Being a servant in the Regency was a truly terrible job

Note: this is a reprint of a post which originally appeared on AllAboutRomance.com.

[trigger warning: discussion of sexual harassment/assault] 

Happy new year, all!

Being a servant is not a great job. I knew that when I set out to research Listen to the Moon (my new Regency romance about an impassive valet and a snarky maid who marry to get a plum job), and most of what I read just made it seem worse and worse.

Part of why Longbourn (Jo Baker’s Pride and Prejudice retelling from the servants’ point of view) didn’t quite work for me (I DNF’ed a few chapters in) was the constant detailing of servants’ misery. Their hands are dry! They work long hours! They have to empty chamber pots! It felt like there wasn’t anything else in their brains or lives. Of course it’s true that servants’ hands are dry and they work long hours and have to empty chamber pots—but. I don’t know. People with crappy jobs still tell jokes and have emotional lives? Being poor really, really sucks but it doesn’t mean it’s all you think about and that you are 100% miserable 24/7? People are not defined solely by their tragedies?

It’s complicated, but I just feel like, there is a lot of that story out there. The Dickensian “those poor wretched people!” story. I would rather read and write a different kind of story, where bad stuff happens and also people live and laugh and gossip and have work drama and love each other and are sometimes deliriously happy.

That’s why I’m a romance writer, I guess.

So since I didn’t do it in my book, this is my place to really get in there and wallow in what a truly crappy job being a servant was.

I remember as a little kid asking my mom about women’s rights after watching Mary Poppins. She told me that back when many married women didn’t work or have their own bank accounts, they were dependent on their husbands. So you had to hope that your husband was nice, because if he was it could be okay, but if he was mean, there wasn’t a lot you could do about it.

Being a servant was a lot like that. If you had a nice boss, it could be okay. If you didn’t, you were completely screwed. Highlights:

1. The hours. Servants were expected to work from early in the morning to late at night. There was no part of the day that was designated as free time or after work. If their boss needed something in the middle of the night, they’d be woken up.

If I had a nickel for every time I have read a complaint about maids reading novels when they should be working, I would be rich! But when CAN they read novels, then? They are working ALL THE TIME.

They were rarely allowed to have guests, even in the kitchen, so for many servants their only opportunity for a social life outside the home was on their time off, which was a half-day once a week at best and sometimes not even that. (Plus Sunday morning for church in some households.)

Many servants in this time period were maids-of-all-work, meaning they were the only servants a family had. I can’t imagine how lonely that must have been.

2. Employers felt entitled to dictate everything about their servants’ lives. Many female servants were not allowed to date (though of course making a rule is not always the same as being able to enforce it). And they were watched obsessively for any signs of a love life or, God forbid, pregnancy.

Some employers also didn’t even like servants leaving the house! For example, in 1821 John Skinner wrote that he “made it a rule…to state [to new servants] my dislike of them going into the village,” though he did say he would allow them to “go home to their friends, or occasionally see them here”.

Bridget Hill writes in Servants: English Domestics in the Eighteenth Century (a really great resource) that “So great was the desire of some masters to keep their servants at home that they locked them in when they went out. So when Mr. Goodwin, the minister at Tankersley, went to church, he locked his maid and two children in the house.”

Remember that Regency locks usually worked differently than modern ones: they were key-and-keyhole locks, where you could lock them, put the key in your pocket, and walk away, and the door would be locked from both sides. No fire codes here!

3. Which leads to…no privacy. Outside of country estates with dedicated servants’ quarters or wings (and I don’t think they were entirely universal at country houses, even, in this time period), servants could not count on having a bed, let alone a room to themselves. They might sleep in closets, on landings, or even on the kitchen floor. Their rooms didn’t always have doors. And as Hill notes, “wherever their quarters were, something that was common to them all was that they could rarely be locked.” If there was a key, housekeepers or employers kept it, not the servants themselves.

