Welcome to my updated website! I am happy to announce that I have a new book coming out this fall: Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality. This book is the culmination of work that I began during my sabbatical year in Paris, 2013-2014, when I wrote most of the blog posts below. The road to publishing academic history is long and windy, especially when you’re dealing with a tricky subject, as I am in Unspeakable, which is a social history of modern pederasty told through the life of the notorious writer Norman Douglas. Unspeakable is now available for pre-order from amazon. Check back here in the months to come for news and updates about the book, and about my current work-in-progress, “Good Food, Bad Sex: A History of Illicit Pleasures.” Thanks for visiting!
“To smother a Fowl in Oysters,” advises the first American cookbook author Amelia Simmons, “fill the bird with dry Oysters, and sew up and boil in water just sufficient.” These instructions, from her 1796 volume American Cookery, are bound to make most modern stomachs revolt. We like our surf and turf well enough when it’s steak and lobster, cooked separately, thank you very much. But chicken and oysters boiled together sounds just dreadful. Which means, chicken and oysters sounds just perfect to me!
In my ongoing quest to wrap my brain around how American palates could have changed so dramatically over the past centuries that what was once a delight is now an abomination,* Simmon’s recipe for fowl smothered in oysters screams out to be tested. My children and husband cry out not to be the guinea pigs, but there are sacrifices we must make for the people we love. And I should admit that I have a strong ulterior motive for this cooking experiment, which allows me to steel my soul against the cries of the innocents. Followers of this blog may have noticed that a couple of seasons have passed since it was last updated. There is a reason for my long silence. My fingers have been too busy at the keyboard to hold the chopping knife.
I’ve been writing a novel! Read More
“Love’s oven is warm” Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Sarah Tuckerman, on a note that enclosed a gift of slightly scorched handmade sweets, possibly chocolate caramels. If the words were by any other author, one would be forgiven for reading in them a possible sexual double entendre. But Emily Dickinson is enshrined in our memory as the ultimate virgin, the “Queen Recluse” as her friend, the editor Samuel Bowles, described the poet. Dressed always in white, she rarely left her house for thirty years, spending her days tucked away in an upstairs room, writing nearly two thousand poems that few people knew existed until well after her death.
Of course, scholars and fans have long made a cottage industry of identifying Dickinson’s secret failed love affairs: the broken engagement to her brother Austin’s Amherst classmate George Gould; the impossible love for the married Samuel Bowles; the late-life affair with her father’s friend, Judge Otis Phillips Lord. Another school of thought claims her for the queer camp, reading her intense relationships with female friends Susan Gilbert (who later became her brother Austin’s wife), and Kate Scott Turner, as erotic in nature. When a possible photo of Dickinson and Turner surfaced in 2012, The Advocate covered the discovery with the headline “Is This Emily Dickinson and Her Female Lover?”
Like many eighteenth-century recipes, Benjamin Franklin’s instructions for making apple pudding don’t offer a lot of detail, just enough to inspire certainty that the end result would be inedible by twentieth-century standards. What better reason could there be to break out the mixing bowl!
The sense of the unfamiliar has always been what compels me about history. I like that truism, “the past is a foreign country.” It’s a message that I often repeat to my students, who tend to make sense of the past by seeking points of similarity with their own lives. When you’re reading a primary source and something confuses you, that’s a good sign. You’re onto something, you’re not just finding what you brought to the source yourself. Read More
“A Full Belly is the Mother of all Evil,” Benjamin Franklin counselled the readers of his 1743 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack. For some mysterious reason this aphorism hasn’t had the sticking power of some of the inventor’s more famous sayings, like “he who lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas,” or “fish and visitors stink in three days.” Most of us are more inclined to see a full belly as one of life’s blessings. Read More
When Elizabeth David came home to Britain in 1946, after spending the war years in Egypt, her agonies from the the flavorless diet she rediscovered drove her to write a cookbook recollecting all the wonderful things she had eaten during her absence. Britain was at the height of postwar rationing and gristle rissoles were on the menu, along with flour and water soup, dehydrated carrots and onions, and corned beef toad-in-the-hole. Like a pilgrim in the desert who conjures visions of a watery oasis, David used her pen to resurrect the flavors of lemons, olives, apricots, and almonds, so absent from her meals. Read More
The quality of the eating, without a doubt, could make or break a Parisian salon. Today’s nostalgists may fantasize about the gathering of minds that took place each week at Gertrude Stein’s apartments on the rue de Fleurus near the jardins Luxembourg, but for many participants the buffet table held equal appeal. Stein’s lover Alice B. Toklas paid so much attention to what she served to eat that when she finally sat down to write her autobiography (not the pseudo-autobiography penned in her voice by Stein), her first attempt came out as a cookbook. Toklas’s cakes, and, even more so, her punch and eaux de vie, were legendary. Read More
Here is a guest post I wrote for the wonderful history-of-medicine blog Nursing Clio
I am trying hard not to be faithful. I am trying to keep my options open. I fall in love too easily. When I find someone I like I am all in right away, head down at the archives, taking notes for a biography.
I need to learn a thing or two from the legendary Lost Generation hedonist Harry Crosby, who knew how to love many people at once. Read More
When Isadora Duncan’s mother was pregnant with the dancer, she could eat only iced oysters and iced champagne. Isadora danced her first dances in the womb, she claimed, under the influence of those effervescent bubbles and slippery molluscs. And she kept right on drinking champagne and dining on luxuries until her dying day. She would buy buckets of champagne to drink with friends even when she was too broke to rent a room where she could spend the night. Better just to stay up till dawn drinking. Read More