The author blog of C. J. Ivory

Tinkerer with words. Dresser-Upper. Adorer of Steampunk and VictoriaNoir fiction. Occasional Lawgineer.

January 20, 2011

Cameo: Mrs Beeton - move over, Martha Stewart

Welcome to Thursday's Cameo!

Thursday is the day where I tell you about a weird and wonderful person from the Victorian age. They may have  invented a steam ship, protested slavery, written a great novel or just died in a spectacularly cool way – but whatever they did, it was done with true Victorain style and aplomb, and I think they deserve some modern kudos.

Mrs Isabella Beeton

Imagine your apartment after a long, boozy dinner party. Now imagine your table cloth, splashed with a lurid red wine stain. What do you do? You call your Mum, of course.
Now imagine your telephone was some sort of time-travel transmitting device, and you could actually call your great-great-great-grandmother. Do you know what she would do about that wine stain (assuming she didn’t die from shock when you explained who you were)? Why, she’d reach for Mrs Beeton’s book, of course.

Dear old Mrs Beeton was the Martha Stewart of the 19th century. A married woman, she wrote a series of magazines called The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. As popular as it was (and with that scintillating title, how could it miss, right?), the first three years (1859-1861) were condensed into a hard cover book, entitled: 

The Book of Household Management

And because the Victorians liked the titles lo-oo-ong, it was subtitled:  

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. (why settle for one “etc” when you can have two?)

And as if that wasn’t enough, it was additionally subtitled

also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.

Seriously, with a book of that magnitude on your shelf, there was very little you couldn’t do... including giving a burglar serious concussion when you used it as a weapon.

Some of the fun parts of Mrs Beeton’s advice included:

Huge dinners. Enormous dinners. Gastronomically, astronomically, astounding dinners. Here is Mrs Beeton’s idea of the dishes required for a dinner party (of up to 18): two different soups, six kinds of fish, fourteen miscellaneous meat and fish dishes, three kinds of game, and seven puddings. Dig in.

How to treat your babies for illness:
  • Chicken pox: warm baths and laxatives (not at the same time, I'm hoping.)
  • Measles: put the child in a cool room and use leeches on him. You'll cure the measles, but he's going to need years of therapy...
  • Typhus: dose the infant with wine and spirits. Finally, a cure I can relate to! (Not sure about using this on infants, though.)
  • Whooping cough: laxatives and leeches, whilst “keeping up a state of nausea and vomiting”. Considering the age of the child, I suppose you could reach for those wines and spirits again....

And a few extra facts you may be interested in:

Dying of things we don’t die of any more. Two of her sons, each called Samuel Orchart Beeton, died in their infancy, one of croup and one of scarlet fever. Not to be outdone, at the ripe old age of 28, Mrs Beeton herself gave up the ghost: she died of puerperal fever, which is a serious form of septicaemia contracted during or shortly after childbirth.

Naming children things we don’t name them anymore. besides the ghoulish tradition of naming the next child after one which just died, Mrs Beeton also gave her sons excellent examples of Victorian names: her surviving boys were called Orchart and Mayson Moss. Brilliant.

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