How Fat Detectives Think

  • Sander L. Gilman

Abstract

If there is a moment in Western history when fat seems to become a positive quality in shaping the image of the “fat man,” it is at the close of the nineteenth century. It is here, particularly in the crime fiction of this period, where the body of the fat detective seems to aid his mental processes, his body size and shape seeming to account for his different way of thinking. In his essay on the eating habits of philosopher-scientists throughout the past, Steven Shapin reveals that, at least in the Western world, a powerful myth as early as Marsilio Ficino’s renaissance book on the health of the scholar assumes that such men should have a “lean and hungry look.”1 That all of his examples are men is not incidental. Our collective fantasy of the appropriate body of the male thinker stands at the center of Shapin’s work. I want to ask the corollary question: What happens to the image of the “thinking male” when that male body is fat, even obese? Shapin’s point, of course, is that Sir Isaac Newton, that proverbial thinker who is reputed to have forgotten whether he had eaten his chicken or not, actually died hugely bloated. Equally true is the representation of the body of Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), who was so fat that he had to cut a circle out of his dining table to accommodate his paunch.

Keywords

Obesity Carbohydrate Europe Steam Cocaine 

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Notes

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Copyright information

© Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sander L. Gilman

There are no affiliations available

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