Someone call me a carriage…

As Isabella Beeton so wisely put it, “As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house”.

I’ve had copies of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) over the years, as an off-shoot of my love of history and a lingering fascination with ‘’the way things were’’.

Then each copy just sits there waiting for an occasional flick-through, getting more action from the duster than from my fingers. Eventually I give it away, regret it, and buy a new copy with an enthusiastic ‘’This time, I’ll read her properly.’’ Ad finitum.

It’s hardly cool to admit it I know, but the idea of being a domestic goddess oddly appeals in a retro sort of way. I’d love to be one of those ‘has it all, does it all’ sort of women –family, home to run, job; whipping up sponge cakes and mending shirts while working full-time and finding time to do it all over a glass of wine. I almost have it all, but am I doing it all – and am I doing it effectively?

Hence the subtle attraction of Beeton’s self-help guide for the would-be-if-she-could hausfrau.

It’s not exactly come-hitheringly sized. It’s big. It’s not light. But it’s sitting there, and it’ll continue to sit there unless I follow through and actually ‘read her properly’. And do something with it.

Which leads me to this challenge.

Is it possible to try out all her advice? In the modern world, probably not (how many of us still have servants, rather than just feeling like one at times?). But I figure I can give most of it a go. A year is doable. My boyfriend says he’ll be supportive if I don’t expect him to whip up a syllabub and if I slip on a mini-apron occasionally.

Here’s how our modern household stands on Day 1:

Me: 32, ‘mostly’ vegetarian, love cooking and trying new things. I just bought a sewing machine but as the instructions are in technical German, I haven’t yet figured out how it’s supposed to work. I work full-time as a corporate English trainer.

Him: 38, ‘mostly’ carnivorous, lukewarm to cooking and trying new things, quite happy to spend the weekend surfing the net / killing zombies / insert any other PC-based activity here. Vegetables are a source of suspicion. Cleaning products are the enemy. Also a corporate English trainer.

Our home: 1-bedroom central apartment in the middle of a small cosmopolitan city in Germany. No kids yet. 3 cats. 1 man. Cleaning is necessary on a daily basis.

If her book is still on sale after nearly 150 years, and people still buy it, then is it really all that ‘outdated’?

I’ll soon find out. Hopefully while learning a lot (and having fun) along the way.

Here’s to the next 365 days!


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