Continuing the Emma theme I thought you might like to know something about this book,and below is the frontispiece to the 1816 edition,complete with cook , hanging hams and a larder of food to be prepared and cooked.

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This is one of my favourite period cookery books.

Editions of Mrs Rundell’s work are not rare but some are hard to date ,and many of the later editions are  out of our time period (so caveat emptor). I have two editions of the work: one published in 1816 and one in 1819 .

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And they are becoming rather expensive  should any of you decide to buy an original copy. But you may be interested to know that the wonderful Persephone Books of London have recently issued a rather fine facsimile edition of the 1816  text of Mrs Rundell’s book.

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It is, like all their books, a paperback ,but it is as you can see beautifully produced , complete with bookmark which matches the end papers.

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Perspehone books have a wonderful reputation for re-published texts written by women which are interesting and have merit but which have fallen out of print. In the past they have concentrated on editions of books  published from the late 19th century onwards,and this, I believe, is the earliest book that they have reissued.

Not only are their books beautiful, but they are also bargains. This edition of Mrs Rundell’s recipe book is only £10. When I tell you I thought I had a bargain getting my 1816 edition for £170 you can clearly see just how reasonable is the price.

So why should Mrs Rundell interest those of us interested in Jane Austen and Emma in particular? I consider that of all her works  it is Emma that is most domestically focused. We learn a lot of the domestic detail of the lives of the people in this book. For example, we come to know exactly how Isabella Knightley under the influence no doubt of her father, prefers her gruel to be prepared:

This topic was discussed very happily, and others succeeded of similar moment, and passed away with similar harmony; but the evening did not close without a little return of agitation. The gruel came and supplied a great deal to be said — much praise and many comments — undoubting decision of its wholesomeness for every constitution, and pretty severe Philippics upon the many houses where it was never met with tolerable; but, unfortunately, among the failures which the daughter had to instance, the most recent, and therefore most prominent, was in her own cook at South End, a young woman hired for the time, who never had been able to understand what she meant by a basin of nice smooth gruel, thin, but not too thin. Often as she had wished for and ordered it, she had never been able to get any thing tolerable.

Chapter 12

That Mrs Weston keeps Turkies

Mrs. Weston’s poultry-house was robbed one night of all her turkies — evidently by the ingenuity of man.

Chapter 55

That Emma knows the best joints of pork to send to Miss Bates:

“It is a great pity that their circumstances should be so confined! a great pity indeed! and I have often wished — but it is so little one can venture to do — small, trifling presents, of any thing uncommon — Now we have killed a porker, and Emma thinks of sending them a loin or a leg; it is very small and delicate — Hartfield pork is not like any other pork — but still it is pork — and, my dear Emma, unless one could be sure of their making it into steaks, nicely fried, as our’s are fried, without the smallest grease, and not roast it, for no stomach can bear roast pork — I think we had better send the leg — do not you think so, my dear?”

“My dear papa, I sent the whole hind-quarter. I knew you would wish it. There will be the leg to be salted, you know, which is so very nice, and the loin to be dressed directly in any manner they like.”

Chapter 21

and which strawberries were in fashion from the ramblings of Mrs Elton:

The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”

Chapter 42

If you want  to know more about this sort of domestic detail, -just how to keep Turkies in the early years of the 19th century for example, then Mrs Rundell’s book is for you. Her book was first published in 1806, but the edition of 1816 perfectly coincides with the publication of Emma (which though technically published in late 1815 is actually dated 1816 on the frontispiece of the first edition) And, importantly, Mrs Rundell was writing precisely for the class of people we meet in Highbury.

Let’s learn a little about the famous Mrs Rundell.

Mrs Rundell lived from 1745-1828. Born Maria Eliza Ketelby ,  she was the only child of Abel Ketelby, a barrister of the Middle Temple, who was  resident at Ludlow in  Shropshire. She married, on 30 December 1766, Thomas Rundell, who was a surgeon practising at Bath, where they then lived. It was running this household successfully for nearly 30 years that gave her the necessary experience to enable her to write her book. They raised two sons and three daughters.  In 1795 Thomas Rundell died, after a long and painful illness.

