From Glutton to Gourmet: Is Gourmandise Still a Deadly Sin?
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If the word ‘gourmandise’ appears in written documents at the end of the Middle Ages, its history is much older since it dates back to the early days of Christianity, to the first monastic communities of the third and fourth centuries. In addition, while the term still exists today, its significance has had many variations over the centuries. In Western society, gourmandise refers to three denotations roughly corresponding to three historical periods. The earliest meaning refers to the big eaters, the heavy drinkers, and all the excesses of the table. Strongly negative, the word gourmandise qualifies a horrible vice, one of the seven deadly sins codified by the Christian Church. Gradually, gourmandise was enriched by a second, positive sense which would triumph in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and introduce the word ‘gourmet’ into European languages. While still reprobated by the Christian Church and moralists, gourmandise became respectable, characterising the amateurs of good food, good wines and good company. The invention of ‘gastronomy’ in 1801 very probably contributed to the process of depreciation of gourmandise by substituting to its meaning a less ambiguous connotation, now devoid of religious references. Drawing from historical literary works and contemporary French literature, this dissertation explores the evolution of the meanings of gourmandise as a concept, from its early characteristics of a cardinal sin to a contemporary notion merging with visual textualisation. Furthermore, this research argues that the twentieth century paved the way for a transformation of the meaning of gourmandise, putting the emphasis on a visual refinement characteristic, while still retaining the element of excess as part of its appeal, thus making gourmandise symbolic, accessible and acceptable to the general public.