Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 44, Issue 1, Pg 1–18, Cambridge University Press, March 2016.
The objective of this article is to connect Matthew Arnold, that statesman of culture, with a tin of Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup, a by-product of industrial sugar refining that has been named Britain's “oldest brand.” Bringing the lofty to the low, the sage to the sweetener, is an exercise in willful materialism. Reading Arnold's “sweetness and light” literally, as comestibles, and “culture” as a term that engages the culinary, puts Arnold into conversation with revolutionary nineteenth-century materialist theorists, in particular the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Although not commonly read now, Feuerbach's work was translated by George Eliot and influential on that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: it is his materialism and his atheism that we see, modified, in their work. In his own time, he was also known for theories about diet and this article will, in part, show how these theories are inseparable from both his materialism and his atheism. True to its viscous, tacky nature, Golden Syrup arrives slowly and emerges late in my argument, but it will adhere Arnold to Feuerbach, and to an intellectual tradition that holds that what we eat, and whether and how we can eat, is as world-making as what we read. Sitting Feuerbach's self-avowed extreme materialism down at the table with Arnold's self-avowed extreme anti-materialism, I will show that they grapple with the same gods – the gods of Christianity, capitalism, and cultural immortality – and that they both conclude that we make and remake our world by digesting it.