The Ambiguity of Taste

Freedom and Food in European Romanticism
Jocelyne Kolb
An exploration into the role of food in the aesthetic revolution of Romanticism


Between the political revolutions of 1789 and 1848 no other subject so directly challenged the notion of "good taste" in literature as food. To be "in good taste," a work of the high style excluded references to literal taste; culinary allusions in tragedy and lyric poetry therefore represented an ironic attack on literary decorum and a liberation from the constraints of figurative taste.

In The Ambiguity of Taste, Jocelyne Kolb attempts to define changes in genre and metaphorical usage by undertaking close readings of six authors. She looks first at Molière and Fielding, whose culinary allusions herald poetic revolution but whose works do not themselves escape the limits of a neoclassical aesthetic. Byron and Heine, known as renegades, are treated in separate chapters and in the greatest detail. The penultimate chapter joins Goethe and Hugo as champions of poetic freedom, and in the final chapter Kolb briefly considers Thomas Mann and Proust, whose works display the gains of poetic revolution.

This book will be savored by students of comparative literature and European Romanticism. Its accessible style will tempt nonspecialists and food enthusiasts as well.

Jocelyne Kolb is Professor of German Studies, Smith College. This book was the winner of the 1995 American Conference on Romanticism Book Prize.

Praise / Awards

  • "Scholarly and precise, with excellent notes and comprehensive bibliography . . . ."
  • "The Ambiguity of Taste adds greatly, and with gusto, to the genealogy of that gastronomic hegemony. Essentially, and confessedly, immanent in its critical approach, as the pervasiveness of New-Critical terms like "ambiguity" and "tension" attests, the study is crisp and nuanced in its explications and blessedly free of doctrinaire protocols and faddish jargon."
    Colloquia Germanica
  • "Kolb's strength in this monograph is her patient and perceptive reading of texts. . . . In carefully demonstrating how a literal and a figurative taste inform the works of central authors during the nineteenth century, Kolb has provided an important insight into the conceptual history of an important term."
    —Robert C. Holub, Journal of English and Germanic Philology
  • "In-depth studies in the role of food in literature are still extremely rare, and Jocelyne Kolb should be commended for her courage in undertaking such a controversial project. . . . With her book The Ambiguity of Taste Jocelyne Kolb breaks new ground in literary criticism, and will no doubt influence the way we interpret culinary references in works of European Romanticism and potentially other periods in literature. The book is a valuable tool for students of comparative literature, but it will also be of interest to nonspecialists who will appreciate the English translations of all the quotes from French and German works."
    —Melitta Weiss Adamson, Monatshefte

Look Inside


Acknowledgments     ix
Abbreviations     xi
Introduction     1
Chapter 1: The Poetics of Ambiguous Taste     11
Chapter 2: Real Taste or True Taste: Moliere's Les Femmes savantes and Fielding's Tom Jones     25
Chapter 3: Byron's Don Juan, or Four and Twenty Blackbirds in a Pie     55
Chapter 4: Heine and the Aesthetics of the Tea Table     115
Chapter 5: Goethe and Hugo: The License of Taste     225
Conclusion: The Effects of Poetic Revolution: From Ambiguous to Symbolist Taste     291
Notes     303
Index     339

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 360pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10554-0

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  • $94.95 U.S.