Art to Table

The Power of Aesthetics in Women’s Cookbooks of the Belle Époque

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Samantha Presnal New York University

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Throughout much of the nineteenth century, men enjoyed hegemony in the French culinary arts, an entitlement enshrined in the books they wrote about cooking and gastronomy. The Belle Époque brought the first challenge to this absolute authority with the publication and popularization of cookbooks written for women, by women. Through the close reading of a selected corpus from the period, this article considers the implications of this shift in authorship. Women cookbook writers infused aesthetic discourse and principles into both the content and style of their texts. While male chefs had also drawn parallels between the culinary arts and the fine arts in order to augment their professional status, female authors evoked this relationship in as well as on di?erent terms. I argue that women cookbook writers engaged with aesthetic theory in a way that legitimized the labor of the private sphere and contested normative ideas about the inferiority of the feminine.

Contributor Notes

Samantha Presnal is a doctoral candidate in French and French studies at New York University. Her dissertation explores new kinds of culinary instruction for children and young women during the early decades of the Third Republic and queries how these forums and forms of domestic cooking were fed by social anxieties but also societal aspirations.

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