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The broken staff of life

In I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith’s charming novel about coming of age in a time of austerity, the youthful narrator, who wants to be a writer, by the way, speaks ruefully about the slender offerings each day at the evening meal: “I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread.” (p. 10)

And yet in the years since the 1948 publication of the book, we have come to accept and perhaps even enjoy emptier and emptier foods, especially in the United States. We should be able to imagine and create better lives as easily as we do these more impoverished ones, but often we do not.

This may be a timeless struggle, however, considering Karl Kraus’s belief that his society, a century ago, was metaphorically “baking bread from breadcrumbs,” a demoralizing judgment if it is deserved.

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