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"You look wretched and I am the cause of it, I suppose.",
This review is from: Lady's Maid (Paperback)
This densely written story about the woman who worked for Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) as a Lady's Maid has the advantage that the majority of the details and events are taken from her real life. As for EBB, after she escaped from the clutches of her father and took to roving the European continent in search of an ideal climate with her husband Robert Browning, she became even more highly esteemed and it might well be thought they lived idyllic lives, mostly in France and Italy. But EBB was almost always in poor health which put a damper on their travels. After two miscarriages, however, she gave birth to a healthy son.
The lady's maid in question is one Elizabeth Wilson (almost always addressed as `Wilson') in her early twenties when she is taken on in the Barrett household. The nature of her relationship with EBB fluctuates quite a bit, as Wilson herself contemplates marriage. The shock of her mistresses reaction when Wilson becomes pregnant is only the first of the inequalities and the lowering of status that Wilson has to contend with. While Wilson must be subservient to all eventualities, EBB has an entirely free rein.
Something of the claustrophobic and venal attitudes concerning what servants are and are not permitted to do casts a darkness on the ensuing story. I must admit I found it ever more depressing. The death of EBB was almost a relief. But it may not be too late for Wilson to regain her natural happiness, though the best of her life is gone, spent in servitude that is unthinkable to the expectations of the ordinary woman today.