The Duchess Who
Wouldn't Sit Down
Four thousand years ago, an Akkadian father offered his son this advice: “Give good food to eat, beer to drink, grant what is requested, provide for and treat with honor.” Today, we still think of hospitality much the same way – as a simple expression of our generosity and humanity. In truth, something far darker and more elemental often lurks behind a host’s best intentions. The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down is dedicated to a new understanding of the traditions and history of hospitality. Jesse Browner leads the way back through Western civilization, from a present-day poker game, where a cunning chef disarms his rivals with perfect sandwiches, to the ancient Greeks, whose gods punished or exalted the mortals according to their excellence as hosts. Along the way, we visit the summer home of Adolf Hitler, a staunch vegetarian who liked to lecture his guests on the horrors of the slaughterhouse. We meet Lady Ottoline Morrell, the hapless heiress who opened her home to Britain’s greatest writers, only to be publicly lampooned in their novels. We catch John James Audubon in the act of playing a cruel prank on a defenseless guest. We explore the gilded cage of Louis XIV’s Versailles, where an ambitious duchess preferred to destroy all her social prospects rather than sit on a folding stool. And we try to survive supper with the Roman emperors, for whom classic dinner-table entertainment was a good poisoning.
Praise for The Duchess Who Wouldn't Sit Down
“The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down is an absolute delight, as erudite as it is witty, as witty as it is charming. The only text I think I can compare it to is Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste, yet Mr. Browner is infinitely more engaging. The book combines tremendous learning with very human tenderness, and I felt privileged to read it.” — Lisa Hilton, author of Athenais
“The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down, which is Browner’s third book after two novels, must be part of a long campaign to find this talented writer the wide audience he deserves. Don’t bet against him.” — Carol Doup Miller, Raleigh News and Observer
“A thought-provoking gallop through several millennia and numerous cultures in search of hospitality – the concept and the practice. Often surprising, always entertaining.” — Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food