Consuming War: Modernism and the Rhetoric of Rationing

Kate McGah Nash, Fordham University


This project argues that British women writers of the 1930s and 1940s adapted state-supported discourses of food to critique contemporary theories of embodiment. To support total war—the First and Second World Wars as well as wars of colonial aggression—and to sustain empire, the British government managed the consumption, production, and materiality of food on the home front. This alimentary shift was discursively rendered and enforced through what I refer to as a "rhetoric of rationing", which shaped the infant feeding manuals, food propaganda, imperial advertising, and journalism in circulation. The writers in this study, Betty Miller, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, and Virginia Woolf, expose the "how to" didacticism of such tracts as supporting a biopolitical control of the state through the regulation of life. The "rhetoric of rationing" emerges as a restraint of the female body in order to homogenize the British body politic. Through chapters that move from a focus on infant feeding and meal rituals, to gustatory taste, to hunger, to waste, this dissertation charts how women writers recast state-supported discourses of food ideologically geared towards women. The first two chapters, on Betty Miller and Elizabeth Bowen, engage with narratives of ingestion—of infant feeding and taste—while the second two chapters, on Jean Rhys and Virginia Woolf, engage with narratives of expulsion—of asceticism and waste. Their reconceiving of the "rhetoric of rationing" resists popular conceptions of the body, those related to theories of eugenics, involuntary memory, imperial hunger, and modern waste. By exposing the instability of matter and affect as it pertains to food and food discourses, these writers challenge biopolitical control and imagine alternative forms of life.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Nash, Kate McGah, "Consuming War: Modernism and the Rhetoric of Rationing" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10125244.