Dickensian Appetites: The Influence of Dickens’ Monstrous Meals

Today the internet is full of blog posts and newspaper articles which attempt to recreate a ‘traditional’ Dickensian Christmas through the reconstruction of the Christmas meal. While the influence of Dickens’ description of the festive feast, both in the past and in the present, has been thoroughly examined by scholars, this paper will assert that this was not the only impact that Dickens had on his contemporaries’ appetites. Concurrently it will also explore the extent to which alternative Dickensian depictions of food and eating still resonate in our modern day context.

This paper will focus on the monstrous and aberrant appetite, exploring characters such as Quilp, who devours prawns complete with heads, and eggs still wrapped in their shell, in order to illuminate how these depictions of unnatural consumption played into, or created Victorian notions surrounding the diet and, in Quilp’s particular case, the other. It will question whether the horror of eating unnatural foodstuffs as depicted in Dickens’ work still pervades in a similar way today, interrogating both the changes, and conversely the lack of shifts in repellent eating. In the latter section of this paper, it will investigate the unchanging nature and symbolism of Miss Havisham’s disintegrating wedding feast through its transition from the original pages in the Victorian periodicals to film and television depictions. Unearthing the afterlife of these monstrous meals will aim to prove that Dickens’ edible influence did not stop at A Christmas Carol.

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