Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Instructions for Day to Day Living

In 1861, women of Victorian England had few options of where to turn for advice on domestic matters. If you own mother hadn't properly prepared you to instruct servants, manage the nursery, make your own clothing and so on, you weren't able to run to the local bookstore and pick up the latest offering from Martha Stewart. Therefore, it was a great relief when Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was published. All of those topics and many more were covered, including, apparently, the first logical layout of recipes, which listed necessary ingredients first, followed by manner of preparation, number of servings and so on.

The 2007 Masterpiece Theatre presentation of The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton tells the story of the remarkable woman behind the bestselling book. Isabella Mayson was educated at a boarding school in Germany and then returned home to England where her mother and step-father were raising her 16 younger brothers and sisters. She was introduced to the struggling young publisher Sam Beeton and, despite the disapproval of her parents, married him. She almost immediately began submitting articles on domestic issues for his magazine, and these articles formed the basis for the popular book.

It was quite interesting to follow the life of the real Mrs. Beeton. The story was presented in a somewhat unusual style, with the character of Isabella speaking directly to the audience most of the time -- both before and after her death. She died at the age of 28, although not of what she feared would take her life. Before that, she and her husband suffered personal tragedies and financial difficulties. Still, according to this portrayal at least, Mrs. Beeton remained upbeat, cheerful and energetic until the end.

I was interested to see that the entire text of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management is available to read for free online. In addition to offering helpful advice, the book gives a glimpse into day to day life of a bygone age.

Final Verdict for The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton: Two Gherkins, for being a somewhat bland portrayal of a pioneering domestic goddess

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