This is a thoroughly delightful read,the sort of book one can dip into or read from cover to cover. Jeremy Musson wears his scholarship lightly as he charts the experiences of servants in the country house from medieval times to the present day - there are no lengthy footnotes, entertaining though they can be at times or profound analysis of the socio-cultural significance of domestic servitude. The position of domestic servant evolved from being part of the larger household or family in medieval and tudor times when servants were valued confidants and frequently left bequests in their employers' wills to the rigid hierachy and compartmentalisation of Victorian times when servants were required to be invisible phantoms who had to avoid eye contact with their employers and flatten themselves against the walls as they swept by.
Domestic service was often the only employment choice available and conditions and attitudes varied as much as the individuals concerned. Jeremy Musson has drawn from a wide variety of sources from both sides of the divide to document the food servants ate, the uniform they wore, duties both indoors and out and the methods used for keeping the servants out of sight - basement kitchens, attic bedrooms and subterreanean passages. Some servants, especially nannies and ladies maids formed enduring bonds with their employers but more often with each other.Some maids even married their employers. But the work was always hard and tedious and many servants were exploited.But as Jeremy Musson shows on the other hand domestic service was often part of family pride and tradition as generations followed each other into service. Mistresses' complaints about their servants are recorded as well as vice-versa.
Even the sad position of black servants in the 18 century house is explored;they were thought of as little more than unpaid chattels with no rights whatsoever. Finally,the author takes a look at the position of domestic staff today in the few housholds affluent enough to employ them as well as those who staff National Trust properties.
This is a comprehensive and entertaining account of a way of life that has disappeared and the reader can enjoy the vividly prsented anecdotes of this tour of domestic service in the country houses of England while feeling glad the experience is only vicarious!
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