Chewing Through History

Illustrations from Comments on Corpulency, Lineaments of Leanness (1829)

Comments on Corpulency 2

Claude, swinging his arms loosely, took long, regular strides and enjoyed watching their shadows, happily lost in their sway, which he further exaggerated by putting his shoulders into the rhythm.

Then, as though suddenly waking from a dream, he asked, "Do you know 'The Battle of the Fat and the Thin'?"

Florent, caught by surprise, answered no. Claude excitedly praised this series of prints, pointing out favorite parts: the Fat, bursting from their enormity, prepare the evening glut, while the Thin, doubled over from hunger, look in from the street, stick figures filled with envy; then the Fat, seated at the table, cheeks overflowing, drive away a Thin who had the audacity to approach humbly, looking like a bowling pin among bowling balls.

Claude saw in these drawings the entire drama of mankind, and he took to classifying all people into the Thin and the Fat, two opposing groups, one devouring the other to grow plump and jolly. "You can bet," he said, "that Cain was a Fat and Abel a Thin. And since that first killing, there have always been hungry Fats sucking the blood out of scanty eaters. It is a constant preying of the stronger on the weaker, each swallowing his neighbor and then finding himself swallowed in turn ... So you see, my friend, watch out for the Fat."

From The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola (1873)