The Book of Household Management

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The Book of Household Management

Book excerpt

By: Mrs. Isabella Beeton

Date: 1861

Source: Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. London: S.O. Beeton, 1861.

About the Author: Isabella Mary Mayson was born in London in 1836, and married Samuel O. Beeton, a publisher, in 1856. Soon after this, she began writing cooking articles for one of her husband's magazines, the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, taking over editorial responsibilities in the following years. In 1861 Isabella Beeton's monthly articles were collected and published in the Book of Household Management, which was a great success, selling over 60,000 copies in its first year, and about two million copies by 1868. Isabella Beeton, however, died of puerperal [childbed] fever in 1865, about a week after the birth of her fourth child, and a little more than a month before her twenty-ninth birthday. Her book was reprinted and adapted numerous times over the next century and a half, until Mrs. Beeton and her book had become synonymous with old-fashioned British cooking and the well-managed Victorian household.


Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was the most widely owned household book in nineteenth-century England. According to Nicola Humble, editor of an Oxford World's Classics 2000 reprint, Household Management was "massive in its scope as well as its influence" and "the most famous English cookery book ever published." Humble also noted, however, that it "must rank as one of the great unread classics…. Everyone has heard of it, a number of people own a copy … but it is rarely considered as anything other than a culinary curiosity."

With over 1,100 pages, including 900 pages of recipes, Household Management also contains such Victorian miscellany as a recipe for the common black draught (a laxative), advice on how much to pay the butler, how to bathe and feed a baby, and the history of the onion. Mrs. Beeton was only 22 when she wrote most of its sections and 25 when her compendium was published. Her biographers note that although many of the recipes were copied from other works, such as Eliza Acton's 1845 Modern Cookery for Private Families, Beeton never took personal credit for this part of her book. She is said to have carefully tested each recipe before changing its format and arrangement, and often wrote supplementary essays on particular foods.



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


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 management. I have always thought 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 and practice of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home….

                      CHAPTER I.

                    THE MISTRESS.

"Strength, and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household; and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her."—Proverbs, xxxi. 25-28.

1. AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family….

3. EARLY RISING IS ONE OF THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITIES which enter into good Household Management, as it is not only the parent of health, but of innumerable other advantages. Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed. On the contrary, if she remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics, who, as we have before observed, invariably partake somewhat of their mistress's character, will surely become sluggards….

7. FRIENDSHIPS SHOULD NOT BE HASTILY FORMED, nor the heart given, at once, to every new-comer. There are ladies who uniformly smile at, and approve everything and everybody, and who possess neither the courage to reprehend vice, nor the generous warmth to defend virtue. The friendship of such persons is without attachment, and their love without affection or even preference….

8. HOSPITALITY IS A MOST EXCELLENT VIRTUE; but care must be taken that the love of company, for its own sake, does not become a prevailing passion; for then the habit is no longer hospitality, but dissipation…. With respect to the continuance of friendships it may be found necessary, in some cases, for a mistress to relinquish, on assuming the responsibility of a household, many of those commenced in the earlier parts of her life….

9. IN CONVERSATION, TRIFLING OCCURRENCES, such as small disappointments, petty annoyances, and other every-day incidents, should never be mentioned to your friends. The extreme injudiciousness of repeating these will be at once apparent, when we reflect on the unsatisfactory discussions which they to frequently occasion, and on the load of advice which they are the cause of being tendered, and which his, too often, of a kind neither to be useful nor agreeable…. If the mistress be a wife, never let an account of her husband's failings pass her lips….

24. AFTER BREAKFAST IS OVER, it will be well for the mistress to make a round of the kitchen and other offices, to see that all are in order, and that the morning's work has been properly performed by the various domestics. The orders for the day should then be given, and any questions which the domestics desire to ask, respecting their several departments, should be answered, and any special articles they may require, handed to them from the store-closet….

