Pride and Prejudice, Servants

The Help–Part 2

But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Although the Bennets were of somewhat higher means than the Dashwoods, they still employed only a few servants for their small country cottage, despite their dwindling budget and with so many able young daughters.

As most of us have made do without servants and somehow managed to fend for ourselves quite easily, it probably seems a bit odd that a family whose finances have taken a shock would employ any servants. However, according to Kelly Giles in her essay Help!—Servants During the Regency, “before electricity and indoor plumbing it took a lot of manpower (or more often womanpower) to keep a household running. Keeping even a modest home lit, heated, and clean could be a full-time job. Maintaining a grand home and an equally grand lifestyle might require a small army. The Duke of Westminster employed 50 servants at Eaton Hall.” Additionally, the local economy relied heavily on the availability of such positions. Domestic service was one of the few employment opportunities for those of lesser means, especially for women. Many families had members in service for several generations.

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However large estates such as Netherfield and Pemberley would need as many as one hundred servants to take care of both the house and the grounds effectively. It took a ton of hands to keep everything running smoothly so that the stewards of the estates could preserve them for future generations

If you are curious about the servants necessary for the running of homes of wealthier families, PeriodDrama.com has compiled a useful list of the “servant hierarchy” of the nineteenth century:

Served, but were not considered Servants

Chamberlain

Land Stewart

House Steward

Senior Servants

Governess

Nurse

Coachman

Head Gardener

Game Keeper

Upper Servants

Butler

Housekeeper

Valet

Lady’s maid

Cook

Lower Servants

Footman

Under Butler

Groom

Stable Boy

Boot Boy

Hall Boy

Ground Keeper

Parlour Maid

Chambermaid

Upper Laundry-maid

Still-room Maid

Maids-of-all-work (“between maids”)

Under Cook

Kitchen Maid Scullery Maid

Unclassified Servants

Gatekeeper

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For more detailed information about the individual positions mentioned above, definitely check out PeriodDrama.com.

 

Sources

Help!—Servants During the Regency by Kelly Giles

Below Stairs: The Servant Hierarchy 19th Century by Genie Bohn

Regency Servants: Maid of All Work by Vic

More Information

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

(The 1920’s maid’s memoir that inspired the creation of Downton Abbey. Not the same century, granted, but still a super cool resource!)

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Sense and Sensibility, Servants

The Help–Part 1

“They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be!”

–Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Shows like Downton Abbey (be still my heart!) and the revamped Upstairs Downstairs have roused a renewed interest in the ins-and-outs of domestic service in British history. You’ve likely noticed that Austen mentions servants from time to time in her novels, but in Sense and Sensibility she touches particularly on the way service differs between class lines. As the Dashwoods downsize, it becomes necessary to assemble a much smaller domestic team.

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PeriodDrama.com has a wealth of information about servants, if you wish to learn more, but for now I would like to focus on the servants at Barton Cottage.

Being in a smaller middle class household, the Dashwoods require only a skeleton crew for help. As the narrator of Sense states, “[Elinor’s] wisdom too limited the number of their servants to three; two maids and a man.”

The man most likely functions as butler and gardener, receiving visitors and managing the small area of Barton in which the cottage presides. He likely would have also carried the duties of a groom and other stable workers if the Dashwoods had had the facilities to keep their horses and carriage.

The two maids seem to be what are known as “maids-of-all-work.” Such maids were usually paid very little and expected to carry out a massive list of responsibilities that would usually have been executed by a variety of maids and other female servants in a larger house. Their duties would include things such as cooking, cleaning, lighting fires, laundering clothes and linens, and much much more.

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Maids-of-all-work and others employed in less well-to-do households were often the hardest working servants and were not often treated well by their employers. It would seem that the Dashwoods are the exception to this rule. Although we don’t have much insight into the relationships between the Dashwoods and their servants in  Sense and Sensibility, their resourcefulness and ingenuity, especially that of Elinor and her mother, leads me to believe that they may very well have shared the house workload with their servants. Likewise, as the Dashwoods demonstrate kindness and patience with others throughout most of the novel (minus the occasional indiscretion *cough* Marianne *cough cough*), I have a hard time believing they could gravely mistreat any living creature, regardless of circumstances.

 

To Be Continued…

Keep an eye out for more information about servants in the second post during my Pride and Prejudice responses.

 

Sources

Help!—Servants During the Regency by Kelly Giles

Below Stairs: The Servant Hierarchy 19th Century by Genie Bohn

Regency Servants: Maid of All Work by Vic

More Information

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

(The 1920’s maid’s memoir that inspired the creation of Downton Abbey. Not the same century, granted, but still a super cool resource!)

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