4. The above quote from Hill is from a chapter titled “The Sexual Vulnerability and Sexuality of Female Domestic Servants.” I feel like I don’t even really need to say more. Servants who were harassed or assaulted had very little recourse and were likely to find themselves out of a job if they spoke up. They were also almost certain to find themselves out of a job if they got pregnant.

(Though this problem affected female servants disproportionately, of course it wasn’t limited to them.)

“Register Office for the Hiring of Servants,” Thomas Rowlandson, c.1800-05.
Image Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. [Source]

5. Have I mentioned that employers really, really did not want their servants to get pregnant? They often couched this in terms of virtue, respectability, morality, etc. but the truth is that employers also did not want their servants to get married, because either way the pregnancy was inconvenient for them. Hill writes:

“Marriages between fellow servants were fraught with difficulties. On the whole few masters seem to have employed married couples as servants. If two servants within the same household wanted to marry custom dictated they ask for the permission of their master—and such permission could be withheld—or leave the household…Employers were apprehensive that a married couple, particularly if they had children, would be as much concerned with their own family as their master’s. But if marriage between two servants was to have any chance of success the married couple needed to be employed in one household.”

6. You did not even always get paid! Hill writes that “Wages were frequently not paid on time. Indeed, in order that servants could pay ‘for anything missing’ it was recommended (by John Trusler in The London Advisor and Guide, 1790) that employers ‘keep part of their wages in hand’, and that ‘they should always be paid one half year under another, reserving half-a-year in hand.’” Trusler points out that servants could not legally be compelled to pay for broken items ‘unless it was so agreed on the hiring,’ but the fact is that many employers applied wage penalties (over and above lost time) for all kinds of infractions: breaking things, leaving before the agreed-on date, going home for the holidays, not going to church, badly done work, neglect, getting drunk, etc.

A servant whose claim for unpaid wages was under £10 could have their case heard by a magistrate very cheaply, but who knows how many servants were aware of this right or dared take advantage of it? A servant who was owed more presumably had to sue if they wanted to collect.

7. This will probably surprise no one, but women servants were paid far below men servants. Boswell wrote in 1791:

“I put a question to him [Dr. Johnson] upon a fact in common life, which he could not answer, nor have I found any one else who could. What is the reason that women servants, though obliged to be at the expense of purchasing their own clothes, have much lower wages than men servants, to whom a great proportion of that article is furnished, and when in fact our female house servants work much harder than the male?”

Good question, Mr. Boswell!

(Note: with the exception of footmen, etc. who wore livery, there were no uniforms for servants in this period. Sometimes female servants were provided with clothes or the fabric to make them, but it was less a matter of custom and more one of the employer’s discretion.)

“Progress of the Toilet – THE STAYS,” James Gillray, c. 1818.
Image credit: The British Museum. [Source]

For many female domestic servants, the goal was for it to be a “life-cycle job”, i.e. something she did in her teens and early twenties and then graduated out of, hopefully through marriage. But finding a life partner is never a guarantee, and it was especially difficult for a servant to 1) meet someone and 2) save for a dowry. So this didn’t always pan out—which sucked because domestic work was very physically demanding, and a woman’s wages might actually decrease as she aged, yet she could rarely afford to retire.

For workers in a great house like the ones owned by many Regency romance characters, service made more sense as a lifelong career: there were some opportunities for advancement (ladies’ maid, cook, housekeeper, upper housemaid, etc.) and it must have made the work much more tolerable long-term to have other servants to hang out with and to not have your employer breathing down your neck all the time.

On the other hand, specialized servants in a large house who did want to marry might find themselves at a disadvantage. Hill writes:

“There is a late eighteenth-century ‘penny-history’ in which Ned advises his friend, Harry, against marrying a chambermaid ‘for they bring nothing with them but a few old cloaths [sic] of their mistresses, and for housekeeping, few of them know anything of it; for they can hardly make a pudding or a pye, neither can they spin, nor knit, nor wash, except it be a few laces to make themselves fine withal.’”

