From novelist and gracious host Jesse Browner, a fascinating guide to our real motives for entertaining. [via]
When we think of hospitality- to "give food to eat, beer to drink, grant what is requested, provide for and treat with honor"-we generally like to picture it as a simple expression of generosity. In truth, something far darker and more elemental often lurks behind a host's best intentions.
Partisan, witty, and laced with astonishing historical detail, The Duchess Who Wouldn't Sit Down is dedicated to a new understanding of the art of hospitality. Jesse Browner leads the way back through Western civilization, from a present-day poker game where Browner's devastatingly delicious sandwiches leave the best players penniless, to the ancient Greeks, whose gods punished or exalted the mortals according to their excellence as hosts. On the way, we visit Hitler at his summer home (a staunch vegetarian, he liked to lecture his guests on the horrors of the slaughterhouse); Gertrude Stein (a marvelously successful hostess) in Paris and Lady Ottoline Morrell (a dismal failure) in England; Louis XIV at Versailles (whose opulent feasts and parties were matched only by his regulation of his courtiers' behavior, controlling even who was allowed to sit down); and the Roman emperors (for whom classic dinner-table entertainment was a good poisoning).
As delightful and edifying as an evening in favored company, The Duchess Who Wouldn't Sit Down is a must-read for everyone who's ever accepted an invitation-or wonders why they keep sending them out.