Dinner Is the Great Trial: Sociability and Service à la Russe in the Long Nineteenth Century

Graham Harding
2021
The shift from service à la Française to service à la Russe that took place between 1850 and 1880 changed Victorian sociability and the Victorian dinner table. In the former style of service all the dishes were put on the table and then carved by the host; in the latter most of the dishes were placed not on the table but upon a sideboard and from there handed to guests individually by the servants. This new "taste regime" had implications not just for the style of food but the conduct of the
more » ... e conduct of the table and the taste and style of the wines served during the meal, leading to the emergence of a rigid and still enduring code of food and wine matching. The shift to à la Russe also affected the glassware and the decorations on the table. Finally, the shift to "Service à la Russe" exposed tensions and changes in Victorian sociability. The dinner party represented the "great trial" for aspiring members of Victorian upper and upper middle class. Conduct at the dinner table cruelly exposed not only the behavioural solecisms of the guests but also the ability of the host and hostess to manage the complex alimentary and social machinery of the dinner party. The article concludes by examining the reasons for and implications of the early twentieth century switch to entertaining not at home but in restaurants. Keywords A la russe / A la francaise; Etiquette; Sociability; Gendered behaviour; Dining Graham Harding 56 Graham Harding 58
doi:10.21427/etps-q755 fatcat:qkwjz3g7hvdalizg3xmq4lzoiq