Table of contents for Poet of the appetites : the lives and loves of M.F.K. Fisher / Joan Reardon.


Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog. Note: Contents data are machine generated based on pre-publication provided by the publisher. Contents may have variations from the printed book or be incomplete or contain other coding.


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Contents
x	Preface: Who Was the Woman That Wrote That Page?
x	Chapter 1: Born on the Third of July
xx	Chapter 2: An Intolerable Waiting
xx	Chapter 3: The First Insouciant Spell
xx	Chapter 4: Past and Present Departures
xx	Chapter 5: Vin de Vevey
xxx	Chapter 6: Bareacres
xxx	Chapter 7: Hollywood Scenarios
xxx	Chapter 8: The Refugee
xxx	Chapter 9: Now an Orphan
xxx	Chapter 10: Californienne
xxx	Chapter 11: One Verse of a Song
xxx	Chapter 12: Illness and Healing
xxx	Chapter 13: The Most Alone
xxx	Chapter 14: Cara Maria Francesca
xxx	Chapter 15: Reading Between the Recipes
xxx	Chapter 16: Alive Again
xxx	Chapter 17: Other Places
xxx	Chapter 18: Garments of Adieu
xxx	Bibliography
xxx	Notes
xxx	Acknowledgements
xxx	Index
Who Was the Woman That Wrote That Page?i
	Almost everyone can remember their introduction to M.F.K. Fisher. For me, it was "Two Kitchens in Provence," soon followed by a sampling from The Art of Eating, and then eventually the complete works. I liked the way she wrote, and imagined that it was exactly the way she spoke, with all those "ands," and "don't cares," and "things like that" popping off the page. Her descriptions forever etched my memory of the Deux Garcons café in Aix, where I had often observed the steady stream of tourists and students making their way along the Cours Mirabeau, and the markets of Provence where I had shopped. She transcribed into the unforgettable language of ripeness and decay what I had always felt about the cherries, string beans, lettuces, and lamb chops that I had once purchased in Arles, St. Remy, and Cavaillon. She also wrote about Cain and Abel's potage and the trick of making a perfect oyster stew, about the Greeks' delicate cakes of sesame and honey and Careme's piece montees, not with the seriousness of a culinary historian, but with every intention to seduce.
As a student in France in the early 1930s, Mary Frances read The Physiology of Taste by the gentleman gastronomer Brillat-Savarin, a book without precedent in postclassical Western literature, mixing erudition, wit, and wisdom in a manner never before associated with food. Although she felt a special affinity with Brillat-Savarin, however, she was unaware of a limited number of American writers fast becoming arbiters of taste in matters of food and wine, like Theodore Child, who had written Delicate Feasting, and Frederick Stokes who published Good Form: Dinners, Ceremonious and Unceremonius. And Mary Frances had only a passing acquaintance with the twentieth-century works of George Rector, Joseph Wechsberg, Alexis Lichine, Julian Street, Lucius Beebe, A. J. Liebling, and Waverly Root. She came upon gastronomical writing whimsically, finding a treasure trove of amusing stories in old recipe books that instructed their users to "parboil the cock, flea him, and stamp him in a stone mortar," and add "cannel, cloves, mace, grains of parise, quibbles, and onions to Beef y-Stewed." She delighted in the offbeat and the familiar and beginning with Serve It Forth in 1937, she seemed to write to amuse, share, and please those she loved. 
	With a willing suspension of disbelief, I followed her into an autobiographical world peopled with her grandparents, parents, siblings, neighbors "related by love alone," Laguna friends, public school and boarding school teachers, college roommates, university professors, husbands, lovers, landladies, waiters, and shopkeepers. So textured were her descriptions of her dyspeptic Grandmother Holbrook, awesome father Rex, statuesque mother Edith, and enigmatic sister Anne, that I would recognize them anywhere. She portrayed herself as a good girl who helped out in the kitchen, held her sister's hand on the way to school, surprised her mother with a decorated pudding and a notebook filled with stories she had written. But she was also the bad girl who deliberately chewed fresh tar, skipped classes to watch the circus practice, lied about spending her "missionary" money on a notebook, and deliberately tipped her baby brother out of his highchair. 
As she grew older, she wrote about her one true love as well as the lesser loves in her life and about her travels with her daughters and her sister, and about living among the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. I revisited Aix, Marseille, and Dijon with her books in hand. Yet, although I loved reading her words and learning what she wanted me to know about her lives and loves, I never had a true sense of the woman who wrote what appeared on the page. 
She was not who I thought she was.
After years of reading her journals, letters, published and unpublished writings, and extended periods of talking to her and to her youngest sister, a daughter, editors, literary agent, friends, admirers, fans, and followers, my appreciation of M.F.K. Fisher as an original in a yet-to-be-defined genre has grown. The immediacy of her prose when she writes about the pleasures of the table is second to none. And her rollicking sense of humor in telling the story of why and how people have refined the art of eating through the ages stands in delightful contrast to the high seriousness of those who favor a more academic approach. Although many imitators have tried, I cannot imagine anyone who can equal her account of a fresh peach pie shared with her sister and the man she loved most in the world, or the sheer joy of collapsing on a sandy beach and unwrapping a fried egg sandwich, or the heady experience of cooking fresh peas on a terrace overlooking Lac Leman and then sharing them with her mother and the three men she loved, albeit in very different ways. 
