Satiric models for Charles Lamb's "a dissertation upon roast pig"

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Abstract

Though hitherto overlooked in social histories of cookery, Charles Lamb's essay approaches its subject through the new literary-culinary writing that appeared with European romanticism. Although Lamb's persona, Elia, never hesitates to express everywhere his idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, in "Roast Pig" he passes beyond eccentricity to become a morally transgressive figure. Lamb's implicit swipe at the vegetarians and his borrowings from modern and classical sources, such as Swift's "Modest Proposal" and the recipes or scenes in Apicius and Petronius, suggest that he undoubtedly expected his readers to recognize the false notes of excess, vanity, and even infant cannibalism revealed by Elia's appetite. The Latin satura-ae denotes a mélange, either literally a dish of various ingredients or, etymologically, the Roman invention of the satiric genre itself, that loose mixing of a variety of literary types. Fittingly, the pig-platters of Trimalchio and Elia thus turn back upon both the festival of the Saturnalia and, under the aegis of Saturn's misrule, upon the zeugmatic nature of satire itself. Elia's final reference to his schooldays at St. Omer's actually ties his gluttony to Guy Fawkes' scheme of exploding king, lords, and commons. By bursting pretensions and snobbery, Lamb's essay thus self-reflexively presents itself as a figurative equivalent to the "superhuman plot" of Fawkes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-27+215
JournalNineteenth Century Prose
Volume33
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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