In one of the most famous scenes in classic literature, the narrator of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is transported into childhood by the taste of tea and madeleines. As he sips the lime-blossom tea, he meditates on food and memory: Long after our loved ones have died, taste and smell endure, he says. “Like souls,” these sensual experiences hold deep memories for us.
Perhaps that’s why famous meals in literature are so unforgettable, from the tea party in Alice in Wonderland to Proust’s own madeleines. To capture the relationship between food and remembrance, Paris-based photographer Charles Roux has spent the last two years recreating and photographing iconic meals from fiction.
In 2014, Roux started cooking meals and gathering breads and cakes for his project “Fictitious Feasts.” He reread books he enjoyed to find good meals, and added scenes slowly, so he had time to search for the perfect backdrop and props. “You could say my pictures are inspired from paintings,” he says, adding that he used natural sunlight to shoot wherever possible.
What happened to all that food when he was done? Says Roux, he tried hard not to waste any. ”For a few months,” he says, “I knew exactly what I was eating.”
In the children’s fairy tale, a little girl named Goldilocks stumbles upon an empty house, which belongs to a family of bears. Inside are three bowls of freshly made porridge.
Florentino Ariza, one of the main characters of Marquez’s classic, meets one of his lovers when he’s brought by a friend, a riverboat captain, to lunch:
[The captain] also brought a demijohn of homemade aguardiente and ingredients of the highest quality for an epic sancocho, the kind that was possible only with chickens from the patio, meat with tender bones, rubbish-heap pork, and greens and vegetables from the towns along the river.
Morrison’s protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, is a child who resents Shirley Temple, “one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels.” She narrates:
Frieda brought her four graham crackers on a saucer and some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk, and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face. Frieda and she had a loving conversation about how cu-ute Shirley Temple was.
Esther Greenwood, the narrator of The Bell Jar, gets sick from a banquet where the hosts serve avocado and crab meat salad. She says:
I had a vision of the celestially white kitchens of Ladies’ Day stretching into infinity. I saw avocado pear after avocado pear being stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise under brilliant lights. I saw the delicate, pink-mottled claw meat poking seductively through its blanket of mayonnaise and the bland yellow pear cup with its rim of alligator-green cradling the whole mess.
In the iconic scene, Alice arrives at a tea party hosted by the Hatter, and attended by the March Hare and the sleepy Dormouse. Riddled with riddles and cakes, Alice leaves, annoyed.
Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question. `Why did they live at the bottom of a well?’
The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, `It was a treacle-well.’
`There’s no such thing!’ Alice was beginning very angrily….
Edmund Pevensie, one of the siblings in Lewis’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is seduced by the White Witch through his beloved treat, Turkish delight.
The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.
The famous scene in Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist features the hungry orphan desperate for more.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’