“A gradual succession of triumphs”: Achieving the domestic ideal with Mrs Beeton

11 October 2019

Cultural Studies | History

To celebrate the release of Food and Drink in History: Module I, the first instalment of Mrs Beeton’s serialised Book of Household Management, printed in 1859, is available to view until 10th November 2019. Click on the images for access to this document for free.

Over one hundred and fifty years since its first appearance in print, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management remains an archetypal text in the field of domestic and culinary arts, not simply for its extensive recipes and household management tips, but also for its creation of a persona of domestic excellence that persists, albeit in different guises, to this day.

Image © Material sourced from the University of California, San Diego. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Included within Adam Matthew’s newly released resource, Food and Drink in History: Module I, is a near-complete run of the monthly instalments in which this famed text first appeared. Printed from 1859 to 1861 by Beeton’s husband Samuel Orchart Beeton, these instalments would go on to form the full volume that has become a staple presence in kitchens from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Digitised from the University of California, San Diego, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in its original form provides a revealing insight into the social, political and economic significance of food, dining, and the household in Victorian Britain.

Image © Material sourced from the University of California, San Diego. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Within the first instalment, in her ‘Introduction to Cookery’, Mrs Beeton instructs the following:

“The object…is not only to live, but to live economically, agreeably, tastefully, and well. Accordingly, the art of cookery commences” (39)

For Beeton, “the art of cookery” is clearly far from just something to satisfy hunger – instead the choice of ingredients, the production, the preparation, and the presentation of food all feed into a refined, sensible and very Victorian ideal. Reflecting the growing ethos of self-help that pervaded this period, the first instalment primarily comprises advice on how to achieve this ideal, with sections for the “Mistress” and “Housekeeper”, followed by instructions on the “Arrangement and Economy of the Kitchen”: the “great laboratory of every household” (25). For the “Mistress”, advice includes everything from dining etiquette to the treatment of servants, and from the choice of friends and fashion, to appropriate tradespeople and managing accounts.

Regimentation, structure and organisation are the stalwarts of this domestic ideal; something also reflected in the very presentation of these instalments. Hundreds of recipes are featured within the monthly parts, all organised into sections such as “Soups”, “Fish”, “Beef” and “Game”. Beeton notes that “In order that the duties of the Cook may be properly performed…all terms of indecision should be banished from his art” (39-40). As many historians have noted, Beeton’s text is significant as one of the first to clearly include a list of ingredients and specific measurements at the beginning of each recipe. Some recipes even include notes on the history or significance of a particular ingredient: in the fourth instalment, for example, the “Bengal recipe for making mango cheteny [sic]” includes information on the garlic plant and its introduction to England in 1548.

Image © Material sourced from the University of California, San Diego. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The works advertised on the back cover of the first instalment give an insight into the popularity of texts similar to Beeton’s at the time – texts for both housewives and working men with a desire to improve their domestic situation through the art of cookery and household management. With a name that has endured across three centuries, however, few did it as well or as successfully as Mrs Beeton.

Many of the key themes in Food and Drink in History: Module I are inherent in this rich publication, from food and identity to gender, economics, food production, food preparation and politics. To find out more about Food and Drink in History: Module I (available now), including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Amy Hubbard

Amy Hubbard

Since joining Adam Matthew’s editorial team in January 2015 I’ve had the privilege to work on some fantastic resources including ‘World’s Fairs: A Global History of Exhibitions’, 'Race Relations in America‘ and 'Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda’. My academic background is in literature and film and my main academic interests lie in visual culture, in particular anything to do with David Bowie.