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Feeding in the Workhouse: The Institutional and Ideological Functions of Food in Britain, ca. 1834–70

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2013

Abstract

How adequate was the mid-Victorian workhouse diet? Basing their arguments on modern nutritional analyses of dietary tables, some historians have concluded that the workhouse diet fulfilled the basic nutritional needs of inmates and that the idea that workhouse dietary regimes were inadequate is the result of a “mythology” created by contemporaries—including Charles Dickens. In these accounts, Dickens's infamous scene where Oliver Twist becomes so overwhelmed with hunger that he asks for more food is construed as an exaggerated rendering of workhouse life. This article argues that efforts to impose modern nutritional techniques onto past configurations can produce misleading results and generate simplistic historical interpretations. The cultural categories historically surrounding food demand thorough attention and must be reconciled with modern scientific approaches if the boundaries between workhouse realities and mythologies are to be rendered less obscure.

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Articles
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Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2013 

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References

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89 Ibid., 15.

90 Ibid., 16.

91 Ibid.

92 Ibid., 13–14.

93 Ibid., 14–15.

94 Ibid., 9.

95 Ibid., 12.

96 Ibid., 26–27.

97 Ibid., 27.

98 Ibid., 8.

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100 Workhouse Inspection Report, 25 June 1847, TNA, MH12/14588/40, ff. 58–59.

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102 Letter from James Robinson Tomlin to Reeth Poor Law Union, 10 September 1868, TNA, MH/12/14590/245, ff. 336–44.

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