Taste, Manners, and Miscegenation: French Racial Politics in the US

Taste, Manners, and Miscegenation: French Racial Politics in the US

American Literary History
Volume 19, Issue 3 (2007)
pages 573-602
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajm025

Robert Fanuzzi, Assistant Chair and Associate Professor of English
St. Johns University, Queens, New York

A prequel:

A French gourmand, in flight from political turmoil at home, arrives in post-Revolutionary America with a taste for satire, a Rabelaisian eye for folly, and a gargantuan appetite for turkey. Journeying from the Francophone enclave of Philadelphia to the “backwoods” of Hartford, he enjoys the hospitality of a Mr. Bulow, “a worthy old American farmer,” and his “four buxom daughters, for whom our arrival was a great event” (Brillat-Savarin 77). Having charmed his hosts, he enjoys still more success as a member of their shooting party, bagging the prize turkey for “sport.” Afterwards, the gourmand makes sport of one of the most widely noted mannerisms of Americans, the childlike but grating chauvinism for their nation that stops every conversation in its tracks. True to form, his American host foregoes the customary bon voyage wishes in order to drill into his departing guest the national creation myth. His own well-tended estate, he reminds his French visitor, pays eloquent tribute to the providential system of mild laws and low taxes that has rewarded the labor of self-sufficient yeomen like him. He means to leave his listener with the thrilling prospect of continual, self-perpetuating prosperity, but all the gourmand has heard is a steady droning in his ear. “I was thinking,” he recalls as he rode away, “of how I would cook my turkey” (81).

In The Physiology of Taste (1825), an eccentric philosophical treatise on cookery, cuisine, and conviviality, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin made quick work of the Americanist commentary that so many of his fellow travelers inscribed into their narratives of North American travel. The most well known of these French travel writers, Jean de Crevecoeur and Alexis de Tocqueville, used their narratives to generate the synthetic, formalized images of democracy—the pervasive equality of condition; the assimilation …

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