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LUNCH

man and woman of leisure. In the country manors and fine town houses, too, the dining hour moved further and further up the clock, creating a substantial alimentary gap in the middle of the day. In some great families, of course, this move reflected the changing working hours of their own city men, lawyers and legislators (and, as the mid- dle classes moved into the realm of the upper crust, the waiting of dinner for the arrival of the great man became increasingly common—hence the late and formal dinners held in the home of Charles Dickens’s businessman Mr. Merdle in his 1854 Little Dorrit). For others, how- ever, the late dinner hour was a marker not of labor but of excessive leisure—and, thus, of privilege.

City men, after all, dined late because they came home late from work; they swallowed their dinners and retired to bed soon afterward, ready to do it all again the next day. The elder sons of aristocracy and moneyed gen- try, on the other hand, had no such demands on their time, and their schedules, like the fare on their tables, re- flected this. For the rich, coffee was consumed at break- fast as an aid to recover from the depredations of the night before; similarly, it was swallowed after a period of after-dinner drinking, with only men present, so that card-playing, dancing, and other entertainments might go on until the wee hours. Dinner, a leisurely meal in- volving many dishes and, later in the century, many courses, was held late as a marker of sophistication and of wealth. An extensive dinner consumed in the hours of darkness, illuminated by expensive wax candles, was an occasion of glamour for those whose bodies were not bound by the demands of the clock. Let the ordinary working folk dine in full daylight and retire to bed early; those who need not work might gossip and intrigue round the table in the intimacy of candlelight, sup at midnight, and retire to bed in the wee hours—practices that were especially prized during the Regency period, from 1811 to 1820. Technology played a role here as well: While candlelight was certainly adequate for dining, it was hardly ideal for the labor of cooking and cleaning, and so dining at night was difficult for those not equipped with a large staff to deal with the work effectively and the means to light a kitchen well with many candles (or, later in the century, with gaslight). Dining late, then, was in and of itself a marker of means.

Because dinners were relatively public events, at which the rich (nouveau and old alike) displayed their wealth with quantities of heavy, preferably imported food and drink, they were, like every public display of wealth, competitive. The constantly shifting markers of true class necessitated ever-increasing demonstrations of deep pockets and cultural currency, one sign of which was the lateness of the hour. Accordingly, “half-gentlemen,” as Jane Austen terms strivers, with pretensions to true gen- tility, held their dinners late as a means of classing them- selves with the sophisticates of the upper echelons, and every time the hour of dining for such ordinary folk moved up, the sophisticates themselves, feeling the com-

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petition close in, felt the need to assert their class dis- tinction by pushing their dinner hour later still.

The result of all this, of course, was a need for more meals to fill in the stomach-rumbling spaces between breakfast and dinner—often a gap of some twelve hours or more. The English afternoon or “high” tea evolved around the middle of the nineteenth century, as a gen- teel late-afternoon sop to the appetite (and, probably, a much-needed dose of restorative caffeine). In the noon- time hour or a little afterward, the gentle classes began to take a refreshment that was more formal and more substantial than a tea, but considerably less extensive than a dinner. In the kitchens and servants’ halls, this meal was referred to as lunch, and was taken as a snack, as it was in the factories. In the dining room, the repast was lun- cheon.

The French Influence on Lunch

The prestige of this upper-crust version of the British luncheon was helped along by French cachet. Though gentle Britain was extremely uneasy about the revolu- tionary developments across the channel, where the aris- tocracy had been jailed or beheaded, fashionable moneyed Britons nevertheless coveted all things French, and particularly all things French and gastronomic. Gal- lic chefs, sauces, and dishes were all perceived as both foreign and dangerous, and, thus, as the crucial markers of chic, up-to-the-minute elegance. Luncheon was no ex- ception. Prosper Montagné’s bible of all things gastro- nomic and French, Larousse gastronomique, attributes the development of dejeuner, the French precursor to the gen- teel English luncheon, to the Revolution itself, claiming that the long hours of the new Constituent Assembly, which sat from noon to six, brought about a particular alimentary transformation. According to Montagné, the members of the Assembly obligingly moved their dinner hour (diner in French) from one o’clock or so to six o’clock or later, but they soon found that they were un- able to work effectively without food from breakfast (de- jeuner), eaten first thing in the morning, to dinner. To stave off hunger, the members made it a practice to eat a “second breakfast” before their sessions began, around 11:00 A.M. “This second dejeuner,” Montagné notes, “was more substantial than the first and included eggs and cold meat.” The practice caught on, and the first de- jeuner (a meal of soup or coffee with milk) was soon rel- egated to the status of petit dejeuner. The term “lunch” or “luncheon” was introduced into France in the nine- teenth century, generally referring to a cold buffet for a large group of people, eaten standing up.

While the French dejeuner was driven by the lofty la- bor of hard-thinking men, the genteel English version was originally a ladies’ amusement: The twentieth- century “lady who lunches” had her cultural birth in nine- teenth-century England. Women of fashion and leisure, left at home while their husbands tended to business or pleasure, soon found that delaying their dinner to eight

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