More effective when viewed larger
This old copy of the famous Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management has been in our family for quite a while, and generally just sits on the bookshelf, rarely getting any attention. Well it caught my eye the other day for no particular reason and after enjoying a little browse I decided that I just had to get it into a photograph somehow. I hope you enjoy the result.
If you view it larger you will notice (at the bottom) that this “new” edition is dated 1891.
PERMANENT FEATURE PAGE
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was edited by Isabella Beeton and was first published as a book in 1861 by S. O. Beeton Publishing, 161 Bouverie Street, London, a firm founded by her husband, Samuel Beeton. It was a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain.
Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today, i.e. with all the ingredients listed at the start.
It was intended as a guide of reliable information about every aspect of running a house for the aspirant middle classes. In addition to cooking, its 2,751 entries include tips on how to deal with servants’ pay and children’s health, and above all a wealth of cooking advice, instructions and recipes. It was an immediate best-seller, selling 60,000 copies in its first year and totaling nearly two million up to 1868.
The author, Isabella Beeton, was 21 years old when she started working on the book, and she died at 28. The book gives a charming and historically significant insight into Victorian domestic management. Although it is not a modern book, many people in Britain own a copy as it has been frequently reprinted and is available to this day. The name “Mrs Beeton” still has iconic status in Britain: most people recognize it and know its connotations, although very few have actually come into contact with the book itself. The phrase, “first, catch your hare”, while popularly thought to originate here, was already proverbial when the book was written.
Today’s superstar chefs (especially Delia Smith) might be seen as the direct descendants of Mrs Beeton, who saw as they did the need to provide reassuring advice on culinary matters for the British middle classes, the Industrial Revolution having sealed the demise of traditional rural cooking skills.
Its preface begins:
I must frankly own, that if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it. What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways.