Food and Words: The Culinary and the Alimentary as Critical Tools: Iris Murdoch‘s The Sea, The Sea, Thomas Bernhard‘s Holzfällen and Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight‟s Children

Henriette Heise

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Food is a material substance, eating a vital every-day physical need. However, food is at the same time a cultural substance and an ingredient of narratives. The present study explores the potential of the culinary and alimentary aspects of food, located in the realms of both the physical and cultural, as tool for critical analysis. In three case studies, this thesis shows that the culinary and alimentary can provide new insights into literary texts. Murdoch‘s The Sea, The Sea (1978), Bernhard‘s Holzfällen (1984) and Rushdie‘s Midnight‟s Children (1981) are part of the literary canon, yet food in these novels has never been read systematically or considered in relation to the concepts of artistic and cultural production implicitly problematized by the culinary and alimentary aspects of the texts. This study sets out to show that food is an excellent critical tool in relation to concepts of art and narration, which it implicitly destabilizes and questions. The study is divided into four chapters, from which a comparative conclusion is drawn. Chapter 1 locates food within literature by presenting its varied conventional uses in fiction and sets up the theoretical framework of the subsequent literary analysis. A selection of relevant theories of or involving food is outlined in this part. These theories look at food from the angles of anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis and philosophy. These are used as critical lenses in the textual analyses of the subsequent three chapters. Chapters 2 to 4 provide critical analyses of the three novels, beginning with The Sea, The Sea, in which food is least structurally central, continuing with Holzfällen, which is structured around a meal, and ending with Midnight‟s Children, wherein the narrator consciously aligns food with narrative, cooking with narration and listening/ reading with eating. The case studies reveal new insights about the chosen texts, as well as illustrating that food is an excellent, often overlooked critical tool for exploring questions of art and narration.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cruickshank, Ruth, Supervisor
  • Vilain, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • Food and literature
  • food and art
  • Salman rushdie
  • Midnight's Children
  • Iris Murdoch
  • The Sea, The Sea
  • Thomas Bernhard
  • Holzfällen
  • Holfaellen
  • literary criticism
  • comparative literature
  • comparative analysis
  • close reading

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