The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton

The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton

Faith Durand
May 21, 2007

Before Martha, before Nigella, before Delia and certainly before Rachael Ray there was Mrs. Beeton, perhaps the very first domestic diva. Isabella Beeton was an enterprising young woman who, along with her husband the publisher Samuel Beeton, compiled and wrote the famous Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, a handbook and manual for thousands of Victorian housewives.

With a subject like that we couldn't pass up PBS's original movie last night - The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton. Snappy and energetic, the BBC film focuses on the plucky spirit of Mrs. Beeton as she tackles the enormous project - at the time she didn't even know how to cook!

We enjoyed the movie - if you like the BBC range of costume dramas anyway you'll be inclined to like this, but it stands on its own merits too. Fast-paced and witty, the script contrasts standard bits of advice from Mrs. Beeton's famous book with more complicated and at times tragic events in her life. The most famous matron of her times, she wrote the book when she was in her early twenties, and died at 28.

We especially enjoyed watching her indignantly blame her cooking mishaps on poorly formed, inconsistent recipes, and devise her own format for recipe writing - which has remained essentially unchanged since then.

One of the interesting things about PBS's promotion is their involvement of food bloggers. They enlisted Orangette author Molly to write up her reflections on the movie, and the official site links to Haalo's version of Mrs. Beeton's Baked Custard Pudding.

The film's not on DVD yet, but check your local PBS listings for rebroadcast - it's worth a watch.

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