6. The Regency was one of the last stages in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. I’m not trying to toot feudalism’s horn here. But every crappy economic system is unique, and one aspect of feudalism was that in it, the model of “service” was (at least theoretically) understood to be one of mutual rights and responsibilities. Noblesse oblige and all that. The capitalist model, of course, is one of contractual wage labor.

To illustrate how drastically things shifted: in the eighteenth century, “family” often still simply meant “household” and included apprentices, servants, etc. George Washington’s aides-de-camp, for example, were widely referred to as his “family,” because they traveled with him and were usually accommodated in the same house. As the Victorian era neared, the new ideals of hearth and home and “private life” meant that “family” began to refer only to those related by blood.

For servants who lived with their employers, this transition had numerous disadvantages, often with fewer corresponding gains in independence than, say, a factory worker. Employers resented servants because their presence inherently compromised precious privacy (one reason, in tandem with technological advances like bell-pulls that could call servants from another part of the house, for the increase in designated servants’ quarters).

Class barriers hardened, and as the perceived gulf between employer and employee widened, intimacy between servants and employers came to be seen as “dangerous”, especially to impressionable children.

And even as their own loyalty to servants shrank (with less perceived obligation to provide for sick or old servants, for example), employers bitterly resented the loss of servants’ loyalty and gratitude. As Hill says, “[T]heir concern about servants spying on them and gossiping became almost paranoid.

“The servant problem” is obsessively discussed in eighteenth century and frankly it makes me gag every time. Let me tell you, I had a really hard time finding images for this post that weren’t either A) condescending caricature/satire, B) racist, C) porn, or D) all of the above.

You know what, rich Regency people? If you don’t like it, do your own damn laundry!

7. And on top of all that which is specific to servants, there are still all the general problems of non-unionized labor, and that in a time before labor laws of any kind: no pension, no health insurance, no job security, no OSHA, no limit on working hours, etc., etc.!


(SEE ALL LISTEN TO THE MOON EXTRAS)

Rose Doctors the Book: “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker”

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.

Rise of Skywalker felt like a cross between fanfiction and a Jackson Pollack painting. Which like, was exhilarating in its way? But I still feel like it could have used a bit more focus, and I have 4 simple script suggestions that I think would have helped:

Continue reading “Rose Doctors the Book: “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker””

2019 Holiday Mailing is live!

Get exclusive scenes of your favorite couples from my books celebrating the holidays…

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, YOU CAN SIGN UP TO RECEIVE AS MANY STORIES AS YOU WANT!

(Just remember, if you read them all now, there may come a year when there are no new stories for you to read. Choose wisely!)

I’ve written five adorable Christmas mini-stories, one about Solomon and Serena from A Lily Among Thorns, one about Nev and Penny from In for a Penny, one about Phoebe and Nick from Sweet Disorder, one about Sukey and John from Listen to the Moon, and one about Robert and Betsy from “A Taste of Honey”.

And I’ve got three charming Hanukkah stories, one about Ash and Lydia from True Pretenses, one about Simon and Maggie from “All or Nothing”, and one about Rachel and Nathan from “Promised Land” in the Hamilton’s Battalion anthology.

Everything is the same as last year, so if you’ve already read a story, you don’t need to request it again.

Sign-ups close on December 15th.

Happy holidays!

“A Taste of Honey” is 99¢!

To celebrate Rosh Hashanah (when we eat honey for a sweet year), I’ve put “A Taste of Honey” on sale for just 99¢ this week!

A perfectionist baker needs his shopgirl’s help with a big catering order…and she sees her chance to seduce him…🍯💋

If you like: awkward sex, ice cream, pegging, friends-to-lovers, secret mutual pining, workplace romance, caramels, competence porn, food porn, actual porn, adorkable depressed goofballs in love, macarons, virgin heroes, working-class historicals…THIS IS FOR YOU!


ebook: kindle · kobo · nook · apple

***

Learn more about the book and read the first chapter here!

