THE RISE AND FALL OF THE VICTORIAN SERVANT by Pamela Horn

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE VICTORIAN SERVANT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A twin entry with Frank Dawes' Not in Front of the Servants (1974) in the Upstairs/ Downstairs derby. There have always been servants and masters, but in the heyday of the Victorian era they became an item of conspicuous consumption for the newly affluent middle class for whom at least one all-purpose maid--who could be employed for a few pounds a year--was mandatory. In more grandiose establishments a complete army of cooks, butlers, valets, and kitchen maids flourished, hopefully silently and efficiently. The servant who entered domestic service at thirteen or fourteen could look forward to slowly advancing through the ranks to the more opulent households and to positions of greater responsibility. Horn treats this great, submerged stratum of English society with sympathy, reconstructing their arduous lives from the memoirs and diaries of those ""in service"" and from a careful perusal of the ""going rates"" for the man who polished the plate and the girl who dusted the parlor. Though we would regard them as grossly exploited, it's clear that in the more lordly houses the servants were bigger snobs than their masters, often supplementing their meager wages by extorting ""tips"" from weekend guests. Gradually in the course of the 19th century the servant-master relationship changed from a semi-feudal to a contractual one, though there were always many mistresses like Jane Carlyle who saw their maid as an adopted child whose dress, morals and religious observance were to be carefully supervised. The majority of these compliant dredges were women--for whom ""service"" was often the only alternative to prostitution before the factories opened new avenues of ""bettering oneself."" An appealing keyhole glimpse of servants unctuous and brazen and employers vicious and kindly.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1975
Publisher: St. Martin's