BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Entertaining (1892)

In my undying quest for knowledge and entertainment, I came across an out of print book, “The Art of Entertaining” by Mary Elizabeth Wilson (M. E. W) Sherwood. This was a gem, indeed.

This book is a long read and is long on information, both practical and from a social standpoint. We find ways to greet people, host parties, choose the best wines, decorate the home, and get ideas for parlor games Who’s up for a game or two of The Horned Ambassador, I Love my Love with an A, or even The Deaf Man, or perhaps The Goose’s History? This book has so much information that to write an in-depth review of every point would be almost writing a full book. Therefore, I am only touching upon a few chapters and excerpts to give you the flavor of this work.

Sherwood begins by sharing opinion and judgement by, presumably, Europeans:

American dinners are pronounced by foreign critics as overdone. The  great “too much” is urged against us. We are a wasteful people as to  food; we should learn an elegant and a wise economy.

On wine and walking, and the American woman:

There is a vast deal of waste in offering so much wine at a ladies’ lunch. American women cannot drink much wine; the climate forbids it. We have not been brought up on beer, or on anything more stimulating than ice-water. Foreign physicians say that this is the cause of all our woes, our dyspepsia, our nervous exhaustion, our rheumatism and hysteria. I believe that climate and constitution decide these things for us. We are not prone to over-eat ourselves, to drink too much wine; and if the absence of these grosser tastes is visible in pale cheeks and thin arms, is not that better than the other extreme?

American women as a rule are not fond of walking. There must be something in the nature of an attraction or a duty to rouse our delicate girls to walk. They will not do it for their health alone.

My question is: What makes the “foreign physicans” and “foreign critics” so expert on the American way of eating and living, and why does Sherwood place so much importance on their inferred expertise? And the comment about American women not fond of walking makes me wonder if Sherwood thought they were all just sitting in the parlor eating bonbons.

She continues with commentary on the use of fish and its status in ancient society:

The Egyptians, while mummying the cats and dogs and beetles, and such small deer, made no gods of the good carp or other fish . . . They emblazoned the crocodile on their monuments, but never a fish. It is a singular foreshadowing of that great vice of the human race, ingratitude.

And she continues with a snippet of a recipe for fried eels:

Fried eels should be slightly salted before cooking. . . .

[D]redge them with just flour enough to absorb all moisture, then cover them with boiling lard.

But the pièce de résistance that delivers an eye-opening view into Turn of the Century thought is:

A devilled crab is considered good, but it should be cooked by a negro  expert from Maryland.

I suppose that to the present mindset of some segments of society, this is a prejudicial statement. However, it can be – and maybe should be – understood that at the time, black cooks from Maryland may have had superb experience in preparing deviled crab, as the crab is plentiful in Maryland, which lends to that expertise. I believe that anyone from Maryland, not just blacks, can whip up a fabulous deviled crab.

In this same vein, Sherwood gives her view of the Irish nurse as someone who “is the best and most tender . . . Children love Irish servants . . . [though] they are not good cooks . . . and are wanting in head, management, and neatness.”

And what of the German person?

The Germans surpass [the Irish] very much in thrift and in concentration, but the Germans are stolid, and very far from being as gentle and willing as the Irish. If a housekeeper gets a number of German servants in training and thinks them perfect, she need not be astonished if some fine morning she rises and finds them gone off to parts unknown.

Sherwood has some strong opinions, indeed.

When it comes to weddings, her thoughts may as well be as valid then as today:

The custom of giving bridal presents has grown into an outrageous abuse of a good thing. There has grown up a rivalry between families; and the publicity of the whole thing, its notoriety and extravagance,
ought to be well rebuked.

In decorating and setting up a guest room, she advises that “[a]ll paint used in a model bedroom should be free from poison . . .” Good advice, indeed, since some very toxic poisons were used in paints and wallpaper, particularly copper arsenite, which produces an emerald green.

Up for a game of golf, Ol’ Chap?

“A fine day, a good match, and a clear green” is the paradise of the golfer, but it still can be played all the year and even, by the use  of a red ball, when snow is on the ground. In Scotland and athletic England it is a game for players of all ages . . . it can be played by both sexes.

Some things endure.

One segment actually made me chuckle:

There are some difficulties in giving a Christmas dinner in a large city, as nearly all the waiters are sure to be drunk, and the cook has also, perhaps, been at the frumenty.

