Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

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Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management
Bhm title.jpg
Front cover
Author Isabella Beeton
Original title Beeton's Book of Household Management
Language English
Subject Domestic economy
Genre Manual
Publisher S. O. Beeton Publishing
Publication date

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain, edited by Isabella Beeton. It was originally entitled Beeton's Book of Household Management, in line with the other guide-books published by Beeton.

Previously published as a part work, it 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.


The author, Isabella Beeton, was 21 years old when she started working on the book. The first publication was in 1859, when it appeared in her husband Samuel Orchart Beeton's publication the The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine serialised in 24 monthly instalments.[1] On 25 December 1861, the installments were collected into one volume with the title The Book of Household Management, comprising 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.[1]

In its preface she writes:

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.

Beeton's half sister, Mrs. Smiles, was later asked about her memories of the book's development and recalled:

Different people gave their recipes for the book. That for Baroness pudding (a suet pudding with a plethora of raisins) was given by the Baroness de Tessier, who lived at Epsom. No recipe went into the book without a successful trial, and the home at Pinner was the scene of many experiments and some failures. I remember Isabella coming out of the kitchen one day, 'This won't do at all,' she said, and gave me the cake that had turned out like a biscuit. I thought it very good. It had currants in it.[2]

It was an immediate best-seller, selling 60,000 copies in its first year and totalling nearly two million up to 1868.[3] Today, despite the numerous copies published, a first edition of Household Management, in "top condition", can sell for more than £1,000.[4] In 1863, a revised edition was issued in instalments.

In 1866, a year after Isabella's death, Samuel was in debt due to the collapse of Overend and Gurney, a London discount house to which he owed money. To save himself from bankruptcy he sold the copyright to all of his publications for a little over £19,000.[5] Of that, the rights to Household Management were sold to publishers Ward, Lock and Tyler for £3,250,[5][6] although Beeton continued to run it. The early editions included an obituary notice for Beeton but the publishers insisted it be removed 'allowing readers to imagine – perhaps even as late as 1915 – that some mob-capped matriarch was out there still keeping an eye on them'.[7]

Ward Lock's revisions to Household Management have continued to the present day and kept the Beeton name in the public eye for over 125 years, although current editions are far removed from those published in Mrs. Beeton's lifetime.

By 1906 the book had 2056 pages, "exclusive of advertising", with 3,931 recipes and was "half as large again" as the previous edition.[8]

Contents and style[edit]

Illustration from Book of Household Management

(The tomato's) flavour stimulates the appetite, and is almost universally approved. The Tomato is a wholesome fruit, and digests easily.... it has been found to contain a particular acid, a volatile oil, a brown, very fragrant extracto-resinous matter, a vegeto-mineral matter, muco-saccharine, some salts, and, in all probability, an alkaloid. The whole plant has a disagreeable odour, and its juice, subjected to the action of the fire, emits a vapour so powerful as to cause vertigo and vomiting.

Book of Household Management sections 1158-1159. The conflicting opinions on the tomato occurring on the same page has been noted as seemingly careless editing.[9]

Despite professing to be a guide of reliable information about every aspect of running a house for the aspirant middle classes, the original edition devotes 23 pages to household management then discusses cooking for almost all of the other 900.[9] Even with the emphasis on food some of her cooking advice is so odd as to suggest that she had little experience preparing meals.[9] As an example, she recommends boiling pasta for an hour and forty-five minutes.[9] Like many other British people of her social class and generation she adopted a distaste for unfamiliar foods, saying that mangoes tasted like turpentine, lobsters were indigestible, garlic was offensive, potatoes were "suspicious; a great many are narcotic, and many are deleterious", cheese could only be consumed by sedentary people, and tomatoes were either good or bad for a range of reasons.[9]

The recipes were largely drawn from other sources, (including Eliza Acton), leading to the later charge that "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy".[10] Her biographer Kathryn Hughes recounts that Beeton's "first recipe for Victoria sponge was so inept that she left out the eggs" and that her work was "brazenly copied... almost word for word, from books as far back as the Restoration".[10] Influential 20th-century food writer Elizabeth David dismissed her as "a plagiarist"[11] and later wrote: "I wonder if I would have ever learned to cook at all if I had been given a routine Mrs Beeton to learn from".[12] Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words.

