Servants

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As the popularity of Downton Abbey testifies, there is an insatiable appetite for the life of the great English country house, not just of the aristocratic residents but also of the furiously paddling ‘swans’ feet’, the hierarchy of servants, working largely out of sight, to keep everything on the surface looking serene and effortless.

This is the starting point for Servants, ‘a downstairs view of 20th-century Britain.’ While it contains many marvellous anecdotes about the tyrannical eccentricities of ‘upstairs’ (and do look out for the ceremonial – I can only call it that – attending the dowager Queen Mary’s visits to the loo as late as the 1950s), the real strength of the book is in its observations of the more equivocal relationship between middle class women and their female servants. Lethbridge uses the complex shifts brought about by war and technology to show how the domestic status of women was ambiguous and contradictory long before the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Entertaining as well as erudite, Servants is a fundamentally bleak book which asks, but cannot answer, the perennial question: how can a woman develop her intellect and imagination except by relying on the domestic drudgery of another woman?

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Details

Publisher
,

Published

Genre

Century

Price
(US) $27.95
(UK) £20.00

ISBN
(US) 9780393241099
(UK) 9780747590170

Format
Hardback

Pages
385 (UK), 400 (US)

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