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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2011
The "housekeeper" part of the title is to the fore in this work, which aims to teach the "memsahib" everything she needs to know about running a household in British India. Political correctness has no place in these pages. The first section deals with setting up a home, and has hugely detailed info on what is needed and what it will cost in the various different regions of India. However, even here we find the true obsession of the authors - the Staff. The edition in front of me (1893) predates the "servant problem" in the UK, but in British India it seems servants were a perpetual subject of anxiety, largely because of the cultural gap between employer and employed.

The authors do not betray as much obvious chauvinism as one would expect, for their day. They realise things may all come as a bit of a shock to the young wife fresh out from England and they are concerned to get their lady readers to understand how things work in India, and how to get the best from their employees. "It is a mistake" they opine "to be constantly on the worry" and to this end, they suggest ways of acheiving mutual understanding and respect, and a smooth-running establishment, as well as a firm but fair system of discipline!

The housewife's duties do not stop at the kitchen door; directions are given for running stables, laundry, cows and dairy, poultry, dogs and gardening. There are hints on camp life, and more hints to "missionaries and others in camp and jungles". There are hints for "on the hills" and "in the plains", a Table of Wages and Hints on Outfits. The housewife is told to provide blankets for the stable staff, otherwise they will (not unreasonably one might think) take them from the horses, but to make it clear that the blanket goes with the job and is not a present, or the syce may take it with him when he leaves.

Throughout many of the terms are given in the local languages, and there is much discussion of the differing names and duties of staff from region to region. This makes the book a valuable document for anyone studying the social history of the British in India at the end of the 19th century. The detail is extraordinary. For example, we are told the dirzie (tailor) "should always be supplied with a locking box for his work, a sheet for spreading on the ground, an iron and an ironing board. He is supposed to supply his own scissors and thimble".

About a third of the book is devoted to cooking. The advice is precisely tailored to the realities of the colonial kitchen and its staff. There are few real recipes as we now understand them - more just anecdotal guidelines, and the recipes are largely common versions of late Victorian standbys. If you can find an original copy, it may like mine be enlivened by comments and additional recipes scribbled in the margin by the first owner.

Buy this book for social history, not for cooking. As such, it is remarkable.
nb. This book was recently quoted, completely out of context, by Jeremy Paxman in his series on the British Empire. Don't be put off, it's not like he made it sound.
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on 2 May 2010
I have seen references to this book in much of my reading re the British Raj in India. It is a must for those who seek an accurate insight into domestic life at that time.A fascinating, educational and enjoyable read.
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on 15 April 2012
The thing that I did not expect is the humour. Comments like "Do not forget the essentials such as husband, children, furniture". One of my favourites is the comment on sculptured butter pats - "it is doubtless gratifying to observe such yearning after beauty, even in butter, but it is suggestive of too much handling to be pleasant". Informative and very amusing.
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This is an old, classic book that was a must have "Bible" in its day for young British women who were embarking upon married life in India as it gave a host of practical advice for how to "run house" in 1880s British-India.
So why publish it again over 120 years later? Well apart from being an historical curiosity about how things were done "way back then" it still can impart some practical hints and tips that can be equally valid, perhaps with adaptation, in these more modern times. Society has changed, of course, in the intervening years and this book should not be seen as somehow celebrating the "good old days" but one should equally not rewrite history and just learn from the past and live for the present and future.
The reader is thought to be inexperienced and thus she, as it would be a she who is the target reader, is "instructed" in all matters of managing the house and assigning duties to maids and servants as required. One does not receive gentle encouragement or suggestion but one is effectively instructed on how things are done and how they should be done.
Before one is transported back to Victorian British-India, one receives some context through a long introduction to the authors and life in general as well as a chance to familiarise matters through a comprehensive chronology of events in British-Indian society from around the time the book was originally published. Explanatory notes also provide enhanced context to references that at the time would have ordinarily needed no explanation.
It is fair to say that much of this book would have equally been found in a contemporary general guide for a young woman setting up house for the first time, however it has been specifically written and expanded upon for the differences of expatriate life at the time. A light is shined in British-Indian society with the expectations, prejudices and solutions that were the norm.
This is more than a recipe book - much more as recipes are but a part - and it even gives instructions on how to train one's local staff to make specific British delicacies that the poor natives may never have tried before. The recipes that are presented are typical for their time and are relatively abridged, abrupt and to the point. Yet it might be an interesting exercise to take some of the less common recipes and maybe bring them back into today's usage. Naturally some classic favourites never die, even if they have been changed by generations of cooks.
If you are happy that this is not just a cookbook or a specific introduction to British-Indian food, and retain an open mind to past historical events and such information, this will be a thrilling little book that will undoubtedly have you exclaiming and reading extracts aloud to nearby companions! A highly recommended little tome.
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on 30 July 2012
Have not gone that far in the book but I am hooked. great read!! very interested in this subject as I come from what was once a British colony, so same as India. I am also a trainer in Etiquette which involves organising your home and household and entertaining which the book discusses albeit from a now historical point of view.
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on 9 September 2010
Anyone who thinks this is a book about curries is going to be disappointed.
It's all about life in India in between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th .
Lot's of advice on all kinds of matters concerning housekeeping, most advice is still useful today.
How to treat livestock and how to deal with hired help.
Included are 80 pages of recipes, four pages are about 'native' dishes.
Very interesting reading!
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on 17 May 2013
Captures a real period of colonial history and so is therefore full of quite extraordinary tips. Really great to flick through and put down after a few pages. Recommended.
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on 12 February 2016
really worth reading, with good recipes as well as insights into the lives of the colonial masters...surprisingly relevant even today
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on 25 February 2015
Excellent book.Enjoyable read. Great for the historian who wishes to learn more!!
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on 8 August 2013
The book was delivered in excellent condition,
It is an interesting look at how the other half lived when overseas in victorian times. You almost can hear the author's holier than thou tone when she discussed her staff and how they need to be treated! Not politically correct - but it was written a long long time ago.
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