(If you’ve already read it, check out the extras!)


“A Taste of Honey” is book 4 in my Lively St. Lemeston series (WARNING: contains elections, confections, and a number of erections). I wrote it because so many people read Sweet Disorder and said “I’d have married Mr. Moon!”

(If you want to read the whole series, the best deal is still the boxed set.)


To be clear, this isn’t one of my Jewish historicals. It’s just….

🎶A taste of honey…🎶
🎶A taste of honey…🎶
🎶Tasting much sweeter than wine🎶

My Jewish historicals are: True Pretenses, “All or Nothing”, and “Promised Land”.


Here are those links one more time:

ebook: kindle · kobo · nook · apple

Remember, if you want to be notified when my books go on sale, you can always sign up for my monthly(ish) updates!

Best wishes for a sweet new year!

“A Lily Among Thorns” reviewed on SBTB (and other news)

Smart Bitches reviewed A Lily Among Thorns!

I don’t know if I can really even explain how exciting this is for me. But here’s an excerpt of the email I wrote SBTB when I submitted Lily for review, back when it was rereleased by Samhain in 2014 (I hope Sarah won’t mind my sharing it):

I still love your blog, but sometimes I forget that back when I first discovered it, the only other person I regularly talked to who read romance was my mother. She could snark like nobody’s business, sure, but SBTB was the first time I felt like part of a romance community. [I] remember vividly many happy hours snort-laughing over cover snark and that incredible feeling of “Finally, people who get it!”

SBTB gave me the confidence that maybe there’d be a market for what I was writing, that not every romance reader was committed to only reading the type of hero that was in almost every historical at the time.

I was already working on the book that would become (some time collecting dust under the bed and a millionty rewrites later) A Lily Among Thorns, and I fantasized regularly about seeing it reviewed on Smart Bitches. Of course by the time it came out in 2011, Dorchester was being boycotted by a lot of bloggers including SBTB–which I actually thought was awesome, btw, so please don’t think I’m complaining. I reluctantly gave up on that fantasy.

And now it’s there! It’s really there! And they liked it!

Serena is my favourite character in the entire book…Watching her try to balance all of the plates she’s spinning is simultaneously stressful and delightful…whether the book is showing her first awkward attempts at friendships or having her in perfect control of a dangerous situation.

…I was so invested in the romance working out and in Solomon’s recovery from grief, and I loved getting to watch Serena defend everything she loved even as I was angry that she had to.

Read the full review here.

Learn more about A Lily Among Thorns, including where to buy it. (The self-pubbed edition has a new epilogue showing the resolution of the secondary romance!)

To celebrate the review, I’m working on a revamp of my Lily extras page. So far, I’ve organized all the mini-stories in one place with a table of contents.

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, so in case you mostly get your Rose Lerner news here, a few other items of interest:

Yours, &c.,

Rose

RWA 2019 Giveaway!

ETA [8/6/19]: This contest is now closed. Tresgrumpy, Zarah, Elise, Jessica, and Nikki won books. Georgia and Lenora won the ebook downloads. Rebecca and Ar won swag packets. Congratulations!!

Hi everyone! I got back from RWA last night and I brought a HUGE haul of goodies for you.

All books are signed. ✒️😘

A signed paperback copy of Courtney Milan’s f/f novella, “Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure“!

Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.

Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life…


A signed copy of Eva Leigh’s Dare to Love a Duke!

For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club in the London Underground, passion could lead to love…if they dare

+PLUS+

Two download cards for Eva’s Temptations of a Wallflower!

Beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander.

Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy Cleland has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy...


A signed paperback of Jackie Lau’s Ice Cream Lover!

I absolutely adored this romance…it felt like it was written just for me. I honestly feel vulnerable even reccing it, but also YOU SHOULD READ IT IT’S SO GOOD. [Content warning: the heroine lost a parent as a young adult.]