Well, there you go.

At the end of Sherwood’s book, she provides some advice:

We need not heed the criticism of the world, snobbishly; we are a great nation, and can afford to make our own laws. But we should ask of ourselves the question, whether or not we are too lavish, too fond
of display, too much given to overfeeding, too fond of dress, too much concerned with the outside of things; we should take the best ideas of all nations in regard to the progressive art, the art of entertaining.

I did find Sherwood’s tone snobby and some of her advice high-hatted throughout. There were passages that made me wonder about her high opinion of herself, some passages made me laugh aloud, and some passages were useful bits of information that one can apply today. This is a book that many would find interesting for the psychological viewpoints and the interpretations of society and traditions.

You can find it on Amazon Kindle.

“The Art of Entertaining”
Author: M. E. W. Sherwood
Publication date: 1892
Publisher: University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge
Pages: 410
©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.

Advertisements

About Susan Marie Molloy

I am an observer, a writer, and a poet. My latest poetry books, "Indigo Fantasy," "Life in the Oasis," "Gallery Night," "God of the Sea," and "Grapes Suzette" and my short stories, "The Green Gloves" and "The Crowd of Turin" are now available on Amazon. Check them out. Buy them. Read them. Send me your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you. View all posts by Susan Marie Molloy

2 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Entertaining (1892)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

MEIJI ZAPICO

Reading, Writing, Hearing and Tasting the Art of Life

What's for Dinner Moms?

Creativity for my life.

Les souvenirs de guerre de Gérard Pelletier

Disparu depuis le 3 septembre 1942

barrywax

Short Stories by Barry Wax

Frank Frisson

Fiction and Non-Fiction Reviews

the enagmatic girl

❤NOT EVERYONE IS DESIGNED TO BE LOVED❤

Susan Feathers

Online Home of Author and Educator

Blabber 'n' Smoke

A Glasgow view of Americana and related music and writings.

Lit World Interviews

Share and Spread the Word About These Authors!

© The Secret Poetess

Her secret verse & other offerings...

Adam Padilla

Films and TV

SUBDUED FLAMBOYANCE

A blog by Dr. Abhinav Majumder

Little Fears

Tales of whimsy, humour and courgettes

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog with a view - on books, music, humour and health

Ankit Mishra

Smile! Because You're Beautiful.. :)

The Critiquing Chemist

Literary Analysis derived from an Analytical Chemist

The Curious Guy

Abhijeet's Blog

Dear Colleague

Tales at the Water Cooler

Roy F. McCampbell's Blog

A Commentary On Life

Mystery Thriller Week

Celebrate the Annual Event

Pre-Code.Com

Covering All of Pre-Code Hollywood Cinema, 1930 - 1934

wingingitbygrace

Sometimes I feel like I am just WINGING IT, but then I remember... I can do this, by GRACE.

yadadarcyyada

Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure

History Myths Debunked

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

BoothieBarn

Discovering the Conspiracy

The Vintage Traveler

Fuzzylizzie's Fashion & Travel: Vintage Style

All Things Georgian

Super Sleuths who blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era

A Hundred Years Ago

Food and More

Annika Perry's Writing Blog

Join me as I edit my first novel and aim for publication

Attila Ovari

Loving Life and Inspiring Others

Life in the Realm of Fantasy

The writerly musings of Connie J. Jasperson, author, blogger and medieval renaissance woman.

Comet Over Hollywood

Home for classic movie lovers

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

helpful writer ramblings from a disturbed mind just like yours

Broadway Fillmore Alive

The Online Voice of East Buffalo's Historic Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood

The Chicago Files

A CANADIAN EXPAT'S EXPERIENCES AND OBSERVATIONS LIVING IN THE WINDY CITY!

The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

Here and now, with all of it.

Susan Finlay Writes

Susan Writes Mysteries and Suspense

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

Bluefish Way

The life of Ralph, Natascha and our cats

The Silent Eye

A Modern Mystery School

✨The Fairy Whisperer ✨Colleen Chesebro✨

YA Fantasy Novelist, Poet, & Visual Word Artist

Kate M. Colby

Soft Sci-Fi, Dark Fantasy & Nonfiction Author

%d bloggers like this: