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March 13th, 2019

not so invisible servants

Some years ago, I read someone commenting on the ubiquity of servants in a well-off pre-appliance household, and how they were invisible in e.g. Jane Austen. This had given me the idea that they didn't appear at all. Now I'm re-reading Price and Prejudice for the first time in years, and while they don't appear as characters (so far, 1/5 in; I think some of Darcy's do when Lizzie visits Pemberley), they do in fact get mentioned a lot.

While Jane is sick at Bingley's, "a servant", "a housemaid", and his housekeeper are mentioned. There's also Nicholls, presumably his cooking, making white soup for a ball.

Mrs. Bennett mentions keeping servants, Mr. Bennett says he hopes she ordered a good dinner, she frostily assures Mr. Collins that they can keep a good cook, and "Lydia, my love, ring the bell—I must speak to Hill this moment."

Finally, on Collins' visit:

"During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn,"

So they are invisible as people -- more so than in Game of Thrones, say -- but they and their services are acknowledged as existing.

As a contrast, Bilbo and Frodo don't seem to keep any servants other than the gardening service; not only are none mentioned, but both bachelors are mentioned in the context of doing housework themselves. Sam does go off to Crickhollow "to do for Mr. Baggins" but that seems more about Sam than Frodo actually needing or expecting a servant.

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Spot the userpic pun!

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Damien Sullivan
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