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OP: Home Economics

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by Maria Parloa

The Century Co., 1898. Hardcover. Good. First printing.

Orphaned at a young age, Maria Parloa (1843–1909) entered domestic service as a means of survival. With a strong aptitude for the craft and an interest in teaching, she later founded two cooking schools, one in Boston and, following its closure, one in New York City. She published nearly a dozen books in her lifetime.

Her books—along with those of contemporaries Sarah Rorer and Christine Terhune Herrick—are the staples of the American late Victorian era, taking an important step on the way to the “modern” approach of Fannie Farmer and her contemporaries.

Home Economics (1898) covers all technical and practical aspects of owning and operating a respectable household. Parloa writes with authority on how to buy and furnish a home (“A chair or couch should look strong enough to sustain the weight of anyone who sits on it”), maintaining its cleanliness and sightliness (try, perhaps, stiffening your silk curtains with a gelatin solution), operating a nutritive and efficient kitchen (“it was as disgraceful for a host not to know how to carve well as it was to have a fine library and not know how to read”), and managing a professional staff (“During a ceremonious dinner or luncheon it is particularly important that the service should be rendered without a word being exchanged between mistress and maid”).

Our copy, handsomely designed, bound in red cloth and stamped with gilt lettering and a hearth on the cover, shows its long life. The case is somewhat soiled and the rear heavily dampstained, which affects a good portion of the book near the spine. The interior is otherwise clean and unmarked save for a pasted newspaper clipping, which stains the facing page. Occasional split gutters with the loosening of one signature and a loose leaf requires delicate handling by the next owner. Ownership signature, dated 1899, to front free endpaper. A Good example of a life’s work.

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