Cookbooks

Susan Zlotnick, “On the Publication of Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861″

Susan Zlotnick, “On the Publication of Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861″

This essay examines Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which has been called “the most famous English cookery book ever published.” It contends that Beeton’s work shares the same concerns as the nineteenth-century realist novel, and that The Book of Household Management captures the contradictions, anxieties, aspirations and fantasies of middle-class domesticity and thereby offers a vision of family life that is novelistic in its complexity. Specifically, the essay focuses on Beeton’s representation of the middle-class housewife as a domestic manager responsible for maintaining the family’s class identity by creating a “tasteful” lifestyle. In doing so, it concludes that the line from the Victorian Mrs. Beeton to the Martha Stewarts of our own day is a fairly direct one.