McPhee eats lobster; likes it

James Ollen-Smith '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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John McPhee paints many an intimate scene with which the reader can get up close and personal. The following passage is straightforward and simple yet contains some nice meaty imagery.

With our wives, we ate the three lobsters from Ardskenish after boiling them in sea water for twenty minutes, cracking them, and dipping the meat in drawn butter. The McNeills, who had tasted lobster only in bits with other foods, were interested in trying the New England method. However, I think both of them were appalled to see the equivalent of six or seven pounds sterling just vanish from the table after a bath in butter, but they said they found the lobsters delicious – as did my wife and I. The claw meat was a little sweeter than the claw meat of a Maine lobster. The rest was undifferentiable from its American counterpart. On the table as well was pure Highland malt whisky from Speyside, and it was just right with the Scottish lobster. [23-24]

How does McPhee’s use of particular details regarding everyday activities -- such as the sweetness of the claw meat, the time and method of cooking, and the manner of eating -- help him push his agenda? What is his agenda, anyway? While he’s obviously biased toward the “crofters” of his beloved Colonsay, does he have a motive in writing this stuff other than to satisfy his own curiosity and educate the reader about the unique inhabitants of the island? In any event, does McPhee do a good job of gaining our trust and interest with his plain-talking yet sometimes flowerily descriptive writing style?

Victorian Web Overview John McPhee Victorian courses

April 2002