Gourmand or Glutton? Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Representations of the Corpulent in a Climate of Want

  • Rachael Newberry


Through a close engagement with William Thackeray’s creation Jos Sedley in Vanity Fair, Newberry considers the excessively consuming body as an alternative reflection of hunger that has most often been addressed through the Victorian female body. Whilst Jos epitomizes the corpulent, excessive Victorian (male) body, his appetite belies a profound alienation from human connection and the surrounding social body that is as much a self-obliterating endeavour as the act of starvation. Furthermore, through his role as colonial nabob, individual habits of gluttony place into relief larger social patterns of consumption, notably imperialist consumption of colonial resources. Jos’s overfed body (literally) figures the ‘body politic’ of imperial Britain, thus illuminating facets of the consuming body as an authentic reflection of the (disordered) social body.

Works Cited

  1. Beeton, Isabella. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. London: SO Beeton, 1859.Google Scholar
  2. Bowen, H.V. The Business of Empire. The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756–1833. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  3. Brantlinger, Patrick. Rule of Darkness. British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–1914. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988.Google Scholar
  4. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York and London: Alfred A Knopf, [1847] 1991.Google Scholar
  5. Burnett, John. Plenty and Want. A social history of diet in England from 1815 to the present day. London: Scolar Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  6. Calder, Jenni. Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.Google Scholar
  7. Dever, Carolyn. Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Google Scholar
  8. Ellmann, Maud. The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment. London: Virago Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  9. Farrar, Mrs John. The Young Lady’s Friend. New York: Samuel S and William Wood, 1845.Google Scholar
  10. Freud, Sigmund. The Complete Psychological Works. London: Vintage, 2001.Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, Pamela K. Disease, Desire, and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  12. Gilbert, Sandra and Gubar, Susan. The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  13. Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A feminist introduction. London: Routledge, 1990.Google Scholar
  14. Guest, Kristen. Eating their Words. Cannibalilsm and the boundaries of cultural identity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  15. Hegel, GWF. trans. AV Miller. Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  16. Houston, Gail Turley. Consuming Fictions. Gender, Class, and Hunger in Dickens’s Novels. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  17. Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters. Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492–1797. London and New York: Methuen, 1986.Google Scholar
  18. Irigaray, Luce. trans. Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke. This Sex Which Is Not One. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  19. Kelleher, Margaret. The Feminization of Famine. Cork: Cork University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  20. Kilgour, Maggie. From Communism to Cannibalism. An Anatomy of Metaphors of Incorporation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.Google Scholar
  21. Klein, Melanie. Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921–1945. London: The Hogarth Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  22. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  23. Lindner, Christoph. ‘Thackeray’s Gourmand: Carnivals of Consumption in Vanity Fair’, Modern Philology, 99 (4): 564–581, 2002.Google Scholar
  24. Marx, Karl. Capital. London: J M Dent and Sons Ltd., 1933.Google Scholar
  25. Miller, Andrew. Novels behind glass. Commodity culture and Victorian narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  26. Morey Norton, Sandy. ‘The Ex-Collector of Boggley-Woolah: Colonialism in the Empire of Vanity Fair’, Narrative, 1 (2): 124–137, 1993.Google Scholar
  27. Poovey, Mary. Making a Social Body. British Cultural Formation 1830–1864. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  28. Sandford, Mrs John. Woman, in Her Social and Domestic Character. London: Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1831.Google Scholar
  29. Sceats, Sarah. Food, Consumption and the Body in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  30. Scofield, Mary Anne, ed. Cooking by the Book. Food in Literature and Culture. Ohio: Bowling Green University, 1989.Google Scholar
  31. Sen, Sambudha. ‘Bleak House, Vanity Fair, and the Making of an Urban Aesthetic’, Nineteenth Century Literature, 54 (4): 480–502, 2000.Google Scholar
  32. Smith, Joan. Hungry for You: From Cannibalism to Seduction – A Book of Food. London: Vintage, 1997.Google Scholar
  33. Thackeray, William. Vanity Fair. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, [1847] 1990.Google Scholar
  34. Thackeray, William, from ‘On a Peal of Bells.’ In The Roundabout Papers. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1869.Google Scholar
  35. Van Ghent, Dorothy. The English Novel: Form and function. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1953.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachael Newberry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Theater and PerformanceGoldsmiths College, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations