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Household management guides and cookery books for memsahibs: control in the home and promoting the ethos of empire

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Simon Pallett, Professor David McCollum-Oldroyd


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The paper considers the genre of household management guides and cookery books that were produced on behalf of British wives emigrating to India c.1870-1930. It examines the role that these guides played in promoting “best” behaviour amongst settlers and natives alike and in furthering the ethos of empire. The paper concentrates on the mechanisms advocated in the guides for controlling the behaviour of the natives and upholding British values. Comparisons are made to contemporary British household guides throughout. The findings in the study are especially relevant to previous studies that have considered the promotion of empire and the subjugation of women in the home through the imposition of financial controls. In the first case, a number of studies have investigated the role that accounting played in advancing the British Empire, either by providing the means to control distant territories, or by manipulating the behaviour of the indigenous population. In the second, there is the issue of household management guides in Britain and their advocacy of scientific management techniques as the best means of controlling expenditure and rendering home-management more efficient. The Indian household guides focused on three main areas of control: First, the guides sought to help wives (especially those new to India) provide a proper household for their husbands upholding British values of economy, cleanliness and order. This was the overall aim. In order to achieve this help was required specifically with procuring adequate supplies of goods and foodstuffs; and defining the nature of mistress-servant relationships, and regulating the behaviour of servants accordingly. The paper illustrates how control over the behaviour of Indians emanated not just from the imperial and provincial governments and commercial interests, but from the households of the settlers. Furthermore, it was not just the behaviour of the natives that these guides were intended to mould. They also helped define social relations in India by setting acceptable standards of behaviour for the empire-builders as well. Comparison with the views expressed in the Indian management guides and in their British equivalents about British servants further shows the importance of class relations at home in defining relations in the colonies between mistress and servant, and in determining attitudes towards Indians at large.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pallett SD, Oldroyd D

Editor(s): Brooke H Stroud; Scott E Corbin

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Handbook on Social Change

Year: 2009

Pages: 43-67

Publisher: Nova Science

Place Published: New York

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 97810607412229


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