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Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times

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“A ridiculously diverting glimpse of downstairs life in Edwardian England. . . . Most gratifying.”—Laura Miller, Salon
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.
Spanning over a hundred years, Lucy Lethbridge?in this "best type of history" (Literary Review)?brings to life through letters and diaries the voices of countless men and women who have been largely ignored by the historical record. She also interviews former and current servants for their recollections of this waning profession.

At the fore are the experiences of young girls who slept in damp corners of basements, kitchen maids who were required to stir eggs until the yolks were perfectly centered, and cleaners who had to scrub floors on their hands and knees despite the wide availability of vacuum cleaners. We also meet a lord who solved his inability to open a window by throwing a brick through it and Winston Churchill’s butler who did not think Churchill would know how to dress on his own.

A compassionate and discerning exploration of the complex relationship between the server, the served, and the world they lived in, Servants opens a window onto British society from the Edwardian period to the present.

From Publishers Weekly

Aug 19, 2013 – 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.
Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Europe
  • Published: Nov 18, 2013
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Seller: W. W. Norton
  • Print Length: 400 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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