Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mrs. Beeton's

For comfort reading and in preparation for One of our Thursdays is Missing, the sixth installment in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, I've been rereading the earlier books. At the moment I'm on The Well of Lost Plots (book #3), which like all the other Thursday Next books is full of literary references. I was absolutely tickled to come across multiple references to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (unfortunately incorrectly cited as "Mrs. Beeton's Complete Housekeeper").1 The mentions didn't mean much to me during my earlier readings, but we're big fans of Mrs. Beeton's at my new place of employment. My coworker even has a Mrs. Beeton's apron like the one pictured here.

Isabella Beeton (nee Mayson) was the Martha Stewart of her day2 and Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) was her magnum opus (1000+ pages). For the contemporary reader Mrs. Beeton's is a window into the middle-class Victorian home. While the text is heavy on cookery, it also provides advice on any number of topics relevant to the mistress of the house (who is likened to the commander of the army). Readers learn how many and what type of servants one need employ based on one's income, what to feed an invalid, how to diagnose and treat thrush, the logistics of serving dinner la Russe, and myriad other things.

The original Mrs. Beeton's is out of copyright so the text of the book is widely available on the internet. has a nice layout.

  1. Here's the first one: "I went downstairs and explained to obb the rudiments of cooking, which were as alien to it as having a name. Fortunately I found an old copy of Mrs. Beeton's Complete Housekeeper, which I told obb to study, half jokingly, as research. Three hours later it had roasted a perfect leg of lamb with all the trimmings. I had discovered one thing about Generics already: dull and uninteresting they may be -- but they learn fast" (p. 13 of my British edition).
  2. I cringed at that cliche even as I typed it.


  1. Ah, Mrs Beeton. When I was growing up I would always make Mrs Beeton's Basic Buns with my mum, they are really just cupcakes but very delicious :)

  2. Good to know! Maybe I should try them sometime (I've never braved one of her recipes before).

  3. They split the book up into sections and sold them separately too, I was tempted by some of them.