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The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton (Text Only) by [Kathryn Hughes]

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The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton (Text Only) Kindle Edition

4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars 45 ratings

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The New Yorker

“A triumph . . . Hughes knows 19th-century England intimately . . . the result is a narrative that could have come straight from Trollope. Vicars and curates, tradesmen’s families edging up the social ladder, tangled marriage plots–for lovers of Barsetshire, it’s all here.”
–Laura Shapiro,
The New York Times Book Review

“Peppy . . . Smart . . . Tells vivid personal stories . . . The author’s intelligence never deserts her.”
–Wendy Smith,
Washington Post Book World

“Enthralling . . . Having read Ms. Hughes, one wants immediately to read Beeton . . . [Beeton] speaks to the universal condition of female life.”
–Barbara Amiel,
Wall Street Journal

“Absorbing . . . Excellent . . . Nostalgia for handmade items, worry over adulterated food, a healthy market for cookbooks . . . We have a lot in common with the early Victorian era, at least with regard to broad trends toward domesticity.”
–Benjamin Lytal,
The New York Sun

“Scrupulously researched, definitive . . . Mrs. Beeton emerges as a fascinating blend of Betty Crocker and Emily Post, with a little Martha Stewart or Nigella Lawson thrown in for good measure . . . Hughes’s searching social eye does wonders with the small cache of letters between Isabella and Sam, written during their courtship . . . She constructs a detailed picture of fashions and social customs at the high-water mark of the Victorian age. For readers of Dickens and Trollope, this section of the book is pure gold.”
–William Grimes,
The New York Times

“A terrific book, filled with astute observation and telling detail about the growth of an idea, or fantasy, of domesticity . . . Later in life, [my mother] would sit around reading a facsimile edition of ‘Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ the way another sort of person might read pornography . . . My mind reels when I think of what she would have thought had she lived to read
The Short Life andLong Times of Mrs. Beeton . . . Mrs. Beeton, a syphilitic plagiarist? Golly. But in case you think I have just given away the whole story, I assure you, I haven’t.”
–Katherine A. Powers,
The Boston Globe

“Lively and authoritative.”
Entertainment Weekly, graded A

“One of my favourite biographies of the year . . . a lively and fascinating reconstruction of the ‘real’ Isabella Beeton, unpicking her extraordinary posthumous legend with great skill, opening a wide window on to Victorian domestic and publishing history, and wearing its excellent sleuthing with a light grace.”
–Hermione Lee,
The Guardian

“There is seemingly no aspect of Victorian life that Kathryn Hughes cannot assimilate and understand from the inside. This is living history, in which massive research and impeccable scholarship is handled with invigorating panache . . with verve and humor . . . This great gift of a book . . . makes us savour aspects of 19th-century life in order to sharpen our awareness of how we live now.”
–Frances Spalding,
The Independent

“Splendid . . . A brilliant biography, which tells the absorbing, strange and sad story with great aplomb . . . You know that Kathryn Hughes would write a wonderful novel.”
–Philip Hensher,
The Spectator

“Accomplished and hugely readable . . . Depicts the worlds of the Beetons with astonishing vividness and colour . . . with subtlety and precision . . . Much more than a biography, it is like a version in prose of a magnificent Victorian narrative painting, packed full of the strange, swarming richness of life.”
–Lucy Lethbridge,
Literary Review

“A wonderful book, so masterful and scholarly, so detailed and wise, there will never need to be another. Hughes is an elegant writer and a capable digger; no stone, however small or inaccessible, is left unturned . . . She has done sterling work.”
–Rachel Cooke,
The Observer

“Intelligent . . . Thoughtful . . . Elegantly written.”
–Lucy Hughes-Hallet,
Sunday Times

“Brilliant . . . Excellent . . . A fascinating reconstruction.”
–Nicola Humble,
The Saturday Guardian

“It is a testament to Hughes’s wry intelligence that she can make Mrs. Beeton’s sad and sometimes grotesque story so enjoyable to read.”
–Bee Wilson,
New Statesman

“Altogether fascinating . . . Leaves very few corners of the mid-Victorian domestic interior unswept. From one angle it is a kind of history of the early woman’s magazine; from another a re-imagined users’ guide to Crimea-era domestic service. The amateur student of venereology will find much in it to relish and the historian of the Victorian pub will not be disappointed. At its heart, though lie the two equally vivid figures of Isabella Mayson and the man she married.”
–D.J. Taylor,
The Independent on Sunday

