Interrupting Great Gatsby coverage with this word, via the NYRB review of Anka Muhlstein’s new book about Balzac and 19th century French dining culture. We may have already been familiar with the great man’s great addiction to coffee, which he recommended drinking in a finely pulverized form, and on an empty stomach (“[N]ightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder”). But from Muhlstein’s evidence, it appears Balzac’s coffee binges paled in comparison to the absurd feasts he organized and endured once a new novel was complete:
“…he sped to a restaurant, downed a hundred oysters as a starter, washing them down with four bottles of white wine, then ordered the rest of the meal: twelve salt meadow lamb cutlets with no sauce, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridge, a Normandy sole, not to mention extravagances like dessert and special fruit such as Comice pears, which he ate by the the dozen. Once sated, he usually sent the bill to his publishers.”
Eat your heart out, Michael Phelps. It may take a dozen eggs to win the 100m butterfly, but it takes a dozen lamb cutlets to write the Comedie Humaine. Talk about a man with intestines welded out of pure bronze.