“This is your PhD,” my friends said, proudly presenting a cake decorated with plastic animals. “It’s a farm! And you do farming, yeah?”
Sort of. I research agricultural labour in eighteenth-century England (with an emphasis on the “labour” bit). But there was no labour in this cake-world: no farmers, no dairymaids or ploughboys, no gangs of harvest labourers, no carters or threshers. Human labour was entirely absent. I thought this was quite funny and ate the percy pigs happily.
And yet, the unearthly green icing hinted at something deeper and darker than its inner chocolate layer. Staring into the glowing blue eyes of the monstrous cat-like creature in the centre I realised my birthday cake was not the simple-yet-adorable attempt at representation it first seemed, but in fact a sophisticated and devastating critique of the ideology of the eighteenth-century landed gentry. My friends had (inadvertently) produced a brilliant pastiche of the idealised pastoral scenes found in some landscape paintings, depicting a mythic countryside of ease and abundance populated by fluffy sheep and golden wheat. Continue reading