I hate ice cream. Ever since my fiancée left me at the altar and skewered me in her bestseller “Embrace Your Inner Ice Cream Sandwich: Finding the Positive You in a World of Negativity,” I haven’t been able to stomach the stuff.

Unfortunately, my five-year-old niece is a budding foodie and her favorite place in the world is Ginger Scoops, a cutesy Asian ice cream shop. I’ve spent too much time there, sipping black coffee, refusing to eat ice cream, and trying not to look at the owner, Chloe Jenkins…


Signed copy of L. Penelope’s Song of Blood and Stone. I couldn’t resist this stunning cover!

The kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar have been separated for centuries by the Mantle, a magical veil that has enforced a tremulous peace between the two lands. But now, the Mantle is cracking…

All Jasminda ever wanted was to live quietly on her farm, away from the prying eyes of those in the nearby town. Branded an outcast by the color of her skin and her gift of Earthsong, she’s been shunned all her life…until a group of Lagrimari soldiers wander into her valley with an Elsiran spy, believing they are still in Lagrimar.


A signed copy of Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Avon’s first full-length f/f historical!

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. But it isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go.

Showing up at the countess’s London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away…


I also collected a TON of swag!!

(Click image to enlarge)

Selection of postcards, stickers, bookmarks, buttons, and more. Authors include Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, Jackie Lau, Suleikha Snyder, Alexis Daria, Alisha Rai, Olivia Waite, L. Penelope, and K.C. Bateman.
Alexis Daria tote bag

Seven winners will receive a signed book OR download card, along with a selection of swag. Two more will receive swag packets without a book.

If you really want a particular book or piece of swag, you’re welcome to ask in your entry comment, but I can’t promise anything!


Contest rules:

1. Comment on this post to enter. If you’d like, tell me your favorite book you’ve read this month!
2. Winners will be chosen at random using random.org.
3. Due to postage costs, the physical prizes (including swag) are US only. International readers, put “international” in your comment and I’ll include you in the giveaway for the digital downloads.
4. Open for entries through Monday, August 5, 2019.

If you’d like to be alerted when new contests go up, you can sign up for my mailing list.

Good luck!

Reading/Meet & Greet, June 9 in Philly!

Long time no post! Thanks for your understanding with my erratic updates here. Honestly, if you don’t want to miss anything, I’d recommend joining my mailing list.

I also recently launched a Patreon! For just $3 a month, you can stay in the loop about what I’m working on every week (usually, that means nifty historical research or a small spoiler or snippet from my WIP, although on occasion I’ve also been known to share sneak peeks at a new cover, ask for help choosing a title, or talk about my personal life).

Here’s what Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books said when I recorded a podcast with her a few weeks ago (you can hear me talk about Aaron Burr, professional wrestling, and the f/f Gothic I’m writing):

“[I]t is a freaking joy to receive her weekly Patreon newsletter. It’s adorable, it’s fun, it’s informative, and I look forward to it every week. If you like obscure deep dives into history on such topics as what kinds of play tea sets did young girls have during the Regency, this is for you.”

!!!

Become a Patron!

And now, here are the deets on that reading:

Philly Loves Romance

Sunday, 9 June 2019
2PM – 4PM
Parkway Central branch, Free Library of Philadelphia
First Floor Heim Center (Room 131)
1901 Vine St, Philadelphia PA

(Full event details)

I’ll be reading aloud from Sweet Disorder! Lydia Michaels (who writes dark, sexy romantic suspense) will be reading as well.

I’ll have some books for sale, but not my whole catalog, so if you know you want to buy a particular book, give me a heads-up so I can bring it!

I hope to see you there. ❤️

If you want to know more about what I’m up to this summer, including my freelance editing/research assistance business (I’m scheduling in-person brainstorming sessions for RWA weekend!), workshops, podcast appearances, book recs, and Netflix selections, here’s a link to my June update!

Upcoming workshops!

