Margarine, Mystery and Modernity: Margarine and Class in Literary Texts (1880-1945)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Margarine represents the pinnacle of culinary modernity, but it also has deep-seated working-class undertones connected to its origin as a butter substitute to feed the masses. This paper employs close readings as a tool to explore references to margarine in literary texts, and to situate them within a broader cultural context. In the first section of the analysis margarine references are surveyed in order to demonstrate how the product contains a multitude of sometimes conflicting meanings. In the second part of the analysis two works of detective fiction are explored—Arthur Morrison’s “The Stolen Blenkinsop” (1908) and Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise (1933)—which use margarine as a central plot device. It is argued that margarine is the foodstuff of modernity since it contains within it the conflicting impulses which characterize the modernist mentality. Margarine stands for the novel and the innovative. It stands for technology and progress. However, margarine also embodies certain modernist anxieties about the prevalence of mass culture and fear surrounding the dissolution of boundaries between the high and the low, the real and the fake. The harder it is to tell the difference between butter and its cheaper alternative, the greater the threat.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Literatures


  • Margarine, modernism and modernity, food and literary studies, class
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-538
JournalFood, Culture and Society
Issue number4
Early online date2018 Jun 25
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Aug 8
Publication categoryResearch