25. AFTER THIS GENERAL SUPERINTENDENCE of her servants, the mistress, if a mother of a young family, may devote herself to the instruction of some of its younger members, or to the examination of the state of their wardrobe, leaving the later portion of the morning for reading, or for some amusing recreation….

27. AFTER LUNCHEON, MORNING CALLS AND VISITS may be made and received. These may be divided under three heads: those of ceremony, friendship, and congratulation or condolence. Visits of ceremony, or courtesy, which occasionally merge into those of friendship, are to be paid under various circumstances. Thus, they are uniformly required after dining at a friend's house, or after a ball, picnic, or any other party. These visits should be short, a stay of from fifteen to twenty minutes being quite sufficient. A lady paying a visit may remove her boa or neckerchief; but neither her shawl nor bonnet….

When other visitors are announced, it is well to retire as soon as possible, taking care to let it appear that their arrival is not the cause. When they are quietly seated, and the bustle of their entrance is over, rise from your chair, taking a kind leave of the hostess, and bowing politely to the guests. Should you call at an inconvenient time, not having ascertained the luncheon hour, or from any other inadvertence, retire as soon as possible, without, however, showing that you feel yourself an intruder. It is not difficult for any well-bred or even good-tempered person, to know what to say on such an occasion, and, on politely withdrawing, a promise can be made to call again, if the lady you have called on, appear really disappointed.

28. IN PAYING VISITS OF FRIENDSHIP, it will not be so necessary to be guided by etiquette as in paying visits of ceremony; and if a lady be pressed by her friend to remove her shawl and bonnet, it can be done if it will not interfere with her subsequent arrangements…. During these visits, the manners should be easy and cheerful, and the subjects of conversation such as may be readily terminated. Serious discussions or arguments are to be altogether avoided….


Isabella Beeton's all-encompassing work became queen of the British advice books for women (also known as prescriptive literature) soon after its publication in 1861. This type of literature flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the new more mobile and ambitious middle class—with more literate women—emerged. Many reprints, revisions, and related works, such as Mrs. Beeton's Book of Baking, Beeton's Book of Needlework, etc., continued to guide aspiring or uncertain housewives throughout the twentieth century. New editions of Beeton are still popular, for both their nostalgic and historic value, and as an introduction to basic cooking. Although recipes constitute the bulk of Household Management, it is the other advice—on everything that a woman needs to know and do to create the perfect Victorian home—that makes Beeton's book so interesting to historians and so quaint for modern readers.

Beeton's work is often used to demonstrate the ideology of separate spheres in England. In this construct, women were thought to work and wield influence mainly in the domestic sphere, or the home, while men inhabited the larger public sphere, which included business and politics. According to Lynn Abrams on the BBC website, Mrs. Beeton was "the very embodiment of the Victorian ideology of a woman's place being in the home," and her work demonstrates the complexity, the rituals, and the limits of the domestic sphere. Household Management is also a quintessential piece of nineteenth-century classification and promotion, with its assiduously organized particulars of the ideal middle-class wife's (and mother's) temperament, activities, and etiquette. Mrs. Beeton makes it clear that the mistress of the house bears the awesome responsibility of improving the world by improving the lives of those in her household—and that her encyclopedic book holds the keys to this crucial undertaking.

It should be noted that the circumspect, hardworking, and knowledgeable wife and mother, and the elaborate yet comfortable household portrayed in Beeton's book represent ideals that were difficult if not impossible for most Victorian women to attain. Like the other Victorian stereotypes, Mrs. Beeton and her book idealize a past that was undoubtedly messier and more complicated than the well-ordered life that Mrs. Beeton promised.



Gordon, Eleanor, and Gwyneth Nair. Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

Hughes, Kathryn. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.


Kerber, Linda K. "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History." Journal of American History. 75 (1988):9-39.

Web sites

Abrams, Lynn. British Broadcasting Corporation. "Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain." January 1, 2001 〈〉 (accessed June 11, 2006).

Oxford World's Classics: The Magazine. "A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place, by Nicola Humble." 2000 〈〉 (accessed June 19, 2006).