In this extract, Mrs Beeton describes the various duties of a lady's maid.
About Beeton's Book of Household Management
The first edition of The Book of Household Management appeared in 1861 when Mrs Beeton was only 25. It was a huge success, and has remained in print ever since. It not only contains over 2000 recipes, but is also a complete guide to running a household. The information provided is systematic and diverse: how to judge the character of your servants; the best way to roast a guinea pig; how to cultivate a good temper; how to make Christmas plum pudding in a mould; how to fold napkins into slipper and cactus shapes; how to revive flowers after packing; how to cure a cold. The majority of the recipes are accompanied by detailed information on natural history, traditional farming methods, and the cultural usage of key ingredients.
Beeton's instructions are easy to understand and are full of plain commonsense. Her recipes are simple, do not require intricate techniques, and do not contain complex sets of ingredients. Indeed, many of Mrs Beeton's critics believe her book to be the essence of Victorian blandness. For instance, she is notorious for advising the reader to turn vegetables into grey mulch, one recipe recommending boiling carrots for 1¾ to 2¼ hours!
In the preface to the book, Mrs Beeton spells out her fundamental objective - namely to teach housewives how to please their husbands via successful and efficient household management. 'I have always thought,' she writes, 'that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife's badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways. Men are now so well served out of doors - at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining-houses, that in order to compete with the attractions of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.'
The Book of Household Management was catering for the increasingly frenetic lifestyle of an expanding middle class. Many of its readers will have been entering into an unfamiliar way of life, having recently stepped up the social scale, and the book offers all sorts of essential advice: how to choose friends and acquaintances; how to dress; how to receive morning calls, or to seat guests at the dinner table. However, Mrs Beeton made it plain that the mistress of the house was not expected to dirty her hands. Instead she should delegate responsibility - the majority of Beeton's instructions are designed to be carried out by servants. The book contains meticulously detailed advice on the duties of a wide variety of staff - cooks, dairy maids, nurse maids, valets, lady's-maids, footmen and the like - all of whom would have been expected to operate under the watchful command of their employer.
Isabella Beeton (1836-65) was married to the publisher Samuel Beeton, whose most successful venture was the 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine'. Isobella was largely responsible for the production of the magazine, taking charge of the cookery pages, reading all the proofs, and devising the layout. Household Management first appeared in monthly parts in the magazine. She died when she was only 28 having contracted puerperal fever.