This month I am giving away a signed copy of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair! Check it out! I love that book a LOT, and the series just keeps getting better. I just started his new book Shades of Gray, too.
I also made my second post over at Favorite Thing EVER, on The Online Etymology Dictionary. I also talk about Regency words for blowjob and how I CAN’T FIND ANY GOOD ONES.
I am reading a biography of Ann Yearsley, the working-class poet “discovered” by Hannah More: Lactilla, Milkwoman of Clifton by Mary Waldron. I’m really enjoying it; the author has the perfect mixture of affection and humorous clearsightedness about her subject and it’s got lots of great information about smalltown life in late 18th century England. But it just said this:
Few even of the agitators for political reform or supporters of the American revolutionaries would have contemplated doing without their servants. Most people—even, it must be said, many of the poor themselves—would have agreed with Bernard Mandeville, writing in 1723 about the charity school movement, which had begun in 1699: “Going to School in comparison to Working is Idleness, and the longer Boys continue in this easy sort of Life, the more unfit they’ll be for downright Labor, both as to Strength and Inclination. Men who are to remain and end their Days in a Laborious, Tiresome and Painful Station of Life, the sooner they are put upon it at first, the more patiently they’ll submit to it for ever after.”
I just don’t think that’s a fair transition. I agree completely that very few people (maybe no one) were free of class prejudice in Georgian England. (But then, the same is probably true of modern America.) But unless you’re going to argue we should get rid of social class altogether and redistribute the wealth, which this author doesn’t seem to be doing, saying that having servants was unprogressive seems to me to completely ignore the reality of 18th (and 19th) century life.
1. They didn’t have vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves, sewing machines, central heating, food processors, electric lighting, or much in the way of processed/prepared food. Very, very few people had any kind of indoor plumbing.
Maintaining even a small middle-class family home was a full-time job for more than one person. Doing without servants entirely would have meant turning the women of the household into unpaid drudges who worked every minute they weren’t sleeping and slept five hours a night. How progressive!
Even women who had servants spent huge amounts of time in household chores. Even the Lucas girls in Pride and Prejudice (a VERY upper-middle-class home, with presumably more servants than most) helped in the kitchen (or so Mrs. Bennet says with some degree of plausibility, even if she’s being catty).
2. Domestic service was a huge part of the economy. Not employing servants meant depriving working-class people of jobs without, as far as I can see, empowering them in the slightest.
3. There’s no connection between employing servants or not and supporting mass education or not. Servants can go to school as children just like anyone else.
Anyway. Sorry, awesome biography author! I do love your book.