- Not "Simply Mrs. Warren":Eliza Warren Francis (1810-1900) and the Ladies' Treasury
In the 1860s through 1890s, "Mrs Warren" was a familiar name in household management. Her manuals, How I Managed My House on Two Hundred Pounds a Year (1864), How I Managed My Children from Infancy to Marriage (1865), and Comfort For Small Incomes (1866), all went through several editions, selling thousands of copies in Britain and across the Atlantic. Warren also acquired considerable reputation as the editor of the Ladies' Treasury (1857-95), one of the most successful Victorian periodical for middle-class women.1 Yet, while the lives of her primary competitors Samuel and Isabella Beeton of the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine (1852-79) and Beeton's Book of Household Management (1859) have been amply documented in several biographies, DNB entries, and even a BBC television drama, Mrs Warren is only known through her publications and rivalry with the Beetons. In her recent Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, Kathryn Hughes calls the Ladies' Treasury "a plodding copycat" of the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, suggesting that "one book that Mrs. Warren never wrote, but perhaps should have, was 'How I Turned to Authorship in Order to Pay Someone Else to Do My Domestic Work for Me.'"2
With this essay, we hope to contribute to a more nuanced portrait of Mrs Warren, who was born Eliza Jervis around 1810 and died Eliza Warren Francis in 1900. Using the chronology of her life, reconstructed from parish records, census data, personal letters, and other archival documents, as a framework, we trace the development of her career as an author, periodical editor, and contributor, paying particular attention to her performance of a variety of gendered authorial and editorial identities in her most successful publication, the Ladies' Treasury. Our aim is to demonstrate that, [End Page 307] rather than being a mere counterfeit of Isabella Beeton, Warren Francis was a remarkably prolific and enterprising figure in the nineteenth-century publishing world. She was market-oriented, ambitious, and unafraid of commercial experiment, while at the same time being shaped by the particular circumstances of her personal life, notably childlessness and early widowhood.
Born into a typical, lower-middle-class family of traders on 23 December 1810, Eliza Jervis was christened on 19 June of the following year at St Cuthbert, Wells, the first of six surviving children of cloth dealer John Jervis and his wife Jane, née Honiball.3 At the age of 25, she married Walter Warren and moved out of Somerset to 2, Church Road, near Beauvoir Square, Hackney, a street described by Charles Booth as "Middle Class. Well-to-do" with "2-1/2 storied semi-detached yellow-brick, slate roofed houses with long gardens behind."4 They employed one servant and gave lodgings to Walter's 15-year-old nephew Augustus. The young Mrs Warren, it seemed, was destined for a relatively comfortable life in London as the wife of a commercial traveller.
On 26 March 1844, however, the marriage ended abruptly when Walter died of encephalitis at a coaching inn in Leeds, leaving his wife widowed at the age of 33.5 Quite possibly, Warren's death compelled Eliza to pursue writing as a professional career. In 1846-47, she published three fancywork manuals, The Point-Lace Crochet Collar Book, The Court Crochet Doyley Book and The Court Crochet Collar and Cuff Book, followed by a short-lived illustrated series of Books of the Boudoir on crochet and knitting in 1848.6 Her earliest known appearances in the periodical press also date from this period. In 1847-48, she contributed over fifty fancywork items with instructions to the Drawing-room Magazine, subtitled "Ladies Book of Fancy Needlework and Choice Literature," a monthly published by Houlston and Stoneman that ceased to appear after two volumes. The cover of Mrs Warren's 1856 Cookery for Maids of All Work identifies her as "editress of the Drawing Room Magazine," but there is no internal evidence to confirm this. Issues contained about thirty pages and offered illustrated fancywork instructions in addition to fiction, poetry, and essays targeting a...