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Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Timesby Lucy Lethbridge
Synopses & Reviews
From the vast staff running a lavish Edwardian estate to the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house, domestics were an essential part of the British hierarchy for much of the past century. Servants were hired not only for their skills but also to demonstrate the social standing of their employers, even as they were required to tread softly and blend into the background. But how did these countless men and women live? How did they view their employers and one another? And how did they experience the rapid social change of the twentieth century? In this “best type of history” (Literary Review), Lucy Lethbridge brings to life the butlers and lady’s maids, the nannies and cleaners whose voices have been largely ignored by history. Drawing fascinating observations from a kaleidoscope of research, she delivers a discerning portrait of life in service from the Edwardian period to the 1970s and a new view of English society.
"Lethbridge explores the culture of 20th-century British domestic service workers, the families that employed them, and the practice's sudden collapse after WWII. She discusses the implications of the upstairs vs. downstairs arrangement in which servants were expected to be 'invisible and inaudible,' and bizarre customs dictating everything from calling cards to the ironing of newspapers and shoelaces. Lethbridge also outlines the specific nature of many positions, including the footmen, regarded as effeminate 'embodiments of mincing servitude'; butlers, among whom the Astors' Edwin Lee is most famous; lady's maids; chauffeurs; and charwomen. In a moment of historical reenactment, she relives Alice Osbourne's experience as a nursery governess and housekeeper through her diaries, and journalist Elizabeth Banks's account of going into service undercover. Service work in the British colonies, where employers were desperate to maintain the rituals of home, receives attention, as do the trials of refugees adapting to the British service lifestyle. By WWI many houses either closed or used 'women in the traditional manservant roles' as domestic workers left for factories. Though many returned to service after the war, political and social changes following WWII dealt the final blow. Lethbridge comprehensively details an old convention that continues to fascinate the public." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The vividly told lives of British servants and the upper crust they served.
From the immense staff running a lavish Edwardian estate and the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house to the poor child doing chores in a slightly less poor household, servants were essential to the British way of life. They were hired not only for their skills but also to demonstrate the social standing of their employers--even as they were required to tread softly and blend into the background. More than simply the laboring class serving the upper crust--as popular culture would have us believe--they were a diverse group that shaped and witnessed major changes in the modern home, family, and social order.
About the Author
Lucy Lethbridge has written numerous books, as well as writing articles for the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday, the Times Literary Supplement, Art News, and Art+Auction. She lives in London.
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