Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Until recently, critics have devalued the Victorian cookbook as an object of literary inquiry, regularly dismissing it as “Victoriana”—cultural, anthropological histories detailing bland culinary traditions. A Domesticated Idea: British Women Writers and the Victorian Recipe, 1845-1910 seeks to provide a framework by which we can explore the Victorian cookbook as a literary text appropriated by writers responding to and advocating for cultural, educational, and artistic reform during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Looking specifically at how women used recipes to discuss food preparation, dining, and household management, I argue that British women writers participated in a collaborative tradition, borrowing and sharing knowledge, imagining communities, and generating large bodies of women’s work. Specifically, this dissertation investigates the food writings of three influential nineteenth-century cookbook authors, Eliza Acton (1799-1859), Isabella Beeton (1836-1865), and Elizabeth Robbins Pennell (1855-1936).

Why and how mid-century writers composed, shared, and stylized their food writings coalesced into a complicated relationship. In this project, I focus on one particular manifestation of that relationship, the generative effects of cookbook recipes. This effect explains why women pursued, shared, and composed recipes, appropriating the medium for their own purposes. I argue that because recipes are an instructional form of prose that creates something the reader may eat and regard as delicious (especially if made correctly), it is the recipe’s very nature to engender readers as creators. This is not to say that a recipe or a cookbook are living things, but that the testing and eating from a recipe’s instructions are a living process. In it, a life cycle exists that separates the recipe from other forms of prose. After the initial stages of reading, testing, eating, sharing, and improving upon a recipe, writers respond to new contexts and “reasons-to-be”: they share again, revise again, and continue this cycle. All recipes exist, essentially, in a complex system of collaboration. By inviting us to read and eat, they also invite us to alter



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weltman, Sharon Aronofsky