Have You Met Mrs. Beeton?

You really should, darling. No one else can tell you how to manage your household and cook your meals in a manner proper for a British  lady of  the nineteenth century.

You can learn more about Mrs. Beeton here. Her crowning achievement as an author is The Book of Household Management.

In it, you will find “information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.” How’s that for a subtitle! Wow! I never quite know what to do with my coachman; thank goodness for Mrs. Beeton!

Truly, the book is an amazing way to picture a time gone by. One of the many things that I find fascinating about it is the way in which common truths are presented in language that has become quite uncommon. For example,  Mrs. Beeton calls the kitchen “the great laboratory of every household, and that much of the ‘weal or woe,’ as far as regards bodily health, depends upon the nature of the preparations concocted within its walls.” True, but most of us rarely say “weal,” or even “concocted,” anymore.

I love this book, which you can read online. How can you not love a book with such chapter titles as “General Observations on the Common Hog?” To wit: you would do well to keep in mind that:

no other animal yields man so many kinds and varieties of luxurious food as is supplied to him by the flesh of the hog differently prepared; for almost every part of the animal, either fresh, salted, or dried, is used for food; and even those viscera not so employed are of the utmost utility in a domestic point of view.

And I just go to Thriftway and buy boneless pork chops, without observing anything about the common hog. It’s my loss.

All sarcasm aside, Mrs. Beeton, who died at 28 of a childbirth-related illness, left the world an astonishing document of great historical importance. She was a Martha Stewart, an Emily Post, and a Dr. Spock all rolled into one well-spoken Victorian lady.

I shall now close with the end of Mrs. Beeton’s Preface to her book:

I wish here to acknowledge the kind letters and congratulations I have received during the progress of this work, and have only further to add, that I trust the result of the four years’ incessant labour which I have expended will not be altogether unacceptable to some of my countrymen and countrywomen.

Know it in your heart, dear lady: a job well done!


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