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UBC Theses and Dissertations

British cookbooks and the transformation of taste 1660-1760 MacWilliam, Erin Louise Frances


In this dissertation, I investigate the ways in which cookbooks published in Britain between 1660 and 1760 helped to shape conceptions of physical and aesthetic taste. I propose that in the early and mid-eighteenth century aesthetics and cookery were neither parallel phenomena nor completely distinct from each other, but public discourses that intersected and changed over time. These intersections helped to define many of the modern notions of subjectivity, professionalism, and disciplinarity with which we are familiar today. The central works I consider are the cookbooks of Hannah Woolley, Mary Kettilby, Hannah Glasse, Ann Cook, and Martha Bradley. Examined within the background of an expanding print culture, these texts show that cookery was a multifaceted and critical form of writing. Following Jürgen Habermas' theory of the conceptual zones of the eighteenth-century, I argue that cookbooks were crucially and self-consciously aware of the porous nature of the intimate, private, and public spheres in which they circulated and that this awareness determined the way cookbooks constructed and critiqued ideas of taste. Female cookery authors were engaged with similar concerns around tasting, judgment, and subjectivity as philosophers like Locke, Shaftesbury, Hume, and Kames. I begin with the origins of the printed cookbook, demonstrating how early examples of the genre looked back to an embedded and indistinct domestic realm, while at the same time anticipating the public private division reinforced by print. I then uncover the ways in which female cookery book authors, unlike their male contemporaries, took up empiricist philosophy in order to construct taste as a sensory experience of judging subjects, before examining how this construction of taste was interpreted as transgressing boundaries of gender and privacy. In my final chapter, I show how taste transforms from an embodied, local phenomenon, to one that is public and critically engaged, and ultimately how taste in cookery is disciplined out of the public sphere, becoming linked only with the reproduction of food.

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