Amy Patterson, books, Cassandra Austen, Charlotte Luttrell, cream cheese, Emma, Endeavour Press, Fiction, food, food in literature, Hambledon Press, housekeeping, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Books, Lesley Castle, literature, Maggie Lane, Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris, syllabub, writing
Jane Austen rarely uses similes or metaphors, but when she does, they’re memorable ones. In Jane Austen and Food, Maggie Lane reminds us of one of the most famous lines in Emma – “it darted through her with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry nobody but herself” – and draws our attention to the two food-related similes in Lesley Castle. Charlotte Luttrell describes her sister’s face as “White as a Whipt Syllabub,” and maintains that she herself is “as cool as a Cream-cheese.”
Where else does Austen mention cream cheese? In Mansfield Park, of course: “There, Fanny,” says Mrs. Norris, “you shall carry that parcel for me; take great care of it: do not let it fall; it is a cream cheese, just like the excellent one we had at dinner. Nothing would satisfy that good old Mrs. Whitaker, but my taking one of the cheeses. I stood out as long as I could, till the tears almost came into her eyes, and I knew it was just the sort that my sister would be delighted with. That Mrs. Whitaker is a treasure!”
Jane Austen and Food was first published by The Hambledon Press in 1995 and is now available as an e-book from Endeavour Press. You can read my review of this fascinating book at Austenprose.com:
Is it easier or harder to write if you’re also responsible for feeding and looking after your family? “Composition seems to me impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1816, after a period in which she managed the household at Chawton Cottage in Cassandra’s absence. Fortunately for Jane – and for us, as readers of her fiction – most of the time it was Cassandra who filled this role, freeing Jane to write.
And if you ever happen to forget where to find these references to cream cheese, you can always find them again in Maggie Lane’s helpful and entertaining “Index of Food and Drink in Jane Austen’s Fiction.” A few of the other things you’ll find there: apple dumplings, arrowroot, curry, custard, gooseberry tart, pigeon-pie, turnip, and venison pasty. Tea appears more often than coffee, not surprisingly, and wine more often than beer. One of the many charming details Lane discusses is the fact that “the only friendly exchange of a recipe in any of the novels takes place between two men, when Mr Elton jots down (with the bit of pencil which Harriet later spirits away) instructions for making spruce beer given by Mr Knightley.”
If you haven’t yet seen the hilarious reference to cream cheese in the comic strip advertisement from Jane Austen Books, you can see it here, in my interview with Amy Patterson.