The matched set of Fortune Cookies below, once I had posted them, set me to thinking. I yield to no one in my adoration of M.F.K. Fisher–not even to W. H. Auden, who said of her, “I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose”–but after I typed in and reread the longer of the two quotations, it struck me as haughty and unpleasant. I worried that it might give readers unfamiliar with her work the wrong impression of Fisher.
What I had in mind in putting together the post, of course, was the striking contrast between Fisher’s description of herself at nineteen in the first quotation, and her self-assessment at thirty in the second. Only after posting did I recognize the second extract as uncharacteristically off-putting. In context, it serves as the set-up and counterpoint to a self-critical remembrance of one of those men Fisher angers with her independence, and it works very differently than it does in isolation.
In another meditation on the subject of eating alone, Fisher is more her usual self. This appears in An Alphabet for Gourmets, where “A is for Dining Alone.”
And the kind people–they are the ones who have made me feel the loneliest. Wherever I have lived, they have indeed been kind–up to a certain point. They have poured cocktails for me, and praised me generously for things I have written to their liking, and showed me their children. And I have seen the discreetly drawn curtains to their family dining rooms, so different from the uncluttered, spinsterish emptiness of my own one room. Behind the far door to the kitchen I have sensed, with the mystic materialism of a hungry woman, the presence of honest-to-God fried chops, peas and carrots, a jello salad, and lemon meringue pie–none of which I like and all of which I admire in theory and would give my eyeteeth to be offered. But the kind people always murmur, “We’d love to have you stay to supper sometime. We wouldn’t dare, of course, the simple way we eat and all.”
As I leave, by myself, two nice plump kind neighbors come in. They say howdo, and then good-by with obvious relief, after a polite, respectful mention of culinary literature as represented, no matter how doubtfully, by me. They sniff the fine creeping straightforward smells in the hall and living room, with silent thanks that they are not condemned to my daily fare of quails financi