Social Success: Five Pieces of Victorian Household Management (Part One)

It has been said that our age admires and desires quiet domesticity more than any other. Yet no happy bliss will ever be achieved where disorder and discord have been allowed to take root.

It is the lot of the mistress of the house to create and maintain her circle (however large or small) of happiness and respectability. There may be many reasons why a mistress (newly installed or long established) would choose to seek advice on household management. Regardless of whatever these reasons may be, Behind The Past will always endeavour to be of service.

And, it is with this theme of service that we shall begin the first part of our guide. Many households would cease to function without the diligent work performed by thousands of men and women. The management of servants is central to the successful operation of the home. Yet when the mistress of the house considers service, she should consider not only the service which is due to her, but also the services she must perform for her employees and dependants.

  1. So, continuing along the above lines, the mistress of the house must remember that it is her duty to care for any servants living and working under her roof. Their health and welfare must count highly among her household concerns. They will return her care in kind.
  2. And with regards to the running of her household, the mistress must approach this task as if she were the commander of an army. She should assume the duty, diligence and leadership such a role entails in its entirety.
  3. In this manner, the mistress should also lead by example. If she is lazy in her work, she will soon find that her servants are lazy in theirs. Yet if she is industrious in her own life and in the running of her home, she will inspire her servants to follow suit.
  4. The mistress will also be available to her servants. It has been suggested, for example, that after she has breakfasted, the mistress should make a daily round of the kitchens etc. This will allow her to see that the morning’s work has been completed, and allow any problems or queries to be addressed.
  5. Lastly, a mistress will find she has a more harmonious home, and more careful servants, if she trains herself to be understanding of accidents and mistakes. Flying into a rage has rarely achieved anything. It is also very ill bred to rebuke servants publicly and in front of guests. Nobody raises themselves in the eyes of one person, by showing them how cruelly they can treat another.

To conclude, it can only be said that the world would be a better place in general, if more employers showed the respect and responsibility to their servants, which decency commands. Our age may indeed aspire towards good manners, but it often leaves much to be desired in practice.


Beeton, Isabella Mary, The Book Of Household Management, [First published by S. O. Beeton in 24 Monthly Parts 1859-1861. First published in a bound edition 1861].

Dawes, Frank Victor, Not In Front Of The Servants: A True Portrait of Upstairs, Downstairs Life, (London: Random Century, 1989).

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