“Illuminating . . . Kathryn Hughes deploys considerable gifts.”
–Matthew Sturgis,
The Sunday Telegraph --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Mrs. Beeton may have come down to us as a shape-shifter, but her story starts in a settled enough place, at a time when most people still lived a minute from their parents, when men automatically followed their father’s trade, when girls nearly always shared their Christian name with an aunt or cousin, and when it was not unusual to die in the bed in which you had been born. Thursby, in what was then called Cumberland, is a large village wedged between the Lakes and the Borders, flanked by the Pennines on one side and the Solway Firth on the other. It is not on the way to anywhere now, nor was it in the late eighteenth century, when the daily coaches between London and Carlisle were a distant rumble five miles to the northwest.

Most of the 240 inhabitants of Thursby owed their living to the “tolerably fertile” gravel and loam soil, which was parcelled up into a series of small mixed farms, owned by “statesmen” or independent yeomen who employed anything from two to twenty men. In 1786 Thursby got a new curate, John Mayson, grandfather to the future Mrs. Beeton. The curateship and the countryside taken together might suggest something rather smart, a gentleman vicar perhaps, with a private income, an MA from a minor Oxbridge college, and a passion for the flora of the Upper Lakes, the kind of man you find pottering in the background of so many of the people who made and changed the Victorian world. This, certainly, is the impression that Mrs. Beeton’s family would conspire to create in years to come. When Isabella Beeton’s marriage was announced in The Times in 1856, the fact that she was the granddaughter of the late Revd. John Mayson of Cumberland was shoe-horned into the brief notice. Seventy years later when dealing with the National Portrait Gallery, Mayson Beeton insisted on having his mother’s background blurb rewritten to include the important fact that her grandfather had been a man of the cloth.

But if anyone had bothered to look more closely they would have discovered that Revd. John Mayson was not quite the gentlemanly divine that you might suppose. He had been born in 1761 just outside Penrith to another John Mayson, a farmer who was obliged to rent his land from another man. As his Christian name suggests, John Mayson had the luck of being the oldest son, the one in whom the family’s slight resources would be invested as a hedge against a chancy future (there were a couple of younger sisters who would need, somehow, to be taken care of). John would have gone to school locally and left around the age of fourteen, a superior kind of village boy.

The next clear sighting comes in 1785 when, at the age of twenty-four, Mayson was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England. The following year he became a fully fledged clergyman and was sent immediately as curate to St. Andrew’s, Thursby. But this was hardly the beginning of a steady rise through the Church’s hierarchy. Stuck for an extraordinary forty years at Thursby, it looked as if the Revd. John Mayson was destined to become the oldest curate in town. On two separate occasions he was passed over for the post of vicar, quite possibly because of his lack of formal education or social clout: St. Andrew’s was a large parish with a fine church said to have been built by David I of Scotland—it needed a gentleman to run it. In 1805 the job went to a Joseph Pattison and then, on his death eight years later, to William Tomkyns Briggs, whose dynastically inflected name was buttressed with a Cambridge MA.

It wasn’t until 1825 that Mayson’s luck finally changed. At the age of sixty-four—retirement was not an option, except for a man of means—he was appointed vicar to the nearby parish of Great Orton, a substantial living worth perhaps £250 which brought with it the care of two hundred souls. Yet even this was not quite the opportunity that it might seem. The living was in the gift of Sir Wastal Briscoe, the lord of the manor who inhabited several hundred lush acres at nearby Crofton Hall. The previous incumbent of St. Giles had been Briscoe’s brother and it was his intention that the living should pass eventually to one of his young grandsons who were being educated for the Church. Mayson, who probably already owed his appointment as curate at Thursby to Briscoe in the first place, was exactly the right candidate to caretake St. Giles until his patron wanted it back.

The life of a clergyman without polish, money or pull was not a particularly easy one. It was geared to pleasing the big house, to judging its moods and whims, and making sure you fitted its purpose. It was, though, enough to get married on, as long as you were careful in your choice of bride. Six years into the curateship at Thursby, John Mayson married a young woman whose name suggests that she had some ballast behind her. Isabella Trimble (or Tremel or Trumble—spelling was still an infant business and names changed with each entry in the parish register) was the daughter of a reasonably prosperous maltster, that is brewer. On his death in 1785 George Trimble divided his estate in the classic manner, with his eldest son inheriting the business along with Trimble’s partner, while the younger brothers received “movable goods” in the form of wheat and cash. Isabella, the only girl, was a residual legatee, which gave her perhaps £80—not an enormous sum, but combined with the £100 that John inherited from his own father, just enough to marry on.

