Dining Room Detectives: Analysing Food in the Novels of Agatha Christie
In the structuralist understanding as proposed by John G. Cawelti, a classical detective novel is defined as a formula which contains prescribed elements and develops in a predefined, ritualistic manner. When described in this way, the crime fiction formula very closely resembles a recipe: when one cooks, they also add prescribed ingredients in a predefined way in order to produce the final dish.
This surprising parallel serves as the starting point for this book’s analysis of classical detective novels by Agatha Christie. Here, a structuralist approach to Golden Age crime fiction is complemented by methodology developed in the field of food studies in order to demonstrate the twofold role that food plays in Christie’s novels: namely, its function as an element of the formula – a literary device – but also as a cultural sign. Christie employed food on various different levels of her stories in order to portray characters, construct plots, and depict settings. What is more, incorporating domesticity and food in her novels helped her fundamentally alter the rigid conventions of the crime fiction genre as it developed in the nineteenth century, and enabled her to successfully introduce the character of the female detective and to feminise the detective novel as such.
Silvia Baučeková is Assistant Professor at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia. As a PhD candidate, she participated in a double-degree study programme and earned her doctorate from Universidad de Jaén in Spain and from Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in 2014. Her current research focuses on the possibility of applying methods developed by the emerging field of food studies in the analysis of fiction. Her other research interests include 20th century English poetry, women’s studies, and popular fiction studies. She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of British literature and on British popular fiction. She is a member of the Slovak Association for the Study of English.
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