Monday, June 05, 2006

Say it isn't so, Mrs. Beeton!

Mark Brown, arts correspondent for the (London) Guardian reports today that, according to a new book, "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy". On a visit to the world-famous Hay-on-Wye book festival in Wales, Beeton biographer Kathryn Hughes, author of The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton revealed that:
Isabella Beeton was only 21 when she began cookery writing. Her first recipe for Victoria sponge was so inept that she left out the eggs. Seven years later she was dead. How did she come to write the seminal book? "The answer is she copied everything," Hughes said.

It took Hughes five years to track down the recipes which she discovered had been brazenly copied by Mrs Beeton, almost word for word, from books as far back as the Restoration.

But Hughes says we should not necessarily think badly of Mrs Beeton. "Although she was a plagiarist, she was adding value. She was an extraordinary innovator." Mrs Beeton had the radical idea of putting the ingredients at the start of the recipe. She also came up with the thought that it might be a good idea to write how long something should be cooked for.

Sadly, after her death in childbirth at 28, Mrs. Beeton was exploited by her publisher husband (whom her biographer alleges probably infected her with syphilis) who recognized that her "brand" should not be allowed to die, too. A regular prince of a guy, he continued to publish updated prefaces to her book as if she was still alive.

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