After her husband’s death Mrs Rundell lead a peripatetic sort of life, similar to that of Jane and Cassandra Austen, residing with relatives in Swansea in Wales, then with her married daughters and frequently in London at the home of her brother- in-law, Philip Rundell, the rich  partner of the famous family firm of goldsmiths, Rundell and Bridge, crown jewellers  to the Royal Family and to the astronomically rich.

Despairing of the  books on domestic management available in the early 19th century, Mrs Rundell began collating recipes and household tips in order to  be able to pass on her experience to her daughters.  She originally intended to make only four copies of her book: one for each of her daughters, and one for herself.

But John Murray the publisher, heard of the manuscripts existence (he was a neighbour of Phillip Rundell) and began negotiations to publish. We shall see later on in this post that Mrs Rundell, expert in matters of domesticity may well have done better at this time to have seen the charismatic Mr Murray through Jane Austen’s clear and business-like eyes( Murray was by 1815 also Jane Austen’s publisher):

Mr Murray’s Letter is come: he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one

(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 17th october 1815)

Mrs Rundell’s manuscript was published in 1806 under the title of Domestic Cookery; a second amplified edition was completed at Ambleside where Mrs Rundell was living with her married daughter.  The book had an immediate success. 5000–10,000 copies were printed annually, and succeeding editions were enlarged and embellished by engravings. In truth, it became one of John Murray’s most valuable properties and in 1812, when he bought the lease of his premises in Albemarle Street, the copyright of Domestic Cookery formed part of the surety.

As the earliest manual of household management with any real pretensions to completeness, it called forth many imitations but I fear non surpassed Mrs Rundells clear, concise and above all sensible advice. She has a distinct voice- one she shared with  others writers of the period like Mrs Lybbe Powys-one which rings out clear and kind and never slip-shod.

The history between John Murray and Mrs Rundell is however not one of perfect concord.  In the entertaining introduction to the  Persephone books edition , Janet Morgan details what eventually descended into a sad tale of litigation ,counter claim and loss,which as a lawyer makes for sad but all too familiar reading for me. Don’t  presume business between freinds will always remain amicable and never sue unless you are absolutely forced are maxims that both Mrs Rundell and Murray should have followed. Both Mrs Rundell and Mr Murray would have benefited from some sound advice , a contract, and arbitration,IMHO and Mrs Rundell lost money she  could obviously not afford to lose.

However…..Mrs Rundell’s book is invaluable to those of us who try to imagine what life was really like  when Jane Austen was writing her books.The introduction ot her book, entitled “Miscellaneous Observations for the use of the Mistress of a Family” contains a veritable  goldmine of good sense and minute observation on many topics-servants, personal devotion, the education of girls etc., etc. This book would have been devoured by the Harriet Smiths of the world on marriage. perhaps it would have been Mrs Goddard’s parting gift to her….

So if, after reading Emma you need to know how  the good people of Highbury would prepare food for invalids, for the poor, or make a good gruel (just the way Mr Woodhouse would like it) or how to care for turkies which have not been stolen by the apparent ingenuity of man, then this book is for you .

My only gripe is that the end pages of this edition book have not been included. In the original copies they contain advertisements for John Murray’s other books: so the 1816  editions has these:(please do click on the illustrations to enlarge them and to see the detail!)


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and the 1819 edition these:

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I find it just perfect example of synchronicity to see editions of Emma,  Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey advertised in these  books. It is sad that they were not included. Still…..That quibble apart I highly recommend this reasonably priced edition of a very useful book. However sadly her publishing history ended, Mrs Rundell’s legacy to us  is the early editions of her works . This facsimile edition make it very accessible to all, and I thank Persephone books for  their book  number 84. Is it too much to hope that more facsimile books of this era will follow? .