I’ve got 3 workshops scheduled so far for 2019 and I’d love to see you there!

(I’m also open to scheduling more workshops! If you’re interested in booking me, please email [email protected] or use the contact form on this site.)

EEEE I’m so excited about this one! I will be spilling every trade secret I know at the Ripped Bodice romance bookstore in Culver City, CA on Sunday February 17, 1-4PM.


Historical Romance 101:

Want to put more “historical” in your historical romance? This lively and engaging in-depth workshop offers practical, nuts-and-bolts craft guidance to help you create a historical voice, write believable dialogue, seamlessly integrate research into your story, and decide what historical accuracy means to you. Then Rose will throw open her research tool-chest to share her hard-won techniques and tricks of the trade. She’ll walk you through how to get the most out of search engines and local libraries, build your own research collection, fact-check, and lots more, all with an emphasis on free resources. (Who doesn’t love free?)

Every historical setting and every level of experience is welcome!


You can sign up (or buy a ticket for a loved one!) at the Ripped Bodice events page. Registration is just $50 and I am going to pack as much useful information into three hours as I possibly can! Plus, spending time in the Ripped Bodice is nourishment for the soul, that place is magic.

(If you want to make a long weekend of it and soak in some sun, they’ve got a wonderful Galentine’s Day event on February 13!)


If you can’t make it to LA, I’ve got a couple of online workshops coming up as well with From The Heart Romance Writers.

(Oh, and if you can’t make it to LA but you would like me to sign a book for you while I’m at the Ripped Bodice, you can order one here! Link goes to the full list of available authors in case you want to do some additional shopping…)

January 27 – February 2, 2019 – “Making Your Protagonists’ Job Work For You.” ($15) I’ve given this one live before for writers’ groups and conferences and participants always have a ton of fun! I’ll take you through a series of exercises, using your protagonist’s job as a lens to deepen characterization, create tension, and build conflict. My own heroes and heroines count confectioners, innkeepers, chemists, soldiers, servants, con artists, politicians, and accountants among their number, just to name a few, so I know whereof I speak!

And then in December 2019, my “Regency Electoral Politics with a Focus on Women’s Participation” workshop is back by popular demand! ($25)

The Regency British political system was complex, evolving, and unique–and even if women couldn’t sit in Parliament, they were involved in it everywhere, as patronesses, hostesses, possessers of pocket boroughs, information brokers, canvassers, and more. I’ll give you a detailed overview of Parliament, political parties, elections, and the patronage system, and then explore the many ways that contemporary women (particularly elite women) participated.

This is a four-week course with LOTS of information! I know December is a busy holiday month, but you can always save the materials and read them at your convenience, and you’re welcome to email me with follow-up questions at any time.

Sign up for the From the Heart online workshops here.


Let me know if you have any questions!

Rose Doctors the Book: “Mary Poppins Returns”

 

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS. Also, lots of swearing, as it turns out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Full disclosure: Mary Poppins was one of my favorite movies as a kid and I still adore it. It is absolutely a problematic fave but here we are.

On balance, I did really have a good time at Mary Poppins Returns. But to say I liked it might be an overstatement, or just an oversimplification. I left feeling extremely, intensely ambivalent, and I’ve been wrestling with trying to nail down my response ever since.

Visually, it was stunning (although I thought the visual interplay between fantasy and reality was much less deft than the original). I also loved the performances. Lin-Manuel Miranda was a snack, I tell you what. And JANE. Ugh. Jane was everything. The little girl broke my heart. I cried several times.

I wasn’t crazy about the songs, but they weren’t bad.

My primary problems, as they so often are, were with the script. I liked the story set-up, but in the end, the writers simply didn’t seem to have control over what things meant. As a result, the movie felt unfocused and a satisfying resolution was essentially impossible.

Here are five simple changes I would have made to improve things, ordered from smallest to largest:

Continue reading “Rose Doctors the Book: “Mary Poppins Returns””