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The politics of poetry and pie

By Harriet Staff

Nancy Mattoon of Booktryst has a fascinating post on Lydia Maria Child, author of the ubiquitous Thanksgiving poem that begins: “Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandfather’s house we go…” From its lofty position occupying thousands of classrooms and station wagons across the country, “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day” is likely to be thought of as a “traditional” over 150 years later, though the poem was penned by someone who was anything but.

In 1833 Lydia Maria Child, a woman, published the first book-length, full-scale analysis of slavery in the United States, An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. It was, says the Michigan State website, “so comprehensive [in] scope that no other antislavery writer ever attempted to duplicate Child’s achievement; all subsequent works would focus on individual aspects of the subject that Child covered in eight thoroughly researched and extensively documented chapters.” It was also radical enough, and shocking enough, coming from America’s best-loved culinary writer, that it caused Child to be ostracized from Boston society, and caused the children’s magazine she edited to go bankrupt, as well as leading to the out-of-print status of her best-seller. Nobody wanted Martha Stewart to do an about face, and begin writing inflammatory political manifestos.

Even that best-seller, The Frugal Housewife, had a heaping helping of radicalism. The first cookbook written for average women who cooked for themselves and their families without the aid of servants or slaves, the book went through 35 printings in less than 30 years by appealing to those “who are not ashamed of economy.”

A vocal critic of The Frugal Housewife was a former suitor of Child’s, Nathaniel P. Willis, who found the book a total betrayal of her class, “full of vulgarisms, indelicate references to animal body parts, and an apparent fondness for foods highly despised by genteel readers.” A truly well-bred female would never have demeaned herself by writing about money.

Grandmother always serves a delicious side of class warfare with her pie.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 by Harriet Staff.