Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jack Aubrey Saves the Day, Again

More than a year ago, I wrote about the mysteries of 1815 food in this post. I was, however, an idiot, and I stand corrected, for there is actually a wonderful book from 1997 with descriptions, recipes and a dash of brio much beyond anything I can ever hope to achieve. And it was written by people who are practically my neighbors: a mother-and-daughter team out on Long Island.

What is this wonderful book, you might ask? It is Lobscouse and Spotted Dog (Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels). It answers many of the questions I have long had -- what is Soused Hog's Face exactly? (Exactly what you feared. And I now know how to make it, not that I ever will.) What is toasted cheese? And some I never thought to ask, such as how one might cook a rat, and what the result would taste like (surprisingly delicious, the authors contend).

These are the foods that Jack and Stephen ate. We do not recommend them to the unimaginative or faint of heart: some of them call for exotic, revolting, or fearfully expensive ingredients; many take upwards of a week to make; most of them cheerfully violate all the nutritional tenets of the health-conscious '90s. They are all, however, practical and authentic recipes, tested to our satisfaction (and to the detriment of our waistlines) in our own kitchens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Time Passages

The premise of my novel, such as it is, is that Rachel Falk and Liam Ó Fionnmhacháin, respectively an M.D. and an English professor, travel back in time from 2089 to meet Jane Austen.

But I haven't spent a huge amount of time thinking about the physics problems posed by time travel or why does it have to be 2089, exactly, as opposed to 2809?

Hmm. Because you begin where you are. One has to start somewhere. Right now I am stranded in Chapter 19, which I have started at least six times. I keep writing more of it, as I commute, waiting underground trapped in the 1/ 2/3 IRT lines like someone in Dante's Inferno, but it is not adding up. I know where I need to go, but not how to get there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Politically Incorrect Thought for the Day

Elizabeth Jenkins in 1938 (and subsequent later editions) wrote about how different the world of Jane Austen's was from our own. It was on the one hand much more beautiful ("plain elegance, uncompromising good taste, surrounded them with almost monotonous completeness") and on the other much more cruel ("But if we are in danger of breaking our hearts over this spirit of beauty which has vanished from the earth, it is also our duty to recall there existed with it, ignored or tolerated, a state of squalor and wretchedness which, to this relatively humane and hygienic age, is nearly as difficult to visualize as its heavenly obverse.")

And then she considers the implications of this:

That there was no cheap, sophisticated entertainment for the masses was part of a state of things in which thousands and thousands of people were less comfortable, less well dressed, less entertained, less informed than they are today; but it also meant that there was not a vast majority which by its very numbers imposed its ideas, its prepossessions and tastes on the world in which the educated person must now exist; the lower middle class, as it is the most considerable among consumers, dictates the canons of a taste which, by its preponderating bulk, has corrupted and destroyed the standards of language, of architecture, of entertainment and literature which once prevailed. This development has brought in its train a great increase in human happiness , and it has annihilated something so precious that its very absence has taken away from us the power to estimate its value. One may find an illustration of our gain and loss in the bear-ward who was Tony Lumpkin's companion at The Three Pigeons; he led a dancing bear, something of which we hate to think; but the tunes to which it danced were Dr. Arne's "Water Parted" and Handel's minuet from "Ariadne."