P&P, day 22, episode 4: The role of the servants

Austen Advent Calendar

There are several servants in this episode, from mentions like “Oh, your uncle. He keeps a manservant, does he? I’m very glad you have someone who thinks of these things” and the servant who’s sent away by Lizze before Kitty and Lydia tells her the news about Wickham, to the named characters like Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley, or Hannah at the Lambton inn. Of course, there’s also Mrs. Hill, who probably is the housekeeper, and Sarah, a maid, in the Longbourn household, even though they’re not very visible in this episode, they are named in other episodes.

The servants’ part has been analysed in several ways around Jane Austen’s works. It’s not a theme that stands out in the stories, but it’d be pretty much impossible to run a household like the ones described in every Austen novel without the help of servants. And the more servants you had, the better. Large estates like Pemberley employed a steward to oversee all the servants (as Mr. Darcy says: “I found that I had business with my steward and so rode on ahead of the party”), whereas Longbourn would have had a housekeeper in charge of the female staff, and a butler in charge of the male. And poorer families, the ones that are depicted as poor in Austen’s novels, can “only” afford two or three servants.

There were different status amongst the servants as well. If you have seen Downton Abbey, you’d get a sense of it, but there are mentions of the status of different servants in this post, and you can see the difference between “your maid” and the Bingley sisters’ “elegant ladies” in this list.

To sum it up, there’s a lot of invisible work, and some visible work, being done, and it’s all being done by people in employment in the great (and not so great, too) houses. But as has been pointed out, the phrase “of all this I might have been mistress” also means that Lizzie would have to assume responsibility of running the estate. To be the lady of a household, you’d have to be a boss over a large number of people, and if you haven’t really had much experience before, well, I guess you’d have a rather challenging first year as a newly-wed with responsibility for 50+ employees…

For more things that may shatter the romance of this story (I’m so sorry!), check out the rest of my posts in the Austen Advent Calendar!

And I’m doing this as a join-in of the original idea of Drunk Austen, who you should follow for the rest of this Christmas countdown! Only a few more days left! Edit: I’ve just read their last post and I’m choking from laughter! Go read it!

The restaurant photo of this post is by Nils Stahl on Unsplash.

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