Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, October 10, 2014

Balzac's Omlette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honore de Balzac by Anka Muhlstein (2012)

Not long ago I read and adored Monsieur Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein.  I have of late been making small excursions into the gargantuan  corpus of Honore de Balzac so I knew I wanted to read her book on Balzac, Balzac's Omlette.   The focus is not just on food references in Balzac but on the history of French cooking and restaurant culture.   I was fascinated to learn that the modern restaurant with a multi-choice menu began when 1000s of chefs in the employ of French aristocrats lost their positions after the revolution and needed to find a way to make a living.  Muhlstein provides lots of fascinating details on the French restaurant scene, circa 1832 or so,from the haunts of ultra-rich dandies and jaded aristocrats to the eateries of poor writers and students.   

Balzac is commonly treated as a writer about money and for sure this is correct.   Muhlstein says Balzac was the first fiction writer to deal in detail with the role of food in the life of his characters.  She also takes about food in Dickens, mainly used as indicator of poverty by its lack or low quality, in Zola and in  Proust.  She makes detailed refrences to Balzac's work and I got a number of good reading ideas from the book.

I think you need to read at least five of the major novels of Balzac before reading this very good book.  If you like Balzac and like French food, or wish you had access to some, I think you will like this book.

Balzac's Omlettte is not heavy duty academic writing.  Muhlstein loves French Literature  and has a great depth of culture which she shares in a delightful fashion.

My post on Proust's Library (it has background information on Muhlstein)

Mel u


stujallen said...

mmm , this sounds like a great book ,I love to think about the food mentions in books

Mel u said...

Stujallan. Thanks for your comment . This really as much about French food as about Balzac