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Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Cassie Childs, University of South Florida

My project for Intertextual Networks involves creating a digital exhibit that examines the intertextuality between Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley (1696), food history, archival manuscripts, and Manley’s later writing, both fiction and non-fiction. The project will develop in two stages: the first phase will engage with material history by annotating the primary text with archival images from eighteenth-century recipe books and botanical guides; the second will examine the textual history of Manley’s letters, charting the influence of her letters on her later social and political fictions.

From her trip to Exeter in 1694, Manley composed a series of eight letters to “J.H.,” initially published without her permission as Letters by Mrs Manley, which were, by her request, reissued by Edmund Curll after her death in 1725 as A Stage-Coach Journey to Exeter. Describing the Humours on the Road, with the Characters and Adventures of the Company. This understudied text is ripe for an exploration of layered intertextuality and potentially valuable for exploring new forms of TEI markup. My project will act as a test case for the kinds of text encoding available when intertextual readings cross genres and disciplines.

The first phase of this project builds on research questions I have already addressed in my book chapter on Manley’s letters: what is the interplay between food history and women-authored travel writing? what is the relationship between food and place? I propose a digital exhibit that combines archival images and botanical illustrations that will highlight food references made by Manley and that connect to eighteenth-century recipe books. A research moment at the New York Public Library (NYPL) best illustrates the ways manuscripts will help to build the exhibit.

In Letter IV Manley shares a basin of heart cherries with a fellow woman traveler, prompting a moment of commensality. In an initial reading of this moment I wondered about the significance of the cherries themselves: were cherries in season? did they connate a sense of hospitality? were they a popular fruit? Digging in the archives at the NYPL, I hoped to unearth answers to these questions that would inform and change the scope of my project. In the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I perused volumes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century archival materials primarily from the NYPL’s Whitney Cookery Collection, whose holdings contain fifteen English manuscripts related to cookery and medicinal recipes and remedies. The aim had been to find a recipe that included cherries or a description of their popularity in the eighteenth century, but the discovery was much more illuminating.

From Mary Davies (1684) and Lady Anne Morton’s recipes “to dry Cheries,” “to preserve Cheries,” and “Marmollatt off Cheries,” to Elizabeth Blackwell’s illustrated plates on “Red Winter Cherries” (Plate 161), “Red Cherry” (Plate 449), and “The Black Cherry” (Plate 425) from A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739) to John Parkinson’s section titled “Cerafus, The Cherry tree” (570-575) in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (reprinted from the 1629 edition. 1904.) an intersection of food history and literary women’s history emerged.

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo taken from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo of Plate 449, “Red Cherry,” from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
What became visible was a material and cultural history that connected cherries to women-authored medicinal handbooks, recipes books, and botanical guides to women-authored texts—a spatial and thematic intertextual network between women, food, and archival materials. I had anticipated finding a single cherry recipe or one historical reference to note and instead I discovered these archival materials represented a banquet themselves—a representation not only of food history, but also a material representation of the way food and writer and text interconnect. The cherry, a single food item, shows up in a wide range of texts used for a variety of purposes by a wide spectrum of women, connecting eighteenth-century women in different places and resulting in a shared cultural history centered on food.

The cherry reference is only one of many food moments that appear in Manley’s letters. Other references are literal food references, such as eating mutton, and others are figurative, like a “feast for the mind.” For the digital exhibit I will author for Women Writers in Context, the reader will encounter images from manuscripts, like the above, that show images of cookery and medicinal recipes alongside the primary text. References to food will be highlighted and will be accompanied by eighteenth-century receipts and a brief food history. Eventually, I would also like to discover whether or not there are any food references that appear across genres and authors. I am inclined to think that with the many cherry recipes I unearthed that Manley may be one of many women authors that include cherries in their texts.

I hope to visually represent the ways food functions simultaneously as concrete, (intended for consumption), as a symbol (used as a literary topic and device), and as historical and cultural markers of identity. Such an exhibit may offer opportunities to better understand and criticize the nation and Manley’s own identity within the nation, but also lends itself to questions of auto-intertextuality. For instance, Manley’s Adventures of Rivella contains several scenes of herself and others at meals and references to conversations after meals. I anticipate annotating the food moments in the epistolary genre while also finding interconnections across various texts written by Manley.

The second phase of this project will allow me to explore research questions related to Manley’s own self-intertextuality. Not only are there possible intertextual patterns to other fiction and non-fiction travel narratives from the eighteenth century, but I also argue that Manley may have used her early letters as fodder for her later scandal fictions. Most of Manley’s letters include short tales told by fellow travelers; these stories interrupt her own narrative and contain possible allusions and references to her later, more popular writing. Pursuing this research may lead to interesting TEI markup questions about auto-intertextuality among multiple genres by a single author, and could offer an encoding of quotations and citations within Manley’s own oeuvre and that of secret histories and letters in general.

I have several autobiographical questions I would like to pursue. At what point in Manley’s life were her works written as Tory propaganda? How might I be able to determine something that seems like Tory propaganda in her writing? Manley’s own childhood was steeped in political discourse and I wonder how this influence might appear across texts.

I imagine I will seek connections and write annotations for names, places, food, and repeated words and phrases. For example, a name key could offer us the chance to search for the names of fictional figures (and in Manley’s case there are also historical figures and individuals) that (re)appear. In Letter II, for instance, Manley tells the story of a fop that she meets, and I am curious if this fop archetype appears (either by name or through similar characteristics) in her later work. Is the fop figure likely to appear in multiple Manley texts? I have also thought that plot lines might carry over into multiple Manley texts. I wonder if she uses similar phrases or terms to describe, say, the moment a lover is jilted. These initial curiosities, I believe, have potential and will eventually lead me to discover whether or not my hypothesis regarding Manley’s own auto-intertextuality is correct.

With the first phase of this digital exhibit, I aim to demonstrate that women’s connections to food are much more complex than simply thinking of women’s bodies as fat or thin, young or old, and beautiful or ugly, and that women’s relationship to food is not singularly about feeding others or cooking in the kitchen. Rather, food and consumption shape identities, both personal and national, signify tastes, individually and culturally, and provide insights into lived experiences. Food language, food practices, and food tastes give us a way of knowing women’s own language and their voices, and it allows scholars of the eighteenth century to reconsider the landscape of women’s writing as culturally and historically relevant. The second phase, with potential for auto-intertextuality, positions Manley, already a rich part of eighteenth-century scholarship, as fuller and more interconnected than previously discussed. These interconnections I hope will reflect a shared experience of food, place, and language written on the page for our consumption, a literary and historical feast for our pleasure.