Beeton, Isabella (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
BEETON, ISABELLA. Isabella Beeton (1836865), author of Beeton's Book of Household Management, was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London, as Isabella Mary Mayson, one of four children of Benjamin and Elizabeth Mayson. Isabella was educated at Heidelberg, Germany, and became an accomplished pianist.
When she returned from Germany, and while visiting family and friends in London, she met the wealthy publisher Samuel Orchart Beeton. Samuel Beeton, a publishing genius, possessed a talent for capitalizing on Victorian market trends. Part of the new and prosperous middle class, he published popular literature and Beeton's Book of Garden Management and Beeton's Book of Universal Information. Isabella and Samuel were married on 10 July 1856 and settled in the London borough of Harrow.
Their marriage was a fruitful professional collaboration: He was enthusiastic and creative, while she was a meticulous, level-headed researcher with an eye for detail. Beeton encouraged Isabella to compile her recipes and household management tips into articles written for The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine: An Illustrated Journal Combining Practical Information, Instruction, and Amusement (EDM). She eventually assumed editorial responsibilities for EDM, and also for the Beetons' new journal, the Queen. She was soon working regularly at Samuel's office at the Strand, in an era when very few women worked in an office. While writing and editing for Samuel's magazines, and despite the loss of her first child, Isabella was already researching and gathering data for her magisterial work, The Book of Household Management. She also found time to open a soup kitchen at her house in the winter of 1858 to feed the poor children of Hatch End and Pinner.
According to Nicola Humble, the editor of the 2000 edition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, the book remains one of the great unread classics of our time, though a highly collectible one. Published in October 1861, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (BHM) sold 60,000 copies and nearly 2 million by 1868. Originally published as monthly supplements in EDM, the first installment appeared in September 1859 when Isabella was twenty-three.
The BHM, as Humble notes, is much more than a cookery book. Its comprehensive range of recipes and household management techniques (2,751 entries) speaks to a culture that was caught up in the social changes of mid-nineteenth-century urban England. The BHM is also a sort of window into the Victorian social life of kitchens and household, giving all manner of instructions on etiquette, on the handling of servants, the economic spaces of kitchens, child rearing, medical advice, and animal husbandry. The book is also noted for some famous maxims, including, "A place for everything and everything in its place." Isabella Beeton herself never claimed that the recipes were original, and her preface acknowledges correspondents from Great Britain and Europe for their ideas. She adapted recipes from Alexis Soyer's Modern Housewife and Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families, and, though she cites Soyer, she does not give credit to Acton. What Isabella Beeton did do was test the recipes herself, and any recipe she found uneconomical, impractical, and difficult, she discarded. If she was not an original cook, she was supreme in her organizational skills, arranging the recipes in alphabetical order, listing estimated costs, and producing clear, concise instructions for all food preparation and cooking as modern cookbooks do. It is worth noting that the BHM is not the first of its kind, and that Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) also included household improvement tips and simplified cooking techniques.
Isabella Beeton became ill after the birth of a child, and died of puerperal fever at age twenty-eightut not before completing the editorial work on Mrs. Beeton's Dictionary of Cookery. Samuel Beeton died of tuberculosis twelve years later, in June 1877. The Beetons are remembered by a road, Beeton Close, near their old home at Hatch End, which was bombed out during a German air raid in September 1940. The BHM has since been reprinted numerous times, and Isabella Beeton's life has been turned into the one-woman show Bella by Alison Neil and adapted for BBC radio in 2002 by Tony Coult.
See also Cookbooks.
Beeton, Isabella. Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, edited by Nicola Humble. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. The original edition was published in 1861.
Freeman, Sarah. Isabella and Sam: The Story of Mrs. Beeton. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1978.