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Bleak Food: William Wilde, Famine and Gastronomy

O'Connell, Helen

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Gastronomy might appear to be an unlikely context for any consideration of William Wilde’s well-known 1854 essay, “the Food of the Irish.” After all, that essay is primarily preoccupied by the recent Famine and the presumed absence of any culinary skill amongst the pre-Famine population. The essay itself depicts the pre-Famine Irish as stubbornly subsisting on a monotonous and restrictive diet of potatoes in ways that supposedly typify a generally backward condition. However, gastronomy is a crucial context for understanding Wilde’s reflections on food and famine in the 1850s. Through allusion to a range of French and english gastronomic texts, Wilde suggests that the existence in Ireland of elaborate and developed culinary techniques—of gastronomy—would have provided an effective defence against the threat of Famine. Fully acknowledging that the potato-eating poor of the pre-Famine period were joyful and strong in a manner that would be impossible in post-Famine dietary conditions, Wilde links nourishment with backwardness. by exploring Wilde’s “The Food of the Irish” in the context of his work on the 1851 Census, it becomes apparent that progress gets positively equated in his work with a malnourishing gastronomy and perpetual dissatisfaction.


O'Connell, H. (2018). Bleak Food: William Wilde, Famine and Gastronomy. Canadian journal of Irish studies, 41, 156-178.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 14, 2017
Online Publication Date May 20, 2018
Publication Date May 20, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Nov 20, 2018
Journal The Canadian journal of Irish studies
Print ISSN 0703-1459
Publisher Canadian Association for Irish Studies
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Pages 156-178
Publisher URL


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