Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
I spent the morning consuming the cook books and conduct manuals of Hannah Woolley 1623-1677). You could call her the Renaissance Martha Stewart — unless, like me, you’re in an historical mood, in which case she’s the Renaissance Mrs. Beeton or the Renaissance Catharine Beecher.
Hannah Woolley came from modest origins, but mastered both music and Italian as a young girl. She made her name as the author of cookbooks and conduct manuals for women of all stations. Hannah’s most famous cookbook is The Queen’s Closet: at once pantry, dressing room, and semi-private retreat for self-repair. Let Hannah take you through the world of Renaissance pies, cakes, salads, and sauces, where you’ll find home remedies distilled on the same shelf with puddings and dumplings. Learn how to make “A Melancholy Syrup” or “A Paste to wash your hands withall,” along with “chips from any fruit,” how to “keep flowers all the year,” or how to cook “a custard for a consumption.”
Time on your hands? Try crafting edible white trencher plates out of sugar, a project worthy of Martha:
Building her brand, Mrs. Woolley later branched out into conduct books. My favorite is her guide for servant girls, The Compleat Servant-Maid, which stresses handwriting, arithmetic, and “phsyck and surgery” alongside the “Washing and Starching of Tiffanies, Points, and Laces.” The title page alone is a lesson in the varieties of service that stratified the London of yesteryear:
Hannah imagined for the working women of her day a life of service that began in the pantry and parlour of another woman’s house, in order to end in marriage to a respectable tradesman. Yet the education she envisions for women includes literacy, numeracy, and medicine alongside the domestic arts. Hannah’s housewife is what Antonio Gramsci called “an organic intellectual,” a thinker and discourse-builder who comes out of a specific working and living milieu in order to give voice to a community’s interests outside or beyond the “official” organs of church, state, and school.
If Hannah’s housewives lack the specifically political vision that Gramsci wants from his working men, perhaps we could redub them “garden-variety intellectuals,” tending to a politics of the everday, watered with ample doses of “Melancholy Syrup” and “garnished with some pretty Conceits made of flour paste.”
Compleat Servant-Maid from Early English Books On line.— Julia Lupton · 2008-11-23