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Title: "Hunger is nothing" : the politics of food and famine in the 1840s : mid-nineteenth century fictional narratives of consumption, abnegation and desire
Author: Newberry, Rachael Louise
ISNI:       0000 0001 3442 9313
Awarding Body: Birkbeck College, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2005
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My research explores narratives of hunger, consumption and scarcity through selected canonical fiction written during or just after the 1840s, a period that has come to be known as the 'hungry forties'. I consider Charlotte Brontë's 'Jane Eyre' (1847), 'Shirley' (1848) and 'Villette' (1853); Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Mary Barton' (1848) and 'North and South' (1854); and William Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair' (1847) through the often muted paradigms of food. Drawing on the Malthusian theory of population control, I chart the historical conditions of want under which these authors wrote, exploring the impact that the Irish famine (a key theme in my work) was to have upon the fiction under discussion. In considering the cultural climate of the mid-nineteenth-century, I examine contemporary conduct manuals, texts which offer a contradictory view of the 'shape' and behaviour of women, and also provide both a gendered and class component to themes of food, hunger and the controversial framework of gastronomic pleasure. I then fuse this incongruous socio-economic material with later theoretical and psychoanalytical readings of nineteenth-century hunger in order to explore the ways in which ideas about the alimentary feed into theories of desire. Hunger is a key conceptual and literal problem for utilitarian philosophy and for the Hegelian tradition which includes Marx. When read through feminist psychoanalytical discourses (one of the culminations of this tradition) such as those of Julia Kristeva and Melanie Klein, metaphors of scarcity point to theories of desire and the female quest for knowledge. Thus I read the texts sociologically and also in terms of a culturally situated feminine drive to knowledge, whereby the trope of Eve becomes central. When associated with female protagonists in the mid-nineteenth century novel, the Fall myth illustrates the ways in which hunger can be represented, not only as a literal craving for oral sustenance, but poignantly as a polymorphous discourse of female identity and sexual desire. Through theories of desire and epistemophilia I argue that the Victorian heroine - far from conforming to ideological discourses of femininity which regard woman as the silent, yet subversive 'other' - in fact takes particular pleasure in the consumption of food. Hunger is a major theme in all these novels, yet it is a hunger that is often sated, not solely by food, but by filial affection and the pursuit of knowledge.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available