Most Dickensian scholars have interpreted David Copperfield's Dora Spenlow and Our Mutual Friend's Bella Wilfer as domestic failures (in terms of the novels' logic) who must either be disciplined into learning the art of cooking and housekeeping (Bella) or killed off because they refuse to do so (Dora). In both cases, the women's reaction to a cookbook or domestic advice manual plays an important role in the way the stories construct their femininity. However, Bella's and Dora's interactions with these manuals have not been examined in depth. Focusing on two of the most popular domestic guides, this article argues that Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton and Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton present femininity as a series of roles that did not fit traditional gender and class boundaries but rather could be adopted, adapted, or set aside. This concept of flexible femininity troubles two dominant middle-class Victorian assumptions: first, that women were natural-born housekeepers and second, that the domestic labor they performed should be effortless. When more attention is paid to the way nineteenth-century cookery books and domestic advice manuals addressed female readers, Dickens's domestic scenes emerge as moments of resistance that challenge Victorian standards of femininity.


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pp. 123-148
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