Kitchens As Metonyms For Familial Happiness In Literature

A warm, safe, lighted place.
Hepzobah’s kitchen was always like that, and not only that evening. Coming I to it was like coming home on a bitter cold day to a bright, leaping fire. It was like the smell of bacon when you were hungry, loving arms when you were lonely; safety when you were scared….

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

As Rene Welleck and Warren Austin suggest in Theory of Literature, ‘domestic interiors may be metonymic or metaphoric expressions of character’.

The comforting image of an idealized maternal figure and environment are produced in Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War. Carrie and her little brother Nick are evacuated to Wales during World War 2. They are billeted with a rather strange couple whose house is cold and austere. But they derive much comfort from visiting Hepzibah whose kitchen is “A warm, safe, lighted place … Coming into it was like coming home on a bitter cold day to a bright, leaping fire. It was like the smell of bacon when you were hungry; loving arms when you were lonely; safety when you were scared.’ Thus, the kitchen is a maternalized space, a place where warmth, the promise of food, bodily contact, and security conflate to produce feelings of comfort. When the children first meet Hepzibah she is “smiling. She was tall with shining hair the colour of copper. She wore a white apron, and there was flour on her hands. She has “a rather broad face, pale as cream, and dotted with freckles. Carrie thought she looked beautiful: so warm and friendly and kind.’ The feelings of homely, maternal comfort evoked by the descriptions of the kitchen and of Hepzibah herself are embellished and reinforced by sensuous descriptions of food. Carrie is shown the dairy where “there were speckly eggs in trays on the shelf, slabs of pale, oozy butter, and a big bowl of milk with a skin of cream on the top.

Carolyn Daniel, Voracious Children: Who Eats Whom In Children’s Literature

“Kitchen,” he says. “Come in.”

The kitchen is gas-heated, square and bare, almost institutional in its unadorned plainness. Table and four straightbacked wooden chairs. Battered fridge with chipped enamel; stainless steel sink and bench; a scarred clean cooker. There’s a decrepit Coronation teacaddy on a shelf over thebench, with a saucer holding soap and sinkplug beside it, and at the end of the bench, there is a canvas-coloured birdcage on a stand. She is surprised by that, although she can’t say for why.

Joe invites.

“Sit down and make yourself at home,” and goes on busying himself with the pots on the cooker.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme, describing a New Zealand kitchen of the early 1980s, setting it up as cosy to puncture the illusion later.

Irish poetry is particularly fond of the warm, cosy kitchen. This lies in apposition to the Otherworld — the world of fairies (not the good kind of fairy). See the poetry of Yeats.

Do you have a favourite picture book kitchen? What does it say about the character who lives in it?

from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook illustrated by Tasha Tudor and written by her friend Mary Mason Campbell
from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook illustrated by Tasha Tudor and written by her friend Mary Mason Campbell
The illustrations in this early edition of the book seem a lot more austere than the 1980s television adaptation
The illustrations in this early edition of the book seem a lot more austere than the 1980s television adaptation
from Oliver Twist
from Oliver Twist
Spencer Gore The Gas Cooker 1913
The Gas Cooker 1913 Spencer Gore 1878-1914
Carl Larsson Two girls in a kitchen
An illustration by Swedish artist Carl Larsson of two girls in a kitchen
E. Boyd Smith (1860-1943) The Farm Book kitchen
E. Boyd Smith (1860-1943) The Farm Book

Animal Kitchens

The smaller, working-class Victorian kitchen or parlour would appear, to a modern child, to have all the warm, dark earthiness of rabbit hole or badger sett.

Margaret Blount, Animal Land
Wind In The Willows kitchen illustrated this time by Inga Moore
Wind In The Willows kitchen illustrated this time by Inga Moore
And this one is by Robert Ingpen.
And this Wind In The Willows kitchen is by Robert Ingpen.
Jill Barclem Brambly Hedge
Kitchen from Brambly Hedge — in an animal utopia there is always enough to eat and no one ever gets eaten themselves.
from Mercy Watson Goes For A Ride by Kate diCamillo 2006
from Mercy Watson Goes For A Ride by Kate diCamillo 2006
Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren from Stories from a Magic World
Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren from Stories from a Magic World

The cosy kitchen is often chaotic, overflowing with food (and love and happiness).

Margaret Tarrant (1888 - 1959) Little Red Riding Hood
Margaret Tarrant (1888 – 1959) Little Red Riding Hood

Bush Picnic by Eveline Dare and John Richards (1970)

Here we have a happy nuclear family, but with a modern and sleek kitchen (1970 version). This appears in a picture book, but might just as well appear in an advertisement for stainless steel kettles or kitchen design.

Bush Picnic 1970 kitchen_600x369

Courage The Cowardly Dog (Horror Comedy TV Series 1999-)

muriel-takes-pie-out-of-oven

The Duck Tale (1908)

Header illustration is from Brambly Hedge. The grand kitchen at the Old Oak Palace. Everyone is searching for Primrose.

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