This week’s “Flashback Friday” features advice from that 19th century household icon, Mrs. Beeton.
|Mrs. Beeton, courtesy of Wikipedia
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which ran into many reprints and revised editions and is still in print today, was targeted for a middle-class readership. But how does it read these days? The following excerpt is from the 1888 edition, regarding mothers (yes, I’m jumping directly into the deep end):
This particular passage actually reminded me of a scene from The Nanny Diaries. Remember the part where the cold-hearted mother wouldn’t break away from her social function in order to come home to comfort her sick child, despite the young nanny’s pleas and alarm over his fever? Mrs. Beeton had it nailed: “they cannot take time from gaiety and pleasure…to devote to what they think can be obtained from hired service.”
But back to us “middle-class” moms. Let’s see: my mom-life resembles this – how? I dimly remember a bedroom we called the “nursery” – it had Boynton wallpaper, a rocker, changing table and crib. We changed a lot of diapers in there. No “visits of the angels” in that room – more like Lysol visitations. Then, as each of our sons started scrabbling out of his crib and terrorizing the rest of the household, we weren’t calling it a “nursery” anymore. (These days, it’s the Black Hole of Calcutta, where all of our teenager’s clothes live).
So, are we better or worse off than those 19th century moms? Mrs. Beeton died at age 28, from a post-partum fever she developed after the birth of her fourth child. There were no antibiotics. And while there were servants and nannies and governesses and cooks at a lady’s disposal, there were few appliances. A vacuum or dishwasher won’t back-talk you; a baby-monitor won’t fall asleep on the job.
Still, that nanny idea has some appeal….
What are your experiences as a middle-class 21st century parent? Do you secretly long for an army of servants to make life easier? Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading,
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