The little book What Shall We Have For Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Far for from Two to Eighteen Persons is the only book by Catherine, wife of England's best-known novelist Charles Dickens. It was first published in 1851 and went through several editions until 1860. It contained a large number of suggested menus for dinners for all sorts of parties and family groups, as well as a few useful recipes for things she thought needed explanation.
Susan M. Rossi-Wilcox offers us a transcript of the 1852 edition of this book with an extended commentary on its composition and contents, as well as placing it in the context of the home life of Charles and Catherine Dickens. Its suggestions for dinners as various as a simple roast leg of lamb to a groaning board laden with snipe, woodcock, mutton stuffed with oysters, salmon, lobster, soups, curries, and a full dessert give some impression of the wealth, invention and good appetite of middle-class Victorian Britain. Susan Wilcox's explanations of the ingredients, the kitchen equipment necessary for good cookery, and the family background of the author add depth to our understanding. Catherine Dickens, who was finally deserted by the novelist after bearing him ten children and keeping house for him for more than twenty years, has been dealt a bad hand by her contemporaries and later Dickens biographers alike. Dismissed by Dickens as incompatible, by commentators as incompetent and idle, and ignored or written out of the picture by former friends, this book goes some way towards redressing the balance in favour of Catherine who by her menu book, her well-regarded dinners and entertainments, and her indefatigable support to her husband's literary career demonstrated many strengths and qualities unjustly dismissed by earlier authorities.
Hardback, 376 pages, 17 black and white illustrations