Isabella Mary Beeton (née Mayson) (March 12, 1836 – 6 February 1865), universally known as Mrs Beeton, was the principal author of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management and is the most famous cookery writer in British history.
Isabella was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London. Her father, Benjamin Mason, died when she was young and her mother, Elizabeth Jerram, remarried a Henry Dorling. Isbaella was sent to school in Heidelberg, Germany, and afterward returned to her stepfather's home in Epsom.
On a visit to London, she was introduced to Samuel Orchard Beeton, a publisher of books and popular magazines, whom she married on July 10, 1856. She began to write articles on cooking and household management for her husband's publications. In 1859–1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. In October 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume, 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, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.
Popularly known as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, it was essentially a guide to running a Victorian household, with advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism. Of the 1,112 pages over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton), but the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words.
After giving birth to her fourth child, in January 1865, Isabella contracted puerperal fever. She died a week later, aged 28. She is buried at West Norwood Cemetery under a simple headstone.
In 2006 BBC television broadcast a slightly whimsical biographical drama, The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton , with Anna Madeley in the title role. This tended to emphasise Mrs Beeton's "feminist" credentials, as well as playing on her sexiness and the assumption that many viewers would have been unaware of her relative youth when she wrote her books and her early death.
Fashion plate from The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, 1869
Cover of Book of Household Management
First chapter of Book of Household Management
Illustration from Book of Household Management