Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Henry James & Fletcherism; or, "The Gospel of Much Chewing" Reading through Wharton's correspondence with Henry James, I came across a passage in which he extols the virtues of "the Fletcher diet." According to L.F. Barker in The New York Times (8 March 1907), its inventor, Horace Fletcher, was refused a few years ago on applying for life insurance because of stomach trouble. That frightened him, and he began to think over the question of what he ate and should eat. He came to the conclusion that food swallowed before it is dissolved is very much in the situation of clinkers in a furnace—likely to cause trouble and the loss of a great deal of energy in getting rid of it ... So he decided to chew everything he ate until it had thoroughly dissolved in his mouth. "The Gospel of Much Chewing," according to the Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture (27 February 1904), came to Fletcher when he realized that the malassimilation which causes ["most, if, indeed, not all, of the ills to which humanity is supposed to be heir"] must arise from some voluntary violation of nature's laws, since subconscious action is of necessity in accord with them. As the action of the stomach and lower digestive tract is involuntary, he reasoned that the difficulty must be in the mouth ... and he began at once to study its office in connection with digestion. He soon discovered, among other untabulated physiological facts, that, after he had formed the habit of so thoroughly insalivating his food, both liquids and solids, that it became tasteless, he swallowed it without voluntary effort, and also that he experienced a curious inability to swallow food not so thoroughly masticated; finding that the throat through no act of will closed against that which had not been reduced to the consistency of cream. While making these experiments Mr. Fletcher found that a young garden onion required 722 bites before it disappeared by involuntary swallowing, but that when this was accomplished it left no odor. Simply put, Mr. Fletcher's contention is that the office of the teeth is so to reduce food that each particle can be acted upon by the saliva, which is freed by the action of the mouth for this purpose. By practicing this thorough insalivating of his food, Dr. van Someren ["a practicing physician in Venice"] says that he has been cured of inherited gout and of eczema, frequent boils and severe headaches when all remedies known to the medical profession failed to give him relief ... In fact, he declares that most diseases would disappear if this method of eating was a universal habit. In sum: Henry James praises a method of eating which entails sitting down to a delicious dinner and chewing, chewing, chewing, chewing, chewing until the food loses all flavor and is the consistency of cream. Can you resist the temptation to analogize his post-1900 diet and his post-1900 prose style? I, for one, cannot.

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