The first baby arrived in 1793, ten months after the wedding, as first babies mostly did in the nineteenth century. She was called Esther after John’s mother. Three years later she was joined by yet another John Mayson and then, five years after that, by Benjamin, named biblically for his mother’s youngest brother. The long spacing between the children, combined with the early evidence of fertility, suggests that there were probably other babies, born months too soon, some still and grey, others little more than bloody clots. These are the first of the many lost children that hover over the story of Mrs. Beeton, Benjamin Mayson’s daughter, each one’s failure to spark into life marking the moment when the future had to be imagined all over again.

Of the three Mayson children living, neither of the boys would see forty. John—perhaps originally destined for the Church, to be slipped into a place where Briscoe needed a caretaker or a willing plodder—died at the age of twenty-four “after a long and severe illness,” according to a notice in the Carlisle Journal, and was buried at Thursby. The death of the elder son, that frail container of a family’s best hopes, is always hard, but twenty years later John was followed to the grave by Benjamin, now living far away in London. It was time for another entry in the Carlisle Journal: “Suddenly, Mr. B. Mayson, linen factor, Milk Street, London, son of the Rev. John Mayson, aged 39 years.”

In the early days, though, when the Mayson children were young and bonny, there was an almost pastoral feel to life at Thursby. Although he was only the curate, Mayson was able to live in the vicarage, a handsome building that would shore up anyone’s sense of battered dignity. The diary of his fellow cleric Thomas Rumney of Watermillock tells of an Austenish existence of long tramps, impromptu tea parties and lovesick letter writing. In August 1803 Rumney walked six and a half hours to get to Thursby from his own parish, and then proceeded to conduct an epistolary courtship with one of John Mayson’s sisters at the thumping cost of 11d a letter.

It was a small life, and it was never going to be enough to hold an energetic young man with neither property or business interests. While John, the eldest Mayson child, was kept close to the family by failing health, his brother Benjamin had other plans. Frustratingly, all record of Benjamin’s early life has disappeared. Proving even more elusive than his daughter Isabella, Benjamin refuses to show up in school records, apprenticeship registers, or even, though we would hope not to find a clergyman’s son here, in the local assizes. He may have received his education at nearby Wigton Grammar School, where Briscoe had pull. Or it is possible that he was sent to Green Row on the coast a few miles away, a forward-looking place which imparted a “modern” curriculum of maths and careful penmanship to young men who were destined for the counting house and the clerks’ bench rather than an ivy-covered quad. Benjamin’s grandsons, Isabella’s boys, will get a gentleman’s education at Marlborough, followed by the royal military academy at Sandhurst and Oxford. But those days are seventy years away. Benjamin Mayson, the second son of a poor curate, needed a grounding that would fit him to make his way in the brisk, new commercial world that was even now impinging on rural Cumberland.

In 1780 cotton processing had been introduced into the nearby village of Dalston from Manchester. The conditions were perfect: plenty of water power from the River Cardew and good communication links back down to Manchester, Liverpool, and beyond. By the time Benjamin was thinking about his future, there were three cotton mills and a large flax mill in Dalston, and the principal owners were, as luck would have it, old friends of his mother’s family. All over the country neighbouring households like the Cowens and the Trimbles did business together, married one another’s daughters, and blended their hard-won capital in carefully judged expansion plans. It is very likely that it ...
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00DKE9KTK
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harper Perennial; First printing of this edition (July 25 2013)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 1183 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 574 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars 45 ratings

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Kathryn Hughes was born near Manchester, UK in 1964. After thirty years working as a secretary and bringing up two children, she finally realised her dream of writing a book. Her debut novel, The Letter, set in her home town, was first published in 2013 and since then has become an international best-seller, translated into 30 languages. Her other books include The Secret and The Key. This summer sees the release of her fourth book, Her Last Promise, a sweeping tale of a daughter's quest to unravel the secrets of her mother's disappearance.

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5.0 out of 5 stars the short life and long times of mrs beeton by K Hughes
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3.0 out of 5 stars Loved the family history side to this book all the ...
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