Women as Generals of Households
‘The Household General’ is a term coined in 1861 by Isabella Beeton in her manual Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Here she explained that the mistress of a household is comparable to the Commander of an Army or the leader of an enterprise.
To run a respectable household and secure the happiness, comfort and well-being of her family she must perform her duties intelligently and thoroughly. For example, she has to organize, delegate and instruct her servants, which is not an easy task as many of them are not reliable. She is expected to organize parties and dinners to bring prestige to her husband, also making it possible for them to meet new people and establish economically important relationships.
At the same time she must make sure she devotes enough time to her children and towards improving her own abilities and cultural knowledge. Another duty described by Beeton is that of being the “sick-nurse” who takes care of ill family members. This requires a good temper, compassion for suffering and sympathy with sufferers, neat-handedness, quiet manners, love of order and cleanliness; all qualities a woman worthy of the name should possess in the 19th century. A woman in Victorian times was also obliged to take care of her parents in case of illness, even if this stretched over months and years and often implied a great sacrifice of self-interest on her side.
A very special connection existed between women and their brothers. Sisters had to treat their brothers as they would treat their future husbands. They were dependent on their male family members as the brother’s affection might secure their future in case their husband treated them badly or they did not get married at all. Also, it was very easy to lose one’s reputation, but was difficult to establish a reputation. For example, if one person in a family did some thing horrible, the whole family would have to suffer the consequences.
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