Fat, Food, and the Science of Diet: Henry Mayhew’s 1851
Henry Mayhew’s rather lengthily titled 1851: Or, The Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sandboys and Family, Who Came Up to London to “Enjoy Themselves,” and to See the Great Exhibition is filled with food. From the first page the novel provides a sense of the Victorian public gorging on empire as the Great Exhibition is stuffed with the gains of imperial expansion. This glut of food becomes manifested in the corpulent body of Cursty Sandboys as his difficult journey to London is littered with displays of his enthusiastic consumption. This paper will, therefore, initially examine the significance of food and its relationship with empirical control.
However, while food acted as a symbol of power with the Great British citizen literally consuming the rewards of invasion, fears simultaneously existed over the prevalent adulteration of everyday items. This conflicting perspective is represented in Mayhew’s Dr Twaddle as he advocates “nourishing food” and a diet subject to analysis to prove it free of dangerous substances. Dr Twaddle’s cautious advice serves to illuminate the attitudes to the newly discovered science of food in the Victorian period as well as a sense of loss of dietary control which will be explored alongside the excesses of consumption depicted in the text.