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OP: Common Sense in the Household

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by Marion Harland

Virginia-born Mary Virginia Terhune (1830–1922) was a prolific novelist working under various pen names until settling on Marion Harland. Upon moving to the northeast with her minister husband and their children, Terhune discovered a need for a thorough and detailed manual for domestic management. 

She took the matter into her own hands and wrote Common Sense in the Household (1871), which became an enormous seller with 100,000 copies sold between its publication and the 1880 revised edition. It remained in print for 50 years.

Our copy is an 1890 printing of that revised edition, in which Terhune penned a new introduction, saying, “I gladly avail myself of the opportunity thus offered to re-read and so far to alter the original volume as may, in the light of later improvements in the culinary art and in my understanding of it, make the collection of family receipts more intelligible and available.”

Terhune writes with wit and an occasional hint of sarcasm, engaging her readers thoroughly, as one might expect from a seasoned novelist. It is not difficult to see why her work was so popular. The literary quality, however, does not serve to mask any flaw or lack of know-how when it comes to domestic management. In fact, it merely gilds thoughtful and detailed recipes, giving the reader the comfort and confidence of a friend’s guidance .

Leatherbound with sturdy boards—materials meant to last—our copy is a better example than many we have seen floating around on the market. The boards have been rubbed enough that the black ink stamped title is fading into the dark leather. We have had the endpapers replaced to lend additional strength to the binding. The interior is clean—with a few penciled notes here and there. A previous owner had bound in four pages of lined paper on which are beautifully handwritten recipes, one of which is dated 1915. A charming and handsome find.

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