Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

Introduced with annotated transcription by Julienne Gehrer.

Review by Hayley Anderton

Martha Lloyd, to the previously uninitiated (such as myself) was a friend and connection of Jane Austen and her family. The exact nature of the connections between the Lloyd’s and the Austen’s is complicated, as far as I can gather from the introduction, and it will take a few readings – possibly a chart – for me to get this all straight in my head is that as well as being friends, Cassandra Austen was engaged to Martha’s brother (he sadly died of yellow fever before the marriage), and much later, after Jane had died, Martha became the second wife of her brother Francis.

The close connection between the families meant that it was Cassandra who stayed with Martha whilst her mother was dying, and it seems it was a foregone conclusion that when this happened Martha would come to live with the Austen ladies. For three years this was in Southampton where Francis was keen for company for his then wife whilst he was at sea, and later at Chawton.

It sounds like a successful arrangement with a sense of life going on to imitate Jane’s art. The three younger women were undoubtedly close based on the letter evidence, and I’m fascinated both by Martha, and her late marriage to Francis. She was 62, he was 54, and it seems to have cost him a significant inheritance, even whilst his career at the Admiralty flourished. It certainly meant a relatively prosperous old age for Martha who ended up with a much larger house to run, a new level of security – and maybe a new sort of love in her life? It’s tempting to speculate about the latter, which is part of my fascination with Martha.

This book is subtitled as having ‘The Original Manuscripts from Jane Austen’s Kitchen’ which is technically true given the shared household, but it also seems that Jane’s attempts at housekeeping had mixed success and that it was Martha who had the real interest in the kitchen, but it’s the Jane connection that will sell. I have mixed feelings about this, I think Martha’s household book should be interesting enough in it’s own right, but also appreciate it’s a nice area of interest, and that what we know of Martha at all is due to her relationship with Jane.

This edition, published by the Bodleian Library, is a lovely thing in itself though and as it gives us an interesting side light on aspects of Jane’s domestic life, as well as a chance to meet Martha, I’m very happy to have it. The introduction is excellent – it covers what’s known about Martha’s life and circumstances, and something of what her day-to-day experience might have been. There’s a good bit about the nature of household books, and a lot about the Austen and Lloyd families. This is followed by a facsimile of the household book, a full transcript of it with notes, a useful glossary, and a thorough index.

As a recipe book I couldn’t recommend using it for either food or medical treatments – for anybody who would like to recreate what Jane and Martha were eating there is Julienne Gehrer’s own book Dining with Jane Austen, available through a website of the same name, and Deirdre Le Faye’s The Jane Austen Cookbook, still cheaply available second hand. Pen Vogler’s Dinner with Mr Darcy, and Regula Ysewijn’s Oats in the North, Wheat From the South which looks at traditional British baking, and Pride and Pudding, are also excellent. The advantage of these books is that the recipes have been adapted for modern kitchens and cooks. This isn’t just about issues such as the availability of ingredients and eradicating the toxic ones, but also about quantities. Some of these old recipes come in truly epic quantities.

Reading Martha’s household book also makes it clear how much she assumed was known. There are recipes here sent by friends or copied from the handful of cookery books which would have been available from libraries. One for a sort of bun called a light wig looks like it comes from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy from 1748 but omits the line about yeast. I’d go out on a limb and assume both Martha and her cook took the yeast for granted to the point that it’s inclusion in the written recipe didn’t much matter.

And this is exactly why this book is so interesting. Here’s a family of the middling sort; women living busy, comfortable, full lives. We can see the food they ate, what they grew and made, what would have been bought in, the luxuries and the economies, how they treated illness, who they corresponded with to share recipes, and so much more. These household books would have been common (my father has one from, we think, the mid-19th century in an old ledger that turned up amongst family papers).

They’re a fragmented record of the lives of their writers, but they might be the only record left and they’re fascinating, as well as in this case for the Jane Austen connection that Martha Lloyd gives us. It’s worth saying again though, that whilst I came to this book for Jane Austen, I stayed for Martha. She’s still a shadowy character, but she’s caught my imagination, and there’s much else here for anyone generally interested in late 18th and early 19th century domestic history.

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Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.

Julienne Gehrer, Martha Lloyd’s Household Book: The Original Manuscripts From Jane Austen’s Kitchen (Bodleian Library 2021), 978-1851245604, 172pp., hardback.

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