Monday, March 9, 2009
The Kit-Cat Club by Ophelia Field
The importance of pies in English culture can never be overestimated, for without pies there would have been no Kit-Cat Club. Publisher Jacob Tonson founded the club in the 1690s, inviting authors and rich patrons to dine on mutton pies at the Cat and Fiddle tavern, owned by pie-maker Christopher "Kit" Cat. As Ophelia Field reveals in this brilliant account of the club's 20-year history, the chit-chat at the Kit-Cat was far from idle. When they weren't toasting beauties, carousing and drinking to excess, the club's members skilfully monopolised literary patronage, while in politics they were instrumental in shifting power away from the monarch and towards parliament. Concentrating on a "literary quintet" that includes Congreve, Addison and Steele, Field shows how the Tatler and the Spectator ridiculed the Tories and successfully promoted a Whig version of Englishness. She also shows how, without Tonson's efforts, Milton's Paradise Lost might never have been accepted into the literary canon.