In the middle of our “Capital Meals” series, we thought we should pause to pay a quick tribute to Valentine’s Day.
In Canadian literature, the path to love isn’t always easy. Sometimes those sweet Valentine’s Day treats are not simply for wooing, but rather for testing the suitability of one’s partner, or for unearthing one’s own feelings.
Take for example Marian McAlpin, the recently engaged protagonist in Margaret Atwood’s first published novel The Edible Woman (1969). Marian is terribly uncertain in her choice of fiancé, Peter. A sure sign that trouble is brewing in this romance is the fact that while Peter sends Marian a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, Marian sends him nothing. She isn’t even sure what to send. During the course of the novel, Marian’s dwindling appetite becomes her body’s way of telling her that this particular path towards marriage is in error, but at this point, Marian is still confused.
Buying a day-old cake in the shape of a heart as a belated Valentine’s gift for Peter, Marian takes a bite: “She was surprised to find that it was pink in the inside too. She put a forkful into her mouth and chewed it slowly; it felt spongy and cellular against her tongue, like the bursting of thousands of tiny lungs. She shuddered and spat the cake into her napkin and scraped her plate in the garbage” (230).
Ultimately, Peter’s Valentine’s gift becomes a test, not of his affection, but of Marian’s own emotional state. Serving her fiancé a piece of this flesh-like cake, Marian hopes to determine if she is “normal.” Peter eats the cake without hesitation.
Poor Marian. Clearly all Valentine’s Days are not ideal. Her testing of others continually leads back to her own life choices, as she must eventually confront her own uncertainty and the reasons behind her changing appetite. “Cake testers” — they clearly aren’t just a kitchen tool used for measuring whether or not your cake is baked through on the inside!
Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. 1969. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989.
Written by: Shelley Boyd