History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 February 2015

They keep a man servant, do they ...

One of the discussions I see rather frequently on social media is about the lack of servants in a lot of books. I think a lot of modern people (especially Americans) are uncomfortable with the idea of servants. But our characters wouldn't have been! Basic living was HARD. Cooking was HARD. Cleaning was HARD. Caring for your clothing was HARD. See the theme here? Anyone who could afford to pay someone else to do all these menial tasks, did. And not just because they were HARD, but because they were time consuming and a person can only do so much themselves.

An aside: my best friend from college is half Turkish. Until recently, his family still had a place in Istanbul. The first time I went, I was uncomfortable with the servants. Several of them didn't even seem necessary, which made me even more uncomfortable. Then my friends dad said something that really stuck with me: They didn't have servants because they needed them; they had servants because as wealthy people (he's a cancer surgeon) they had a duty to employ people. That really stuck with me and made it easier to understand the mindset my characters might have had.

So, I was flipping through my copy of The Complete Servant before loaning it to a friend and I found some very frank discussion of costs and how many servants (and what type of servants) various households would be expected to keep. Someone with only 100 pounds a year would have still kept a maid. Elinor and Edward after their marriage in Sense and Sensibility would have had several (a cook, a maid of all work, a man servant to act as footman and groom, and perhaps a gardener). Bingley and Jane would have had a full complement, and Darcy and Lizzy, still more.


Blogger Helena said...

Your paragraph about your Turkish friends echoed my thoughts. The structure of English society for centuries depended on the local big family employing or otherwise supporting everyone else. Each person was born to his station and knew he'd either do the looking after, or be looked after in return for service.

The concept that service is menial is relatively modern.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting post. I was just wondering about the list with what kind of servants the different people where expected to have. Do you know the date of the list?

8:43 AM  

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