Wednesday, 5 February 2014

John Clare's pastoral plea

Taking a more literary approach for this entry I thought John Clare's sonnet 'The Barn Door is Open' (ND) would offer an interesting starting point and contrast to other literary portrayals of food I will be looking at in the coming weeks. I came across Clare's sonnet a few years ago and looking at it with fresh eyes, it surprises me how food is used to create a socio-political plea for its readers. Clare maps out to readers the connection between the original source of food and the dish that ends up on a plate ready to be eaten, without interference of advancements in agricultural technology: 

The barn door is open and ready to winnow,
The woodman is reading and getting his dinner
And calls to the maiden with little to say
Who takes the hot dinner and hurries away
The hen’s in the dust and the hogs in the dirt,
The mower is busy and stripped in his shirt,
The wagon is empty and ready to start,
The ploughman is merry and drinking his quart,
The men are at work and the schoolboy at play,
The maid’s in the meadow a-making the hay;
The ducks are a feeding and running about,
The hogs are a-noising and try to get out;
The dog’s at his bone and the ass at his tether,
And cows in the pasture all feeding together.

Edward Ladell's
Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches
Within the opening line Clare’s speaker opens the barn door to the working pastoral world both within the poem and to his readers. Establishing the rural working ideal and its interesting relationship with food, Clare preserves the essence of rural life and its vital relationship with nature; dismissing the growing influence of industrialisation in the process. The speaker creates a symbiotic relationship between mankind and nature through the rhyme scheme of the sonnet. Using rhyming couplets, readers are shown the correlation between tending to the land and consuming its fertile rewards.  The grain being prepared to be undergo the “winnow” (1) process - where a current of air is blown through grain in order to remove the chaff, the protective casing of cereal grain - ultimately leads to the woodman “getting his dinner” (2). Victorian artwork can be used to support this reading, Edward Ladell's Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches (above). The lusciously detailed and tempting diversity of fruit within Ladell's oil canvas painting establishes a utopian sense of plenty that can be found from sourcing and nurturing natural resources.

Village Scene with Figures before a Stable by Edward Masters 
However, the relationship of human characters with food in the poem seems to be more complex than just simply feeding off natural resources. The poem lacks specificity as the woodman consumes “dinner” (2) and the ploughman drinks from “his quart” (8). These vague terms could be used to describe any number of meals or drinks, which I think is Clare’s point. For Clare I believe the finished, plated dish is slightly irrelevant, as emphasis is placed more on the pastoral production of food. The pastoral scene in Edward Masters Village Scene with Figures before a Stable visually represents the bustle of activity of Clare's sonnet. The many figures interact with different aspects of nature, echoing the relationship between mankind and nature which is seen in Clare's poem.

Works Cited: 
Clare, John. "Sonnet: The Barn Door is Open." Ed. Thornton, R. K. R. John Clare. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1997. 7-8. Print.

Ladell, E. “Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches” (1858). Victorian British Painting < => Date accessed 24/02/2014.
Masters, E. “Village Scene with figures before a Stable” ( ) Victorian British Painting < => Date accessed 24/02/2014.

Sunday, 2 February 2014


“THE END IS NEAR, SO... EAT CAKE! 2012, Oil Spills, Pending War, Satanic Rituals, Meteorites, Lustful Indulgences. The manner may be up for discussion, but most people feel that the end is coming soon. If you are feeling anxious about the approaching apocalypse, just laugh in the face of doom, face your fears mouth first, and bake the appropriate cake” 

Shannon O'Malley's disturbingly comic Apocalypse Cakes - Recipes for the End, guides readers through the most suitable cake for 31 different potential events that could lead to the end of the world. The blurb of the text, seen above, sets up the deeply political tones of the book under the guise of a cookbook. O’Malley appeals to a genre that has seen a burst of popularity in the last few years, basing the book on a range of dystopian situations. It is through these apocalyptic events that O’Malley is able to discuss and evaluate the potential shortcomings of contemporary society.

However, O’Malley was certainly not the first author who uses cookbooks or food writing in general for social commentary and transformation. Victorian literature often depicted the eating conventions of spheres of society: women, vegetarians and rural food production to name but a few. Examples can also be found as early as classical Greek epic, as food is directly linked to civilisation and used as a signifier for gentility (or the lack of!).

With this blog I aim to demonstrate the ways in which food writing can be used to construct a moral imperative for readers to digest – I hope you enjoy the feast!

Works Cited:
O'Malley, Shannon. Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. London: Running Press , 2011. Print.