A collection of lectures by novelist Prose (Blue Angel, 2000, etc.), part of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins commissioned by the New York Public Library and Oxford Univ. Press (see Joseph Epstein’s Envy, p. 892).
Sandwiched between pride and lust, gluttony never really had the cachet of the other deadly sins, states the author. It was at once prosaic and perverse, conjuring up images of bedridden gourmands salivating over entries in the Michelin Guide Rouge. But Prose observes that gluttony, while no longer to the fore of our religious conscience, is very much alive as a moral failing in a nation where diet has become an obsession and young women tell pollsters they would prefer to suffer cancer than obesity. The author attempts to trace the origins of our attitude to the vice, beginning with a fairly facile exegesis of the Old and New Testaments, where feasting is seen as both a divine blessing and sign of human corruption, and going on to a consideration of the precepts of the Church Fathers, who also ranged widely in their attitudes. As Prose notes, the connection between lust and gluttony was established very early on, with many of the commentaries on the Genesis account of the fall of man stressing the role of gluttony (i.e., the apple) and some even speculating that it was because Adam and Eve broke their fast that they succumbed to carnal relations and were exiled from Eden as a result. The historical experience of the early Christians living in decadent Imperial Rome (whose aristocrats feasted while lying on couches) is also touched upon, as is the medieval cycle of widespread and recurring famine, during which people ate voraciously whenever they had the wherewithal to do so. The author’s treatment of contemporary attitudes (bulimia, fast food, surgical diets, etc.) is a stale rehash of anecdotes we’ve all heard before.
Pretty meager fare, even for a canapé.