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Research Article

Culinary Jane Austen

1 January 2008


In the world of domestic intimacy that Jane Austen fashions for us, food, its production, preparation and consumption, appears almost nowhere, at least in the novels themselves. But there is a complex moral economy that surrounds food, and its analysis tells us much of the broader social and economic hierarchies that swirled around the Austen families, as they engaged in a struggle for social recognition and social maintenance. When we take the Austen films into account, this analysis gains sharpness, and makes what is often inferred very clear indeed. This paper examines the social meaning of these culinary habits, first in the letters of Jane Austen herself, then through the novels themselves, and finally through their filmic counterparts. I set these accounts in the wider context of the economy of the late Georgian and Regency period, a larger environment that we often lose sight of. So, using Bourdieu’s theoretical schema as an aide, I interpret these infinitely small practices in the larger frame of social history. I argue that culinary practice is one of the overlooked elements of the Austen account of social distinction, and that a new look at her work, and the films that the work inspired, provides different understandings of her period.


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