Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses by Rosemary Baird

Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand HousesFrom Amazon's product page:  "In the 18th and 19th centuries, to become Mistress of the House was the natural prospect of women born into Britain’s wealthy aristocratic families. An advantageous marriage would bring with it an important ancestral home—a visible expression of power, prestige, and good taste. Rosemary Baird introduces us to ten of these remarkable women, detailing their accomplishments in the creation and running of Britain’s great houses. We also learn about their education and training, the marriage market, and their obligations as leaders of fashion, interior design, and society. Based on diaries, letters, and family archives, Mistress of the House is a fascinating work of social history. Rosemary Baird was educated at Cambridge and Oxford; a former consultant at Sotheby’s, she is now Curator of the Goodwood Collection."

This incredible dry book starts off in a fairly interesting manner, detailing how women in years past in England helped build giant homes, decorate them, and create incredible legacies which they'd leave to the family members in their names.  The book describes how the legacy of these women would be kept fairly quiet due to their gender and history's general desire to attribute their work and effort to their husbands.  It also lists what a rich wife of that time would be expected to do, and what she could do given leeway. 

Unfortunately, it quickly moves to individual ladies of the time, and this is where the work suffers.  While some ladies have stories interesting enough to hold the attention (Catherine Lennox, Elizabeth Montagu and the Duchess of Portsmouth) while others bored me silly.  Combined with the fact that most chapters read like a laundry list of accomplishments, it tended towards the tedious in chapters for people such as Theresa Parker.  "Yes, yes, they worked on their house.  Yes, yes, they put up Indian Paper in the great hall." 

Sadly, due to the method in which this book describes the ladies (lady by lady), it also becomes greatly repetitive in the chapters of women with no great claim to fame other than their houses.  I powered through it, but it would be lists of items purchased by ladies interspersed with a sentence like "Husband managed to make her a duchess."

I am going to give it a positive verdict, but I'm writing the review the way I am because I want you to know that if you do not have a great patience or if you have little interest in manor homes of England or strong females of bygone eras, this is probably not going to be a book you enjoy.  My love of the running of manor homes and of strong female personalities is great, and I'm still only giving it a six out of ten!

Verdict: 6.  However, I would not rate it higher than a four unless you have a rather deep interest in intellectual, dry works regarding large manors in England.

Thoughts:  One third of this book was footnotes.  I kind of felt robbed!

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