Food and Seduction

Food and sex have always been linked: from romantic meals to the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of certain foods – according to an article in The Independent these include asparagus, celery and pomegranate: see here  

And it is the same in literature.  One of the most famous examples comes in Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, Tom Jones, in which the protagonist and Mrs Waters, an older woman whom he has saved from the clutches of a villain, sit down to eat dinner in an inn.  Whilst Mrs Waters has only eyes for Tom and tries her utmost to seduce him, Tom is hungry and needs to eat before he will succumb.  The humour is increased by the mock-epic language Fielding uses, presenting the seduction as a battle:

First, from two lovely blue eyes, whose bright orbs flashed lightning at their discharge, flew forth two pointed ogles.  But happily for our heroe, hit only a vast piece of beef which he was then conveying into his plate, and harmless spent their force.  The fair warrior perceived their miscarriage, and immediately from her fair bosom drew forth a deadly sigh.  A sigh, which none could have heard unmoved, and which was sufficient at once to have swept off a dozen beaus; so soft, so sweet, so tender, that the insinuating air must have found its subtle way to the heart of our heroe, had it not luckily been driven from his ears by the coarse bubbling of some bottled ale, which at that time he was pouring forth.  
(Book IX, Chapter 5)

Luckily for Mrs Waters, Tom soon finishes his meal and can appreciate the efforts she is making:

This smile our heroe received full in his eyes, and was immediately staggered with its force.
(Book IX, Chapter 5)

In Tony  Richardson’s 1963 film of Fielding’s novel the scene is transformed into a masterpiece of visual seduction with both characters eating their way – in silence, apart from the occasional slurp or munch – through a range of aphrodisiac foods including lobsters, oysters and pears – you can access the clip here.

A darker, more menacing seduction scene involving food takes place in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the novel I wrote about in my last post.  The scene comes early in the novel when Tess goes to visit the wealthy Alec d’Urberville and his mother, whom her parents believe (mistakenly) to be their relatives, to request financial assistance when her family fall on hard times.  The naive, beautiful Tess is met by the charming Alec who will later prove her downfall when he sleeps with her, leading to her conceiving an illegitimate child and being labelled as a ‘fallen woman’ by the moralising and puritanical late Victorian society in which she lives.

This tragedy is still in the future when Tess and Alec first meet.  But the clues are there.  Hardy presents Alec as a diabolical figure, tempting Tess with fruit just as the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

When Tess arrives at the house Alec is inside an ornamental tent that has been erected on the lawn.  As she stands on the driveway, ‘a figure came forth from the dark triangular door of the tent,’  Alec’s emergence from darkness symbolising his evil intentions.  After an initial conversation Alec suggests to Tess that they walk around the grounds of the house and, when they approach the fruit-garden he asks her if she likes strawberries.  When she says she does, he begins giving them to her, initially dropping them into her hand, but then feeding them straight into her mouth, a clearly sexual gesture which distresses Tess but to which she succumbs:

D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the ‘British Queen’ variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
‘No – no!’ she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips.  ‘I would rather take it in my own hand.’
‘Nonsense!’ he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.
(Phase the First, Chapter V)

Whilst the reader can see what is going on, the narrator notes that Tess has no idea that behind the smoke emanating from Alec’s cigarette ‘sat the “tragic mischief” of her drama‘.  The strawberries are only the starting point.

Whilst strawberries are delicious in their own right – the sweeter ones not even needing any additional sugar or cream – lest the reader thinks it a cop-out for me just to suggest a bowl of strawberries to accompany my musings on this episode, my next post will feature a recipe involving strawberries fit to seduce!

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