Mary Frances is the narrator of Among Friends, the habitué of other places in As They Were, and the Scheherazade of Serve It Forth. Despite her autobiographical claims, those are simply the roles she chose to play at various times, and her daughter Kennedy believes that she enjoyed the fact that people thought of her as someone she wasn't.ii But her adopted roles, and they were multiple, and her real-life roles as daughter, wife, mother, mistress, and writer were not sufficient in and of themselves. When she grew older and more infirm she had an ever greater desire to epater les bourgeois, to lead interviewers into a morass of misinformation, and, with cameras running, to blow an interviewer like Bill Moyers out of the water by stonewalling. She would not only say outlandish things, but strain credibility with fabricated stories like that of her nephew's conversation with Nikita Khrushchev on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in which the Russian leader supposedly said that the Grand Canyon reminded him of sex.iii 
As she grew older and more famous, Mary Frances could be intimidating, but she also had the gift of making a person believe that she or he was the only one in the world who could do something for her, like run an errand, arrange a bouquet of flowers, or keep her company when she felt too weary to entertain a guest alone. She knew how to seduce. As one long-time friend said, "She was like a spider spinning her web, which was all right with me because I liked that web."iv Another friend saw the much-publicized sybaritic bathroom at Last House, her late-life home in the Sonoma Valley, as a symbol for Mary Frances herself. "The deep red ceiling and wall, portraits painted by lovers, dressing room lights around the mirror, a casually strewn kimono over a chair, jars of makeup-much about her was a façade."v
While she was not the first culinary memoirist, she may well have been one of the first culinary confessionalists-or at least she portrayed herself that way. In an interview for a profile in Gourmet, she told journalist Elizabeth Hawes that she insisted upon calling her stories or memoirs "reports." "They are meant as the truth. I love to tell stories, but I can't fabricate."vi Over and over again, she maintained, "I never lied." But Mary Frances stretched the boundaries of literary genre, or rather created a genre of her own. Granted the autobiographer and memoirist is always selective, and always adopts a premise of truthfulness. Fiction, on the other hand, is legitimately a construct of the imagination. And although the novelist writes from his own experience and plumbs the depths of his soul, he generally masks what he finds there and builds walls between himself and his characters. Mary Frances seemed to be sticking to the truth in that she sometimes used actual names and almost always used people she knew, including herself, in her stories and novels. But she also played fast and loose in her rendition of events. Her sister Norah told me, "Nothing MF said would surprise me,"vii and her nephew Sean cautioned: "I think you have a real obligation to point out her capacity for dealing in fantasy and how this undercuts her notion of being a 'fifth generation journalist' or whatever. She told stories, sometimes rather well . . . She is much better on nostalgia, I think. Trouble is, she embroiders the facts to the point where what she ends up with is virtually fiction."viii 
In the way that a dancer uses a familiar movement, or an artist a distinctive brushstroke, or an actress an identifiable gesture to convey a feeling or thought, Mary Frances relied on words and phrases and events that were stored in her memory. Her art was kaleidoscopic-the same words telling different stories, the same story told with different words. She believed that she was a born writer, unlike her first husband Al Fisher, who was a writer manqué. "I write because I must," she frequently said. And she constructed a mythology about herself as a writer who couldn't read her work after it was published, never paid attention to reviews, never went to press parties-a writer who denigrated her writing. But the myth often gave way to reality. 
At one time she fancied herself "the Dorothy Parker of the kitchen" and the Katherine Hepburn of culinary arts and letters. Toward the end of her life, she clung to her self-image as a writer who literally had to write to keep alive. She told her story in every imaginable way, through recipes and in memoirs. Like her beloved Georges Simenon, she used autobiographical works and stories to give her almost complete control of the interpretation of her past. She scripted her biography by writing extensively about herself as she wanted others to know her. And in so doing, she threw down the gauntlet to those who would try to resist the siren call of her words and tell her story as it actually played out.
Although I may never completely know why she laughed, cried, seduced people and then pushed them away, reread Simenon's books, decorated her home with fertility symbols and her patio with geraniums, I have come a long way toward discovering the reasons. The central paradox of M.F.K. Fisher's life is that the woman who made domestic life so sensual and intimate and made places come alive for her readers was also a self-absorbed, and, unfortunately, at times a destructive woman. Writing about her life, I have found much to praise and much to blame. And it is all one.
When I visited her for the first time in 1987, and she invited me to be her biographer, I declined the offer. But after I published M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table in 1994, I felt that so much of Mary Frances's story was left untold that I should revisit her life and her works. I share what I found with all those, who, like me, have asked, "Who was the woman who wrote that page?" 
								Joan Reardon
								Seaward II
								February 1, 2004	




Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Fisher, M, F, K, (Mary Frances Kennedy), 1908- Biography, Women food writers United States Biography