ISABELLA AND SAM: The Story of Mrs. Beeton by Sarah Freeman

ISABELLA AND SAM: The Story of Mrs. Beeton

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This sympathetic double biography tells everything one could want to know about the doings (though little about the being) of not-so-eminent Victorians Samuel Beeton and his wife Isabella. Isabella learned housekeeping as the eldest child in a family of 21 (housed in the Derby Grandstand at Epsom); after her marriage in 1856 (at 20) to young publisher Beeton, she began contributing columns on fashion, housekeeping, and child-rearing to his Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. When her first child died, she threw herself into research (and a good deal of plagiarism) for her comprehensive Household Management, the cookery and housekeeping book indispensable to generations of middle-class Englishwomen. Meanwhile Sam opened new markets with penny papers for boys, started another women's magazine, and compiled books of helpful information at popular prices. Just as the workaholic Beetons begin to be recognized, their rising fortunes plummet: Isabella dies of childbed fever at 28; despondent Sam loses his money and business a year later. Before his own early death, Sam puts out some politically radical Christmas annuals and initiates discussion of some women's issues, notably the evils of corseting and corporal punishment for girls. Unfortunately for the biographer, the Beetons' incessant projects catered to the immediate needs (and pocketbooks)of their 19th-century readers; Isabella's innovation of listing ingredients at the head of a recipe was certainly helpful but hardly, as Freeman enthusiastically contends, the mark of genius. You can't make a silk purse of a dust cloth, even with Freeman's finely stitched prose or the appendix of Isabella's (probably plagiarized) recipes for Bakewell Pudding, Apple Trifle, and A Very Good Seed-Cake.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1977
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan