Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Book of Household Management - circa 1891

Anyone who knows me knows full well that i am a hoarder ... My father used to blame it on his mother and as the years go on it becomes increasingly clear that it is fact directly from the man himself. These days, we tend to talk more about what little items of gold we've come across in our own houses. The big fella has some fairly cool stuff - if only i could pry it from his fingers.  I recently borrowed a book from him that was his great grandfathers, this is it below.

'The book of Household Management' by Mrs Isabella Beeton. Published 1891 ... and i'll have you know that it's the 'entirely new edition, revised and greatly enlarged'! I near on need a microscope to read the writing. Teeny tiny.

As you can see it is quite comprehensive for those that work in the household. It has delectable sounding recipes (several hundreds) like Stewed Ox Cheek and Fried Ox feet or Cow Heel. It summarises different breeds of animal so you know what your eating which i found ... different. This is not an area of the book for the vegetarian. Quite adorably my father has popped a couple of post it's on the pages of food he plans to make. I dare say this'll be when mum's away and he's home alone with only the dog having to witness it.
Venison anyone?

What i find the most interesting is the etiquette area. This fold out at the front of the book pictures how to set the table. The book commences with the most indepth outline of how the Mistress must run the household. It talks about all manner of things including when visiting is permittable and how 'one' should behave... "there is much danger and impropiety in expressing opinions of those persons and characters with whom, perhaps, there is but a slight acquaintance." "during these visits the manners should be easy and cheerful"

There is extensive outline of how the mistress conducts herself when hosting a dinner party, i've been enthralled reading it. Completely another world. This is the paragraph under 'Leaving the dinner table' at a dinner party . If only i could share it all, but this one's a stand out ...

When fruit has been taken, and a glass or two of wine passed round, the time will have arrived when the hostess will rise, and thus give the signal to the ladies to leave the gentleman, and retire to the drawing-room. The gentleman of the party will rise at the same time, and he who is nearest the door will open it for the ladies, all remaining courteously standing until the last lady has withdrawn. Dr Johnson has a curious paragraph on the effects of dinner on men. "Before dinner" he says "men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who are conscious of their inferiority have the modesty not to talk. When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous: but he is not improved, he is only not sensible of his defects" This is rather severe, but there may be truth in it.

Severe? You think!

Everything was so unbelieveably structured complete with the order of the day written on a board for the family and servents to adhere to.

I find it so intriguing - it was respectful but disrespectful, elegant and refined but high maintenance and extraordinarily judgemental. The mistress provided the most extravagant dinner's (or project managed the servants)with the finest touch, and would in turn be secretly condemned if the meal were a flop or her hosting duties not up to standard. Most stressful sounding indeed.

The book goes into SO much detail. It also summarises different forms of cooking from around the globe and 'Sanitary, Medical and Legal Memoranda'. Medicines and first aid and how to write a will etc. Here's an example of  the 'Method of restoring the apparently drowned'

This book is huge, so i've not read it all. Just the interesting Mistress parts. There's little poems throughout to express certain points. Dad's been asking for it back this week. Maybe he needs to learn how to 'dress a sheep's head'. Mmm delish.


  1. I'm not 'sensible of my defects' when I drink, that's for sure. That's the whole point I've always thought.

  2. How interesting to read..... I am amazed that you still have the book in your family - so precious and it must be worth a small fortune. Perhaps your Dad is starting to stress about the book. ;-)

  3. What a fascinating, albeit whopper of a book. Certainly one I'd love to have a long perusal of, how fascinating and funny. Agree with MR.