Unlike earlier cookbook authors, such as Hannah Glasse, Beeton offered an "emphasis on thrift and economy".[1] She also discarded the style of previous writer who employed "daunting paragraph[s] of text with ingredients and method jumbled up together" for what is a recognisably modern "user-friendly formula listing ingredients, method, timings and even the estimated cost of each recipe".[1][13]

Influence and legacy[edit]

First chapter of Book of Household Management

The book gives a historically significant insight into Victorian domestic management. Although it is not a modern book, it has been frequently reprinted in Britain 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 relatively 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.[14]

In the preface of the Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book published in Australia in 1878 by Wilhelmina Rawson, it is noted that "Mrs Lance Rawson's Cookery Book … is written entirely for the Colonies, and for the middle classes, and for those people who cannot afford to buy a Mrs Beeton or a Warne, but who can afford the three shillings for this." [15][16]

The Oxford English Dictionary recognised that, by the 1890s, Beeton's name "was adopted as a term for an authority on all things domestic and culinary".[17]

Beeton has been described as "the grandmother of modern domestic goddesses" like Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, who saw as she did, the need to provide reassuring advice on culinary matters for the British middle classes.[1] However, while Lawson and Smith "insist that cooking can be easy, fun and uncomplicated", Beeton "acknowledges the labour and skill required to cook well".[1]

A chapter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus, first published in 1899, is entitled Concerning Mrs. Beeton with a character declaring: "Mrs Beeton must have been the finest housekeeper in the world, therefore Mr. Beeton must have been the happiest and most comfortable man".[18][19]

In 2011, food writer and cook Gerard Baker tested and revised 220 of Beeton's recipes and published the result as Mrs. Beeton: How To Cook.[20]

In 2012, the food economist for British television period drama Downton Abbey described Beeton's book as an "important guide" for the food served in the series.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Russell, Polly (2010-12-03). "Mrs Beeton, the first domestic goddess". Financial Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  2. ^ "THE HOME PAGE.". The Advocate (Burnie, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 20 June 1936. p. 12 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Oxford University Press
  4. ^ Miller, Judith (2010-03-21). "Cookery Books". Millers' Antiques Guide. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  5. ^ a b "MISCELLANEOUS.". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 18 March 1867. p. 4. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  6. ^ quoting Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, December 23, 1866; Issue 1257.
  7. ^ Barnes, Julian (2003-04-05). "Mrs Beeton to the rescue". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  8. ^ "THE COOKERY BOOK.". Western Mail (Perth: National Library of Australia). 25 August 1906. p. 38. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Bryson, Bill (2011). At home : a short history of private life (1st Anchor Books ed. ed.). New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 9780767919395. 
  10. ^ a b Brown, Mark (2006-06-02). "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy, reveals historian". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  11. ^ Leith, Prue (2005-08-14). "The original domestic goddess". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  12. ^ Cooper, Artemis (2000). Writing at the Kitchen Table – The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David. London: Michael Joseph. p. 45. ISBN 0-7181-4224-1. 
  13. ^ Stringer, Helen (2000-01-19). "Mrs. Beeton Saved My Life". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  14. ^ "QUOTATION: First, catch your hare". 
  15. ^ "The Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book.*.". The Queenslander (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 5 March 1887. p. 391. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  16. ^ "Advertising.". The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia). 30 December 1886. p. 3. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  17. ^ Etty, Claire. "The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tucker'". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  18. ^ "A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus/Chapter XI". Wikisource. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "BOOKS, PUBLICATIONS, ETC,.". Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW: National Library of Australia). 25 July 1906. p. 34. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Sitwell, William (2012-04-18). "What Mrs Beeton did to us". The Spectator. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  21. ^ Krystal, Becky (2012-12-31). "On 'Downton Abbey,' aspic matters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management at Wikimedia Commons