English and Modern Languages


Master of Arts (MA)


Karen S Prior

Primary Subject Area

Literature, General; Literature, English; History, European


Alexander Pope, Eighteenth Century British Studies, English History, Excess, Food and Luxury, Tobias Smollett


Food: the universal language. As a platform upon which people express their worldviews, food is the most important basic ingredient to both life and social progress. Elegance, gluttony, moderation, and excess are nowhere more evident than at the dinner table; such applications are evidence of the power of food to unite and destroy entire communities. And logic suggests that because food is necessary for survival, the human condition is, in part, reflected in taste. What a person craves is an indication of that person's identity.

But the connection between the aesthetic and economic significance of food is most obvious in eighteenth century England, where the socialization of people in more urban communities prompted culinary reform and radically re-defined taste. Dramatic economic changes introduced England to an overwhelming variety of foreign goods--most of which were foodstuffs or goods necessary for serving food. And from the responses of social critics like Alexander Pope, Alexander Hume, Samuel Johnson, and Tobias Smollett, we see the evidence of a new public identity reflected most clearly in food choices. For this reason, we cannot dismiss the critical study of food, especially during this most revolutionary period of culinary and social history.