Anka Muhlstein on Food, Balzac and Flaubert

Vauquer Boarding House

BalzacsOmeletteSentimentalEduWhen he is invited to dinner at Arnoux’s house, Frédéric, the hero of A Sentimental Education, “had to choose between ten mustards. He ate daspachio, curry, ginger, blackbirds from Corsica, lasagna from Rome.” Arnoux, a porcelain manufacturer, is not in possession of a great fortune but prides himself on being a good host. He “cultivated all the mail coach drivers to secure foodstuffs, and had connections with cooks in grand houses, who gave him recipes for sauces.” Like many Parisians, he has no hesitation in spending a great deal of money both at home and in restaurants. The tyranny of the palate has never been described; as a necessity of life it escapes the criticism of literature; yet no one imagines how many have been ruined by the table. The luxury of the table is indeed, in a sense, the courtesan’s one competitor in Paris,” says Balzac in Cousin…

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