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The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits

Robert Palter

A fascinating and comprehensive look at the role of fruit in literature and art

What is the powerful cultural significance of mangoes to contemporary Hispanic American writers? How does the strange sex life of figs relate to literature? Why are bananas the humorous fruit par excellence, and how are grapefruits anomalous among the citruses?

Literary episodes featuring fruit are pervasive across genre and cultural tradition, occurring in the Bible, modern and contemporary literature, and everywhere in between. Robert Palter provides a meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated account of this phenomenon. The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits is a lively and far-ranging investigation of the way fruit has been used in literature to express the entire gamut of human experience from desire, love, and religious fervor to anger, hate, and horror. The visual arts—including sculpture, painting, and calligraphy—are also richly represented, with some fifty illustrations, most of them in color.

The depth of Palter's research is evident in the stunning variety of texts he examines. Citing hundreds of examples from some two dozen languages, Palter discusses everything from novels, short stories, and lyric poems to nursery rhymes, fairy tales, movie scripts, and opera librettos. All foreign-language texts are quoted in English, often rendered by distinguished translators. The author's own genial and informed voice sets the tone for a lively conversation about the significance of literary fruit.

The book is organized into twenty-three chapters—on apples, grapes, strawberries, and so on—and includes analysis of the complicated biblical and secular role of apples, an interlude on the motif of the Chinese flowering plum, and a fascinating look at wine, as well as perspectives on incidental topics such as the enemies and friends of fruit, and the puzzling absence of fruit in certain prominent texts and traditions. Concise explanations of relevant horticulture and plant physiology are presented in a manner convincing for the specialist but also readily accessible to general readers.

This delightful book offers an engaging and thoroughly documented journey through literary and art history in its survey of the surprisingly intricate and evocative variety of references to fruit.

Born in Queens, New York, Robert Palter earned a degree in chemistry at Columbia University. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, working on the Manhattan Project. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is currently Dana Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. A scholar with wide-ranging interests, Palter has throughout his academic career published on the philosophy and history of science as well as eighteenth-century intellectual history. He lives in New Britain, Connecticut.



book jacket for The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits


7 x 10
892 pages
50 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-417-6
hardcover, $69.95s


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