Cover image for Gluttony : the seven deadly sins
Gluttony : the seven deadly sins
Prose, Francine, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York Public Library ; Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
x, 108 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 19 cm
General Note:
Based on a lecture series in the humanities hosted by the New York Public Library.
Reading Level:
1540 Lexile.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BV4627.G5 P76 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BV4627.G5 P76 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In America, notes acclaimed novelist Francine Prose, we are obsessed with food and diet. And what is this obsession with food except a struggle between sin and virtue, overeating and self-control--a struggle with the fierce temptations of gluttony. In Gluttony, Francine Prose serves up a marvelous banquet of witty and engaging observations on this most delicious of deadly sins. She traces how our notions of gluttony have evolved along with our ideas about salvation and damnation, health and illness, life and death. Offering a livelysmorgasbord that ranges from Augustine's Confessions and Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, to Petronius's Satyricon and Dante's Inferno, she shows that gluttony was in medieval times a deeply spiritual matter, but today we have transformed gluttony from a sin into an illness--it is the horrors ofcholesterol and the perils of red meat that we demonize. Indeed, the modern take on gluttony is that we overeat out of compulsion, self-destructiveness, or to avoid intimacy and social contact. But gluttony, Prose reminds us, is also an affirmation of pleasure and of passion. She ends the book witha discussion of M.F.K. Fisher's idiosyncratic defense of one of the great heroes of gluttony, Diamond Jim Brady, whose stomach was six times normal size. "The broad, shiny face of the glutton," Prose writes, "has been--and continues to be--the mirror in which we see ourselves, our hopes and fears, our darkest dreams and deepest desires." Never have we delved more deeply into this mirror than in this insightful and stimulating book.

Author Notes

Francine Prose was born on April 1, 1947. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968. She received the PEN Translation Prize in 1988 and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. Francine Prose novel The Glorious Ones, has been adapted into a musical with the same title by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It ran at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City in the fall of 2007. Prose has served as president of PEN American Center, a New York City based literary society of writers, editors, and translators that works to advance literature in 2007 and 2008.

Prose novel, Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. One of her novels, Household Saints, was adapted for a movie by Nancy Savoca. In 2014 her title Lovers at the Chameleon Club - Paris 1932, made The New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Seven writers have been invited to consider the seven deadly sins, and the results are being published in a promising series of small, cleverly illustrated, and, so far, scintillating volumes. Epstein's recent book on snobbery has met with great acclaim, making him uniquely suited to the task of analyzing envy, since snobbery is based on its cultivation, and, indeed, Epstein is a witty and thoughtful elucidator of this covert and poisonous state of mind. Of the seven sins, Epstein observes, envy is the most common and insidious and the least enjoyable. He discusses various types of envy, the differences between women's and men's envy, Freud's preoccupation with it, and worlds in which envy rages (the arts and academia may be the worst). Epstein confesses to his own struggles with envy over the course of his musings, which grow in gravitas as he moves beyond individuals to consider how envy between nations leads to war and how anti-Semitism can be interpreted as a particularly malignant manifestation of this deadly sin. Novelist and critic Prose brings her keen interest in our conflicted relationship with our bodies to her creatively, even voraciously researched and elegantly argued inquiry into the paradoxes of gluttony, a sin writ large on the body and, therefore, impossible to conceal. Prose notes that the term is rarely used now that overeating is viewed as a psychological and health problem rather than a crime against God. Equally conversant in religious and secular perspectives, Prose turns to theology and art to illuminate the curious history of a sin rooted in a behavior essential to survival. She traces the line between gourmandism and binging and ponders the increase in obesity in our consumer culture and the stigma of being overweight in a society that loves excess in everything but body size. Gluttons now sin against prevailing standards of beauty and health, and the punishment is living hell. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Originally a lecture in the New York Public Library's Seven Deadly Sins series, this erudite little meditation on appetite and religion matches ancient and medieval texts (Petronius, St. John Chrysostom) with up-to-date references to stomach stapling and Saveur. A confident satirist and stylist, Prose (Blue Angel, etc.) avows her bafflement at the idea of sinful eating and glosses the intervening early modern and postindustrial periods as too contentedly gluttonous-what else is capitalism but the desire for more?-to bother about. Instead she focuses on the morality of the Church, which condemned gluttony in its various forms as an offense against, or at least an obstacle to, godliness. This approach she contrasts with the current ambivalence about food consumption, which extols gastronomic luxury while condemning fat and self-indulgence. Desire for food (rather than the mere need of it) forges a link between body and spirit that seems both inevitable and dangerous: "the wages of sin have changed, and now involve a version of hell on earth: the pity, contempt and distaste of one's fellow mortals." Sauntering through various texts, Prose offers up a wonderful smorgasbord of factoids and apertus, whose chief ingredient is irony. Thus, the religious culture that regards gluttony as a willful sin but must allow even sinners to eat; the medical culture that calls overeating a blameless compulsion, even as it exhorts us to eat sensible diets. She ends in the modern sphere, commenting astutely on the newest (and most ironic) equation of fat with money, whereby profit is derived from the accumulation and loss of other people's weight. A chapter on celebrations of gluttony, from Fielding to M.F.K. Fisher, closes this stimulating, pointedly dispassionate investigation of a decidedly emotional subject. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The NYPL and Oxford University Press have joined forces to produce these two little volumes, which inaugurate a seven-volume series on the seven deadly sins that will be published serially through fall 2004. Measuring 5" 7", these handy little books will all be written by prominent writers and thinkers; the next five will be by Simon Blackburn (Lust), Wendy Wasserstein (Sloth), Robert A.F. Thurman (Anger), Phyllis Tickle (Greed), and Michael Eric Dyson (Pride). With the first two volumes, we see that envy is that secret "sin" behind everything from common jealousy to the bringing down of the World Trade Towers, while gluttony, that most visible of vices, afflicts at least that third of the American population considered overweight. Not unexpectedly, the writing is superb and memorable, with eminently quotable quotes to serve as daily reminders not to be envious or overindulge. Epstein (Snobbery: The American Version) argues convincingly that the "real wages of sin" for envy are not paying attention to our own abilities, while Prose (The Lives of Muses; Household Saints) illustrates the very real psychological and physical results of overeating, which range from poor self-esteem to death itself. Prose's writing is illustrated by 16 graphic works of art from Bosch to Breughel, showing gruesome examples of gluttony, while the text of Envy is accompanied by numerous cartoons (for how do you illustrate a mental sin?). With the insights gleaned from these volumes, perhaps readers will work toward changing our "culture of gluttons" and renewing the clarity of life that envy can block. Decidedly different from Ken Bazyn's recent The Seven Perennial Sins and Their Offspring, which originated as a series of sermons and has a decidedly religious tone, these Lilliputian volumes are highly recommended, especially for public libraries.-Gary P. Gillum, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Editor's Notep. ix
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Is Gluttony a Sin?p. 7
Chapter 2 The Wages of Sinp. 43
Chapter 3 The Real Wages of Sinp. 77
Chapter 4 Great Moments in Gluttonyp. 83
Notesp. 95
Bibliographyp. 99
Indexp. 101