Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Essential Role of Servants in the Victorian Family :: Jane Eyre

The Essential Role of Servants in the Victorian Family    I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition too seemed swept off into vague space; "Then" I cried, half desperate, "Grant me at least a new servitude." ( Bronte 93; ch. 10) Jane was not approaching any new territory when she wanted a new servitude. In fact 12.8 percent of the female population in England and Wales were engaged in domestic service in the nineteenth century (Horn 24). In nineteenth-century England, for any household with social pretensions at least one domestic servant was essential. The guide to the social status of a well-off Victorian family was the status of the domestics employed (Horn 18). Well-to-do families employed as large a staff as they could afford, while middle-class families held to the minimum of one (Horn 18). There were many types of servants, among them the housekeeper, and the nurse (Horn 49). On the female side of the domestics there were numerous servants. Since this essay is not concerned with male domestics, only a list of female domestics is provided. Female domestics would include the housekeeper, the cook, lady’s maid, nurse, housemaids, kitchenmaids, scullery-maids and laundry staff (Horn 49). The housekeeper was responsible for hiring and dismissing the female staff. The housekeeper was expected to be a "steady middle-aged woman . . . morally exemplary and assiduous to the harmony, comfort, and economy of the family" (Horn 54). Most often a housekeeper would stay with the same family for several years, forming a close bond with the family (Horn 57). If the family came into financial trouble a loyal housekeeper might stay behind as a general servant, while the rest of the staff would be dismissed. Housekeepers that worked for kin were either unmarried daughters of any age or widows (Hill 119). Middle and upper class families with children also kept a nurse maid. She would be a young girl under the age of twenty. The nursemaid was responsible for dressing and undressing the children, playing with them, and taking them out of a walk (Horn 66). The nursemaid was often spent more time with the children then their own mother. She acted as a mother figure, performing most if not all of the duties that belong to the mother.

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