More from the Cavewoman Culture Club

The CCC — last seen in action in my 2/18 posting “A Neanderthal breakthrough”, in which an inventor cavewoman carves the first definite article out of stone — strikes again in the Piccolo / Price Rhymes With Orange cartoon of 5/21/21, in which a cavewoman devises a precursor of the candlelit dinner:

(#1) An announcement in Caveman Talk of the first romantic dinner for two; since these beginnings, it has evolved into a elaborated cultural practice

Cultural innovations often come with bold experiments in form at the outset (consider the history of photography and film) — in this case, apparently, in the adventure of scented fire.

The cultural practice. From the Collins English Dictionary on-line:

noun candlelit dinner or candlelight dinner: a meal for a couple which is illuminated by a candle or candles, esp in order to create a romantic mood.  Examples: She cooks a meal, but this definitely isn’t a romantic candlelit dinner for two. The Sun (2016) | At 7pm a meal was served and each couple enjoyed a candlelit dinner together. Times, Sunday Times (2011) | In my view, most of them would be better off ditching the roses and taking this book along to the obligatory candlelit dinner for two instead. Times, Sunday Times (2008) | Bear in mind that taking it with food may delay its effect too (so much for that romantic candlelit dinner). The Sun (2009)

Then in the TV Tropes entry on “Romantic Candlelit Dinner”:

Having a fine dinner with your beloved is one means of romance, but for some reason, having it lit by candles is the defining aspect of its romance. The warm, dim and localized light source of candles in a darkened room softens the lovers’ complexions, obscures their imperfections, and provides an intimate ambiance free of distractions. It also helps that fire is often used to symbolize passion and romance.

A frequent subverted example is when the wife makes a romantic dinner for her husband when he comes home, except he doesn’t come home for some reason (working late, out with the guys, etc.). He eventually arrives to find candle stubs, a ruined dinner – often a roast which has turned into a hard lump due to overcooking – and a pissed-off wife that he didn’t know he pissed off.

Compare & Contrast: Breakfast in Bed

For a long time, the dark times of the day were illuminated by soft artificial light from fireplaces, candles, or lamps burning plant oils or animal fats (like whale oil), until these were replaced in the 19th century by petroleum-based lighting and in the 20th by electric lights. I don’t know when candlelighting came to be associated with intimacy and romance — with providing ambience — but it could go back well before the 19th century, if eating with someone after dark in itself carried such associations.

Candles do in fact illuminate one of the great scenes of seduction by food in the movies:

(#2)  Tom Jones (Albert Finney) and Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman) drink and eat at one another with lust in their hearts and eyes in the 1963 movie Tom Jones: a chicken leg, an oyster, a juicy pear

The film is from 1963, so incorporates modern sensibilities. As I recall the 1749  Fielding novel, Tom does eat dinner at the Inn at Upton, and he ends up bedding Mrs. Waters there, but I don’t believe her seduction of him took place over dinner. The scene from the film is fabulous, but you’re unlikely to notice the candle; now look at the photo.

A note on ambience. From OED3 (March 2020) on the noun ambience (sometimes ambiance):

1. Environment, surroundings; atmosphere, esp. of a pleasant or appealing nature. Frequently (esp. in later use): the mood, character, or atmosphere of a particular place. [1st cite 1648; 1st OED cite conveying pleasant ambience, 1878 South-Atlantic Where am’ranths and all fragrant flow’rs With ambience scent the air.] …

Two candlelit dinners. The first from a site on gay travel in Colombia, the second from a site offering adventurous recipes for intimate occasions.

(#3) From the Purple Roofs travel site, “5 Romantic Things To Do in Gay Cartagena [Colombia] – Nomadic Boys” by J. Scott Coatsworth on 6/17/17: Stefan and Sebastien having a romantic dinner in Cartagena

(#4) From the Adventure Challenge site, “17 Easy Dinner Recipe Ideas for Two” (link)

Looking for easy dinner ideas for two? Let’s face it – on a weeknight, we want the food we make to be as easy and as quick as possible. But ease doesn’t have to mean you compromise on flavor! These 17 recipes are all incredibly tasty – so, whether you’re cooking for date night or just another Tuesday, you’re sure to find inspiration for your next delicious dinner for two right here on this list. [among the recipes: #2 brown-butter salmon with lemon and harissa; #5 quick lamb ragu; #9 creamed mushroom and Brie chicken; #11 spiced chickpea stew with turmeric and coconut]

You will note that wine has become part of the canonical candlelit dinner package.

A note on scented candles. These, however, have not become part of the canonical candlelit dinner. Two fragrant postings on this blog:

from 5/25/11 on “Scent and masculinity”:

The idea is that some scents are masculine (and some feminine), so that when you’re manipulating scent  (by colognes/perfumes, deodorants, soaps and shampoos, and the like) or merely broadcasting [through incense or scented candles or whatever] scent that can be gendered — the scent of flowers or home cooking (feminine), the scent of wood fires, leather, grilling meat, or piney woods (masculine), etc. — you’re sending gender messages.

from 6/16/21 on “Annals of commercial naming: Boy Smells”:

[fragrances for men is] one of the two scented product lines the company offers, the other being candles. A third line is underwear, all of it explicitly labeled by the company, “This comes unscented”, but in an ad for Boy Smells products, it’s hard not to think of pungent teenager skivvies.

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