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December 2012: Feasts & Celebrations in Literature

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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December 2012: Feasts & Celebrations in Literature

Post by boswellbaxter » Sun December 2nd, 2012, 2:11 pm

Ludmilla will be getting us started with this one. Thanks, Ludmilla, and sorry for the delay! December slipped up on me.
Susan Higginbotham
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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Mon December 3rd, 2012, 6:57 pm

I thought Feasts and Celebrations would be a fun topic to close out the year, as we’re often in the middle of planning and preparing for our holiday. There aren’t many rituals or celebrations where food, spirits or herbs of some kind aren’t used, and the rituals and traditions we develop to mark important occasions, such as births, Christenings, rites-of-passage, weddings, anniversaries and funerals, have their own inherent drama.

Are there books you’ve read (and I don’t think this needs to be limited to historical fiction) that have particularly memorable scenes? Some of the most memorable scenes for me are from myths and fairy tales: The wicked fairy makes a dramatic entrance at Sleeping Beauty’s Christening, Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s feast hall. What are some of your favorites?

Have you ever read a book with descriptions of food that made you hungry (or conversely, grossed you out) or with interesting detail on the preparation or tradition being celebrated or superstition driving it? Many of Washington Irving’s stories, (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, e.g.) have mouth-watering descriptions of meals and seasonal bounty. On the dramatic side, I think one of the most unforgettable wedding scenes I’ve ever read was the famous Red Wedding in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

Please share some of yours.

traveldog
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Post by traveldog » Mon December 3rd, 2012, 7:23 pm

Not entirely on topic -- but for some of the dishes you may read about in literature, this web site is interesting:

http://www.godecookery.com/mtrans/mtrans.htm

I was recently trying to come up with a good medieval food name for a dog (don't ask....) and came across this site and some others like it. This is the one I found most interesting because it writes out the original recipe and then the modern-day version. So
"Take Hony, & caste it in a potte tyl it wexe chargeaunt y-now"
becomes
"Take honey, and cook it in a pot until it grows thick"

My children are (with reason) a bit concerned about what they may encounter at this year's Christmas dinner..........

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Nefret
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Post by Nefret » Mon December 3rd, 2012, 7:36 pm

Are there any books that cover a Satunalia celebration?
Into battle we ride with Gods by our side
We are strong and not afraid to die
We have an urge to kill and our lust for blood has to be fulfilled
WE´LL FIGHT TILL THE END! And send our enemies straight to Hell!
- "Into Battle"
{Ensiferum}

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Mon December 3rd, 2012, 8:49 pm

Re Saturnalia:

I haven't read McCullough's Rome series, but I would think there would be descriptions in there of it. I can't remember if Robert Harris describes it in any of his Roman historicals.

Donna Gillespie's The Light Bearer / Lady of the Light books describe (though I can't remember in what kind of detail) Saturnalia. I know she does mention the role reversal between slave and master. This reminds me...

Mika Waltari makes dramatic use of the king-for-a-day celebration when his main character in The Egyptian is traveling among some of the cultures of the Mid-East (I've forgotten what group he was with when this occurred in the book, but it's quite detailed).

Jules Watson is another author I can think of who has written about some of the pagan celebrations, such as Samhain and Beltane, in her Dalriada trilogy. I think Rosemary Sutcliff describes that ritual of the groom having to chase the bride in Sword at Sunset (or am I misremembering that?).

Traveldog, old recipes can be quite fascinating. Especially the much coveted secret family recipe!

annis
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Post by annis » Tue December 4th, 2012, 12:28 am

Posted by Nefret
Are there any books that cover a Satunalia celebration?
Yep, Lindsey Davis' Saturnalia :) Otherwise known as the one with the vegetables (you have to have been there). One of the funniest of the Falco books and a bit of an eye-opener as to just how much Christmas celebrations past and present owe to the Romans!

Which reminds me of John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. Thanks to EC for putting me on to this sumptuous novel set in 17th century England and quite possibly inspired by one of the first of the modern celebrity chefs, Robert May.
Last edited by annis on Tue December 4th, 2012, 12:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Vanessa
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Post by Vanessa » Tue December 4th, 2012, 10:04 am

I really enjoyed The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark set in the 15thC about a boy who is taken on as an apprentice chef at the doge's palace. Loads of food references in this one with a sinister slant.
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Madeleine
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Post by Madeleine » Tue December 4th, 2012, 11:19 am

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson has lots of food descriptions, as the main character starts up a pie business and ends up cooking for the family at the Big House - it has some recipes at the back too.
Currently reading "The Scandal" by Mari Hannah

annis
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Post by annis » Tue December 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm

A memorable wedding feast kicks off Martin Farrell, Janni Howker's stunning dark fable of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands during the 16th century. This powerful and poetic little tale is categorized YA, but in my opinion it's wasted on children :)

“So then. It was a fine grand ceremonious roast-swan-and-venison on the table affair, this wedding of Anne Eliot and Will Armstrong. And all the guests’ weapons stacked like a briar hedge in the rack by the door. Which isn’t to say each man didn’t have a slim knife concealed some place up his sleeve or in a boot top, even in nosegays, among the fair ladies.”

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Wed December 5th, 2012, 6:16 pm

There have been some very notable celebrations and gala affairs that show up quite frequently in historicals. Today, I thought I'd put the spotlight on the Duchess of Richmond's ball which has practically become a standard set piece in many Regency Romances and Napoleonic historicals. Author Tracy Grant wrote this pieceabout the ball for History Hoydens, and I thought this YouTube clipfrom the film Waterloo showing the Gordon Highlanders dancing at the ball was fun to watch.

Some famous books that featured the ball:
Thackeray's Vanity Fair
Heyer's An Infamous Army
Cornwell's Sharpe's Waterloo
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' The Campaigners (part of her Morland Dynasty saga)

What other books have you read that depicted the ball?

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