Winter Chestnuts and Other Literary Comforts

Editor’s note: I found this essay about food by literary scholar Sara Davis utterly irresistible, partly because it’s so deftly written, and partly because I’ve been struggling with an essay on caregiving and eating for my book Rest: Finding Rest and Renewal as We Care for Others. Food as comfort, comfort as food: such a theme in my life! And all those questions! How to take pleasure in food without tipping into over-consumption and craving? How to recover from deep dives into old habits? How to love flavors and then let them go? I don’t have any answers, dear friends, except to keep on reading, writing, and renewing.

 

 

Scenes of Eating

I’ve been reading Lolly Willowes, a 1926 novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner set at the turn of the 20th century. The story reminds me a lot of the pastoral 19th century novels I’ve been reading: country life radically contrasted with the city, the smallness of family dramas, the quiet resistance of women in their domestic spheres.

When she moves to London with her brother and sister-in-law, main character Laura (called Lolly by her nieces) is seized by a restlessness every autumn. She finds herself roving and anxious until winter fully arrives and she bleakly resigns to it, and:

She fortified herself against the dismalness of this reaction by various small self-indulgences. Out of these she had contrived for herself a sort of mental fur coat. Roasted chestnuts could be bought and taken home for bedroom eating. Second-hand book-shops were never so enticing; and the combination of east winds and London water…

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