(Stereoscopic view of a church bazaar from NYPL Digital Gallery.)
You’ve perhaps heard of Isabella Beeton, famous in Victorian England for her immensely popular guides to cooking and housekeeping. (A search in The Library Catalog for Beeton, Mrs. (Isabella Mary), 1836-1865. will bring up the varied titles and editions of her works held at NYPL.) Writers and scholars of the history of cookery and home economics continue to study her, and a recent biography by Kathryn Hughes deftly uncovers why Mrs. Beeton continues to loom large in the history of domesticity.
But what of Mr. Beeton? As I learned from Hughes (and I do recommend her book), Mrs. Beeton and her husband Samuel Orchart Beeton collaborated professionally as author and publisher, and together they aimed to create books irresistible to buyers. But Mr. Beeton’s backlist included more than just his wife’s books. His biographical reference works, books on birds, and other books and periodicals were all developed with readers of Victorian England in mind. One such volume, The Lady’s Bazaar and Fancy Fair Book, recently caught my eye here at NYPL. This fat little volume guides you through all aspects of running a charity bazaar. Chapters cover creating a stock of attractive handmade wares, pricing, displaying your goods, and even dressing properly to work at such an event. Within the pages you find illustrated directions for making matchbook cases, whist-markers, jug-cosies, lamp mats, and other items of questionable use.
Taken as a whole, the book reveals an aspect of Victorian women’s lives that I had not considered before. And crafty Mr. Beeton’s book has also provided me with greater context for all of the parish “bring and buy” sales through which characters in the novels of Barbara Pym and Angela Thirkell must suffer.