We each of us strive for domestic bliss -- the perfect marriage, the perfect home, the perfect family -- and we may look to Delia and Nigella to give us tips on achieving the unattainable. Kathryn Hughes has pulled back the curtains to look at Mrs Beeton, the creator of the ultimate book on keeping house. In Victorian England what did every ...
We each of us strive for domestic bliss -- the perfect marriage, the perfect home, the perfect family -- and we may look to Delia and Nigella to give us tips on achieving the unattainable. Kathryn Hughes has pulled back the curtains to look at Mrs Beeton, the creator of the ultimate book on keeping house. In Victorian England what did every middle-class house-wife need to create the perfect home? The Book of Household Management. 'Oh, but of course!' Mrs Beeton would no doubt declare with brisk authority. But Mrs Beeton is not quite the matronly figure that has kept her name resonating 150 years after the publication of 'The Book of Household Management'. Those famous pages of carefully costed recipes, warnings about not gossiping to visitors, and making sure you always keep your hat on in someone else's house -- indispensible in the molding of the Victorian domestic bliss. But there are many myths surrounding the legend of Mrs Beeton. It is very possible that her book was given so much social standing through fear, as she was believed to be a bit of an old dragon. It seems though that Mrs Beeton was a series of contradictions. Kathryn Hughes reveals here that Bella Beeton was actually a million miles away from the stoical, middle-aged matron. She was in fact only 25 years old when she created the guide to successful family living and had only had five years experience of her own to inform her. Sadly, two of her children died. She lived in a semi-detached house in Pinner with the bare minimum of servants. She bordered on being a workaholic. Not the meek and mild little wife that her book was aimed at -- more a highly intelligent and ambitious young woman. After preaching about wholesome and clean living, Bella Beeton died at the age of 28 from (contrary to her parent's belief) bad hygiene. Kathryn Hughes sympathetically explores the irony behind Bella Beeton's public and private image in this highly readable and informative study of Victorian life style.
Publishers Weekly, 2006-03-13 Hughes (George Eliot) acquaints Americans with Isabella Beeton (1836-1865), a proto-Martha Stewart whose Book of Household Management-still legendary in Britain-urged women to co-opt the efficient operation of their husbands' factories. The first author with unrestricted access to the Beeton archives, Hughes sketches her subject's life and oeuvre with clarity and intimate knowledge of the Victorian milieu. She explores the welter of contradictions that gnawed at Beeton's life and legacy. The rather mousey "diva" died at 28, yet wrote with tetchy middle-aged authority. Though a posthumous legend, in life she remained beholden to her husband, a struggling publisher made solvent by her success. As "editrix" of his women's magazines, Beeton intuited the language that would resonate with readers. Her readership was also defined by dichotomy: aspiring women ushered into the industrial age, caught between the old ways of homemaking and the quicker, cheaper ready-made goods that flooded the London market. "Interlude" chapters offer intense analysis, showing Beeton's dexterity at reconciling the class, economic and gender tensions that lurked beneath the Book's images of Christmas pudding. Though Hughes's allegiance to detail can pull her into tangents, she makes a salient case for Beeton's commercial and cultural importance. Illus. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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