Isabella Beeton—known by all and sundry as Mrs. Beeton—is the author of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a massive 1861 tome that instructed Victorian housewives on how to be a crinolined domestic goddess. While it contained masses of information on food and cooking, it also had sections that dealt with children, servants, mixing medications, and even legal advice. You can peruse the entire book online.

The interesting thing is that while Mrs. Beeton is reputed to be the most famous cookbook writer in all of Britain, she supposedly couldn’t actually cook. I’m not really sure of the specifics on that, but luckily PBS, in conjunction with the BBC, is showing The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton on Sunday, May 20, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. (as always, check your local listings), so maybe I’ll get a chance to find out more about the woman Entertainment Weekly is referring to as the “19th-century Martha Stewart.”

My guess is if you had a lot of money back in those days, you knew about food, you supervised grocery shopping, you planned household menus, but you didn’t personally toil in the kitchen, because, hell, that’s what servants were for!

See more articles