The representation of food in modern literature: Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad

Salmons, Kim (2015) The representation of food in modern literature: Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad. PhD thesis, St Mary's University / University of Surrey.

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Abstract

This thesis will examine the representation of food in the works of Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad to demonstrate how food is used to chart the progress of modernity from the beginning of the nineteenth century through the continuing emergence of capitalism and consumerism to the first decade of the twentieth century when the stability of the British Empire was being questioned. Food becomes the measure of how modern society responded to new innovations in transport, technology and the way in which British society viewed both itself and the colonies from which much of its food was being imported. As a cultural language, traditions and rituals of food solidified notions of what it meant to be civilized but when this cultural language was fused with the food of the Other, the definitions of ‘civilized’ and ‘savage’ became increasingly difficult to define. This thesis begins with Section One which introduces the scope and approach of my research. The section is broken into three chapters: the first serves as an introduction considering Conrad’s use of a family anecdote to examine how he borrows from real life experiences while blending fact and fiction to suit his purposes as an author. Chapter two is an analysis of realism, focussing on nineteenth-century debates about its use in the novel and investigating how Hardy and Conrad viewed the process of novel writing. This chapter will also briefly examine food in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations as an example of a traditional realist novel and consider how its handling of food differs from that of Hardy and Conrad’s Modern approach. To conclude, I have provided an overview of the critical reception of these two authors. Finally, to signal my broadly historicist approach, chapter three outlines the changing place of food within British society through the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. I have chosen to focus my study on the works of Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad because, in their novels, these authors span this crucial historical period and between them reflect the changing face of the national food-producing landscape, in Hardy’s case, and the international world which increasingly became the source of imported food, in Conrad’s case. These authors necessarily respond to the key methodologies that provide the frame of reference for this thesis, namely those of history, anthropology, sociology and politics. By narrowing the focus to just two authors, it is possible to consider in greater depth the production, consumption, psychological impact and metaphorical range of food in literature. Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad not only sit well chronologically – Hardy published his last novel Jude the Obscure in 1895, the same year that Conrad published his first, Almayer’s Folly – but also thematically: where Hardy concentrates on the effects of modernity at a national level, Conrad’s perspective is international. Where Hardy laments the decline in the production of food in England and its impact on gender, the countryside and tradition, Conrad considers the impact of colonial expansion at a time when the morality of the Imperial mission was under scrutiny. Food plays an inherent role in this engagement with the Other, posing questions about morality, the rise of globalization, issues of identity, political ideology and the growing power of capitalism. Both Hardy and Conrad respond to the two great social truths about British life during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries: the great shift of population from the countryside to the cities and anxieties about the decline of the British Empire. Hardy’s novels provide a survey of the changing face of nineteenth-century Britain through the politics of food production; while, drawing upon twenty years in the merchant navy, Conrad brings the colonial world, the world of Greater Britain, into the English novel, and with it the food of the outer world. Selecting these two particular authors enables an investigation into the pervasiveness of food in Modern fiction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: 800 Literature & rhetoric > 823 English fiction
School/Department: School of Arts and Humanities
Depositing User: Jonathan Lucas
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2015 15:49
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:35
URI: http://research.stmarys.ac.uk/id/eprint/912

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