19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals
The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection holds a comprehensive collection of 19th century advice manuals. The majority of these handbooks were published in the UK, with some from the US and Australia. This genre of literature was often lucrative for those producing it, and regardless of the place of publication, many of these titles were readily available in Australia - brought here by immigrants or sold locally.
A number of the titles are now extremely rare; in some cases the library retains the only known copy in a public collection. The genre covers subjects such as household management, domestic service, decorating and etiquette and offers great insight into social and material histories of the home.
Guides for domestic economy
Manuals informed the ‘house-wife’ on a woman’s role within the domestic sphere: how to be domestically capable, make a comfortable home and live within one’s means.
Manuals presented the kitchen as a suitable place for middle-class women to develop skills and managerial proficiency as a key to their role as ‘mistress of the house’.
Guides for home furnishing
Titles such as Thomas Hope’s Household furniture and interior decoration (1807) had been the go-to works for advice on ‘tasteful’ home decorating among fashionable circles in the first half of the century.
By late century, a new ethos of domesticity saw home decoration as the specialty of women and this was accompanied by a growth in both female readership and authorship.
Guides for servants
They were published for those learning to work, and could be owned by the servant or held by households as reference books. Manuals contain material relevant to the functions of a specific role, or multiple positions required to staff households and large estates. Many go beyond advice on how to perform duties, with information on servant hierarchies, social guidance and moral encouragement.
Guides for masters and mistresses
The works provide ready reference on the varied duties of male and female domestic service roles. However, they were written for masters and mistresses – explaining the specific services to expect from staff. Authors tended to come from the upper-classes. They employed Christian principles of equality, while disseminating accepted beliefs on class difference and the predetermined suitability of servants to their roles. Many writers also included advice on the ‘proper’ treatment of servants and the mistakes to be avoided for ‘smooth working of domestic machinery’. Chapters generally covered topics such as training, social relations, household scale, equipment, engagement and dismissal of servants, wages, dress, meals, & etc.
Guides for etiquette
These pocket sized volumes cover topics from letter-writing to ballroom dancing and finding a suitable spouse. Conduct books provided the aspirational with a means to understand the practices of ‘respectable’ society and they now offer insights into shifting aesthetics and social and economic changes through the century.
Most manuals were written as serious instructional handbooks, but some took the form of satirical exposés of high society. Authorship could be by ‘one of the “exclusives”’ or ‘A Lady’.