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The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton


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/ Lead title We each of us strive for domestic bliss, and we may look to Delia and Nigella to give us tips on achieving the unattainable. Kathryn Hughes, acclaimed for her biography of George Eliot, has pulled back the curtains to look at the creator of the ultimate book on keeping house. / A major biography of one of our most important modern icons. / Hughes is highly visible writer whose reviews appear weekly in the Guardian Review.

About the Author

Kathryn Hughes is the author of `The Victorian Governess' and the hugely acclaimed `George Eliot: The Last Victorian'. Educated at Oxford University, she holds a PhD in Victorian studies. She is a visiting lecturer at several British universities and reviews regularly for the Daily Telegraph and the Literary Review.


Isabella Mayson Beeton was the household name for the British Victorian middle class. Beeton's Book of Household Management (BOHM), first published in 1861, went into numerous editions over many decades, long outlasting Mrs. Beeton herself, who died at age 28. Oxford World Classics now includes an abridged Beeton's, and "Mrs. Beeton" remains a trademarked brand name in England. The original woman, married to ambitious young publisher Samuel Beeton, was his full partner-a novel female presence in the daily commute to Fleet Street-in pulling together the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and BOHM. She did not author BOHM and never claimed to, instead compiling its guidance on everything from cookery (devising the recipe format we are used to today) to the management of servants and no-nonsense lessons on animals butchered for meat. Hughes (George Elliot: The Last Victorian), a gifted scholar, approaches her subject with gusto, as interested in revealing the realities of mid-19th-century English urban life as she is in studying Mrs. Beeton. She had access to many primary sources and offers new analysis of Isabella's early death. This book will be welcomed by lovers of Masterpiece Theater, Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, and Liza Picard's Victorian London. It should be obtained by public and academic libraries.-Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

'This is a wonderful book, so masterful and scholarly and wise, there will never need to be another. Hughes is an elegant writer, and a capable digger; no stone, however small or inaccessible, is left unturned.' Rachel Cooke, Observer 'This is a brilliant biography, which tells the absorbing, strange and sad story with great aplomb. Kathryn Hughes has seen quite rightly, that one of the most important parts of the story is what happened after Isabella's death and, indeed, Sam's, and the life of Mrs Beeton is continued to the present day. It is so magical a feat of imagination, of intricate learning lightly worn, that you know that Kathryn Hughes would write a wonderful novel. But this splendid book is as good as any.' Philip Hensher, Spectator 'A thoughtful, elegantly written study.' Sunday Times 'Kathryn Hughes, the author of this illuminating study acknowledges the lack of biographical grist and deploys her considerable gifts to get beyond it. She provides a rich background to Mrs Beeton's family (a surprisingly humble collection of grooms and linen merchants), an overview of her celebrated book, an examination of her posthumous fame and a series of diverting "interludes" relating Mrs Beeton's work to such contemporary concerns as Imperialism, and the loss of Eden.' Matthew Sturgis, Sunday Telegraph 'An accomplished and hugely readable book. Much more than a biography, it is like a version in prose of a magnificent Victorian narrative painting, packed full of strange swarming richness of life as well as the codes, rules and orders that attempted to contain it.' Literary Review

Hughes (George Eliot) acquaints Americans with Isabella Beeton (1836-1865), a proto-Martha Stewart whose Book of Household Management-still legendary in Britain-urged women to co-opt the efficient operation of their husbands' factories. The first author with unrestricted access to the Beeton archives, Hughes sketches her subject's life and oeuvre with clarity and intimate knowledge of the Victorian milieu. She explores the welter of contradictions that gnawed at Beeton's life and legacy. The rather mousey "diva" died at 28, yet wrote with tetchy middle-aged authority. Though a posthumous legend, in life she remained beholden to her husband, a struggling publisher made solvent by her success. As "editrix" of his women's magazines, Beeton intuited the language that would resonate with readers. Her readership was also defined by dichotomy: aspiring women ushered into the industrial age, caught between the old ways of homemaking and the quicker, cheaper ready-made goods that flooded the London market. "Interlude" chapters offer intense analysis, showing Beeton's dexterity at reconciling the class, economic and gender tensions that lurked beneath the Book's images of Christmas pudding. Though Hughes's allegiance to detail can pull her into tangents, she makes a salient case for Beeton's commercial and cultural importance. Illus. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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