Originally published by Second Light Live in ARTEMISpoetry and shared here with the permission of both publisher and poet.
Heaving her enormous bulk onto a bookshelf high
above my bed, then pushing until she was out of sight
took all my strength and it didn’t dislodge her from my mind.
But I rebelled against the weight of her disapproval,
shut myself away every morning in that small room
of my own, the room which is me, to let imagination
run wild as brambles and grasses in an untended garden,
coaxed visions into scribblings on paper until desk
and floor were littered, until unblinking as owl eyes,
words stared from my screen. Of course, the moment
I emerged I came face to face with her large a life
on the landing. For years this matron, large-bosomed
and with a voluminous knowledge gathered from decades
of managing a household, followed me around tutting
because I hadn’t blanched or basted, couldn’t pluck a duck.
She snorted at unruly children sliding down the stairs,
at dust rollicking along skirting boards, rounded on me
for failing to keep a properly stocked linen cupboard.
Then the day I found out this paragon was Isabella Beeton,
a young woman who instead of devoting her life to home
and family like other Victorian wives, travelled by train
with her publisher husband to his London office, wrote
books fat with information, mostly magpied from other books,
about household management, became a money-spinner,
an authority for later generations. I also learnt she’d suffered
several miscarriages, bore two children who died in infancy,
two who survived, died herself after the second –
thanks to Mr Beeton’s syphilis. Yet for years books
in her name continued to appear. The matron’s ghost
still persists in my mind but what troubles me is Isabella.
For all the thousands of pages this woman produced
in her short life, the real Mrs Beeton didn’t leave
a single word about what she thought, felt, endured.
– Myra Schneider
© 2014, poem and poet’s portrait (below), Myra Schneider, All rights reserved, posted here with Myra’s permission; Mrs. Beeton’s photograph is in the public domain.
MYRA SCHNEIDER (Myra Schneider’s Poetry Website) ~ Myra’s long poems have been featured in Long Poem Magazine and Domestic Cherry. She co-edited with Dilys Wood, Parents, an anthology of poems by 114 women about their own parents. Myra started out writing fiction for children and teens. We first discovered Myra through her much-loved poem about an experience with cancer, The Red Dress, which she generously shared with readers here in our Perspectives on Cancer series in 2011.
Currently Myra lives in North London, but she grew up in Scotland and in other parts of England. She lives with her husband and they have one son. Myra tutors through Poetry School, London. Her schedule of poetry readings is HERE. A video of Myra’s interview at Poetry East in London is HERE. The sound leaves something to be desired, so ear-buds or earphones are helpful. Other videos are of poems: The Red Dress and Goulash. Myra’s Amazon UK page is HERE and US is HERE.
Myra’s eleventh poetry collection, The Door to Color, will launch this September by Enitharmon Press, UK at their gallery in London.
4 thoughts on “The Real Mrs. Beeton”
I think many of us have wondered about poor Mrs. Beeton’s life but it took you to write a poem about her and her work and her mystery, Myra. Her books are online in public domain and it is still something of a kick to page through, though for sure I feel like the shabbiest of homemakers when I do.
Bravo! … and thank you for sharing your work with us.
Great poem love it Myra
How often we forget the ultimate social and domestic question: “What is it like to be you?”