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Title: A Class Apart: The Servant Question in English Fiction 1920-1950
Author(s): McQueen, Anna
Supervisor(s): Hunter, Adrian
Keywords: servant question
servant problem
Evelyn Waugh
Elizabeth Taylor
Katherine Mansfield
Elizabeth Bowen
Mollie Panter-Downes
Henry Green
Daphne du Maurier
domestic service
lady's maid
Issue Date: 28-Jan-2016
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: In the reading of the servants in examples from the period 1920-1950, the servant question is invoked to expose the workings of class. The servants in these narratives of Bowen, Green, Taylor, Waugh, Mansfield and Panter-Downes, lady’s maids, housekeepers, nannies, a butler and a chauffeur, are in thrall to the collective structures of societal ordering, and reluctant with respect to social mobility. Class was not fully being negotiated in this period, in fact little change was visible. Fer example intimacy, such as that between the lady’s maid and her mistress, meant that class confrontation was unlikely. The nanny showed that culturally constructed mechanisms such as nostalgia could be employed to discourage the desire for change. In terms of the socio-historical context any transformation in the make-up of domestic life – that is, the move towards homes without servants - was a fairly gradual business. But, there was a widespread belief in a change that had not really taken place – and that certainly had not taken place within domestic service. Any transformation of society was superficial; the governing ranks would not permit their disempowerment through genuine class change. I contend that the literature supports this perspective. Servants desire subservience; they find comfort in the familiarity of the system of household ranking-by-status. In the process, authority itself is portrayed as being less immutable, more malleable and thereby equipped for the future. In this sense the narratives read in this thesis go to make up a literature of resistance, in refutation of the overwhelming narrative of the time, progressing instead the notion that class must persist with its boundaries intact, as its hegemony is desirable and necessary for the smooth, successful operation of society.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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