Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two meals, one conclusion

A Room of One's Own is only 108 pages, but I think these two passages say it all. One fine October day, Virginia Woolf's narrator has a luxurious lunch at a beautiful, well-endowed college built for men. In the evening, she dines with a friend at a nearby women's college. It isn't nearly as beautiful; the funding for the college was so skimpy that it was barely built at all. The two meals reflect the importance accorded to educating men as compared to educating women. Woolf wrote this in 1928, but from Donald Trump's iniquities to the fact that women are hit particularly hard by the lack of affordable childcare, we are still talking about how differently women are treated from men.

Lunch at the men's college:

"[T]he lunch on this occasion began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After that came the partridges, but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various, came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and the sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard; their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. and no sooner had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent serving man . . . set before us, wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves. To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an insult. Meanwhile, the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been good life seemed, how sweet its rewards...."

Dinner at the women's college:

"Here was the soup. It was a plain gravy soup. There was nothing to stir the fancy in that. One could have seen through the transparent liquid any pattern that there might have been on the plate itself. But there was no pattern. The plate was plain. Next came beef with its attendant greens and potatoes -- a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge, and bargaining and cheapening and women with string bags on Monday morning. There was no reason to complain of human nature's daily food, seeing that the supply was sufficient and coal-miners doubtless were sitting down to less. Prunes and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That was all."

1 comment:

  1. I must read this little book! I'm sure I would have remembered the different meals. It gave me quite a laugh even though it is really rather sad.