Slavery and the Culture of Taste

By Simon Gikandi | Go to book overview

2
Intersections:
Taste, Slavery, and the Modern Self

Judging from the entry she made in her diary, Monday, April 24, 1797, was a very good day for Anna Margaretta Larpent (fig. 2.1), a theater critic and woman of taste. On that particular day, Larpent rose up early and, after prayer, attended to some family business, including hemming and mending a handkerchief for her son George; she then read Claude Carloman de Rulhièr’s Histoire ou Anecdotes sur La Révolution de Russie; en l’Année 1762. She would spend the rest of the day visiting or corresponding with friends, attending to other domestic matters, and doing some reading. We know that reading was an important part of Larpent’s life, because a marked feature of her diary entry for Monday, April 24, 1797, as for other days, was the summary of the texts she had read, often presented as the culminating act of what was supposed to be an ordinary day. Indeed, a good portion of her entry for April 24 was devoted to reflections on Rulhier’s book, calling attention to the anecdotes that had bemused her most, including “among others the meeting between Biren and Munich when Peter the Great recalled them and ordered them to drink together.”1

Read as fragments or glimpses into a day in the life of an Englishwoman in the second half of the eighteenth century, Larpent’s diary entries strike one as quotidian, but considered as a whole, in their entire seventeen volumes, these diaries now stand as some of the most impressive records of the lived experience of the culture of taste in the eighteenth century, a compelling account of what John Brewer has termed the “pleasures of the imagination.”2 Here we have a vivid account of an intellectual, middle-class woman at the end of the long eighteenth century, one whose identity had been enabled by an aesthetic sensibility, cultural uplift, and the careful mastery of the economy of manners and taste. For those looking for the objects and practices that constituted the fabric of

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