Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management: Part one

 Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

 Isabella Beeton

 Oxford World Classics (2008) First published in 1861

 4 1/2 stars

It ought, therefore, to enter into the domestic policy of every parent, to make her children feel that home is the happiest place in the world; that to imbue them with this delicious homefeeling is one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow.

   I am reading Mrs Beeton for the Victorian Literature Challenge and enjoying it immensely. There is no way I will be able to review this book in one go. It is simply too vast and varied to attempt that. Plus this gem is so rich in portraying knowledge of the Victorian home that it is difficult to take it all in. It’s fantastic!

     First, it defines the role of a mistress, which in those days referred to the wife.  Many subjects are covered from general good character to friendships to hiring servants. Reading this book showed how important interviewing potential servants was with honesty being the most important requirement. Domestic servants often lived in the family home and took care of the most personal aspects of daily living. I’ll define some of these fascinating roles later on but here the role to secure good help is tantamount to the job of mistress. Mrs Beeton included a table of Average Yearly Wages in order of household rank which would be a marvelous find for someone studying the Victorian period.

     Morning calls, visits of condolence, and giving parties were extremely important social functions.  Ladies conduct themselves with discretion, not overstaying their welcome, and most definitely not contradict a servant who says the mistress is not at home. Guidelines about giving successful dinner parties are outlined in great detail from the half hour before arrival to how carriages of guests are announced. It also covers after dinner parties, suppers, balls, and buffets.  I loved Mrs. Beeton’s sample of an invitation.

Mr and Mrs B—- present their compliments to Mr and Mrs A—- and will do themselves the honour of, (or will have much pleasure in) accepting their kind invitation to dinner on the 6th of December next.

     I’ve got to use that someday! Where manners are concerned, it is of the utmost importance that a guest feels comfortable, welcome, and in the case of a ball, never left out of the fun. It is this practice of kindness towards all and the various ways it is shown that left an impression on me. Mrs. Beeton is definitely still relevant today.

     Evenings at home consist of various games, needlework,  and other agreeable pastimes that are experienced as a family. The quote at the top is from this section. Being cheerful and not discussing horrible or controversial things while enjoying family time is one Victorian practice we can all take to heart.

     It moves on to the role of Housekeeper and the Arrangement and Economy of the kitchen. Drawings of various pots, pans, and the so-cool old fashioned stoves are on almost every page, including a list of items most mistresses will need. I never heard of some of them. There is a list of in-season foods by month and in the Introduction to Cookery a glossary of French terms like blanch, bechamel, and gateau. I did not know that casserole and caramel are also French cooking terms.

     I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Recipes and other interesting facts make up a sizeable portion and I will review that in Part Two.


6 Responses

  1. Have you read Bill Bryson’s At Home yet? His discussion of Miss Beeton’s book and other similar titles is both interesting and funny.

  2. It looks like this would be a decent primary source for my students writing historical fiction. Thanks!

  3. Love it! I may need to find that one myself!

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