological security in Britain, particularly with respect to the performance of socioeconomic class differences, national identity and gender binaries. Largely structured by Pierre Bourdieu’s examination of consumption habits as an articulation of class and gender in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979), this thesis will examine the ways in which food representation serves as a fulcrum on which social and economic class identities pivot in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1948) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and the acute awareness of the post-war custodianship of a damaged Britain. Secondly, it will demonstrate the ways in which austerity cookery literature not only upsets and recodifies national identity as constructed by quotidian consumption habits, but also the problematic configuration of duty to ahedonistic rationing as the housewife’s moral obligation to the nation. Expanding on this, it will consider the reconfiguration of Britain’s post-Empire relationship to the world and the enduring legacy of culinary creolisation as demonstrated in Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume’s recipe for Poulet Reign Elizabeth as served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and the claim to the sensual rewards of gastronomy in Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950). Finally, it will examine the ways in which Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts (1941) and Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence (1953) critique and subvert ways in which a mind-body duality structures the notions of gendered appetites, and the authors’ appetites for a transcendence of the fascism of the patriarchy undergirding the twentieth century. While the austerity years are often perceived as representing a dearth of culinary culture in Britain, it is better appreciated as a period of rich innovation and adaptation, where the yearning for security and identity forged complex texts ambivalent about Britain’s past, present and future.
Type of thesis
Taylor, D. A. (2016). Austerity Measures: Presenting Food in British Writing, 1939-1954 (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10994
University of Waikato
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