Mrs. Beeton wrote 24 monthly installments in her husband’s publication, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, between 1859-1861, detailing the upkeep of a household in Victorian England.  In 1861 the 24 volumes were published together as a 1,112-page, 900-recipe volume with the full title The Book of Household Management Comprising Information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid of all Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc., etc. — also Sanitary, Medical and Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.

Better known simply as Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, the book was incredibly popular in its time, making the young Mrs. Beeton’s name synonymous with domestic duties and home life.  Even today she continues to be a household name (pardon the pun) in contemporary British popular culture, being the subject of TV movies and newspaper articles now and then.  I first heard of her a few years ago when I saw this lovely pattern for knitted wrist warmers.

Tonight in the restaurant I read her book on my iPhone as I waited for my dinner to arrive.

It’s no secret to anyone that I love learning about the old ways, and seeing how well I can employ them in my modern life.  I make my own kombucha and an occasional batch of sauerkraut, sometimes dream of sewing on a treadle machine, would rather knit a hat than buy one, and once built myself a camp fridge that could keep milk chilled for a week without electricity, just to see if I could do it.  It’s a geeky aspect of myself that I have embraced wholeheartedly.  I’m an avid student of domestic anthropology, a term that I just made up and like quite a bit.  Studying the old ways of domesticity and finding their usefulness in modern family life.  Cool.

Luckily, the e-reader revolution has made short work of finding resources for such study.  I have a Kindle app on my iPhone and plan to buy an actual Kindle when I get home from Korea.  Browsing the Kindle Store one night, I went on a bit of a public domain downloading frenzy; as if Mrs. Beeton’s tome couldn’t keep me busy, I easily found the following titles available for free.  I haven’t read all of these books – not by a long shot!  But I think they’re super fun to flip through, and they connect me to a view of domestic arts as vital and valued (which is increasingly becoming my view, too).  The authors, who I am calling the Original Domestics, have things to share that we just don’t learn as naturally in today’s society.  I for one hope they have a wonderful revival via the e-reader revolution.

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Original Domestics: An (incomplete) E-Reading List

The American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Francis Child (1832)

The Book of Household Management…, by Mrs. Isabella Mary Beeton (1861)

Exercises in Knitting, by Cornelia Mee (1846)

The Ladies’ Work-Book Containing Instructions in Knitting, Crochet, Point-Lace, &c., author & date unknown

The Ladies’ Work-Table Book, Containing Instructions in Plain & Fancy Needlework, Embroidery, Knitting, Netting & Crochet, author unknown (1844)

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, by Charles Elmé Francatelli (circa mid 19th c.)

Practical Suggestions for Mother and Housewife, by Marion Mills Miller (circa early 20th c.)

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