Second Class and Servantry

Ben Lemmon

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Oct 9, 2009
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There is a question that has been nagging at me for the longest time. I know the barriers that were instigated between master and servant in first class, but I want to know if it was as poignant for the middle to upper-middle class? In Barrie's Peter Pan, the servants (in particular, the nurse Nana) had a closer relationship than is portrayed in some Edwardian Era documentaries. Was that pure poetic license, or did the middle class have a closer relationship with their servants?
 
Jul 9, 2004
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I'd say anyone who didn't have scruples about social caste and propriety would have had a closer relationship with their servants and employees. A servant that would have worked for many years with a family would be treated with the same familiarity as a family member himself. There would be gratitude expressed for loyalty like that. You treat your servant well and your servant treats you well in return. If people actually treated their servants like crap, like so many like to think, you'd never have kept a servant under your employ for very long. Same holds true today.



Personally, I'd go with your gut feeling on it. If they have a stilted relationship with their servant, go for it. If it feels right that they should have a good, familial-type relationship with their servant, go for it. If you do middle class, you have a lot of room to move around. Make that family very, very (very very as in Vanderbuilt type wealthy) rich and THEN you have to worry about class distinction, fretting over social caste, etc. Very few people actually ever worried about it, but for some reason, it's those people we only hear about and not the everyday person.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Witney
But surely a nurse was a highly-specialised type of employee who, like a governess, would have lived with the family. It would be normal for treat them with a degree of familiarity that would clearly have been inappropriate in the case of, shall we say, a parlour maid or footman.
 

Ben Lemmon

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Oct 9, 2009
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While we're on the subject of nurses, how old were nurses usually? The nurse I am using in my story is sixteen. The age is only mentioned once, so it wouldn't be that hard to fix. Was that the usual age, or were they a bit older? Any information would be appreciated, as always.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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>I'd say anyone who didn't have scruples about social caste and propriety would have had a closer relationship with their servants and employees.

Quite the opposite, my friend. Relationships between servants and employees on the high end of the economic scale tended to be formal but, within those boundaries, cordial. (Witness the details of life in chez Morrow between servants and the formidable Mrs. Morrow, as exposed by the Lindbergh affair) That is how 'old families' om both continents managed to be surrounded by 'old retainers.' Servants were treated as neither family nor peons and, by and large, the system worked.

The emergence an upper middle class, and new rich class, brought forth literally tens of thousands of households in which 'servant troubles' became, for want of a better term, a leitmotif well into the 1950s. People suddenly 'elevated' found themselves struggling to maintain domestic order...in other words, they did not know how to handle servants. So, either they played "Lord of the Manor" and "Grande Dame" (think Leona Helmsley) and had constant turnover, or tried the even-more-fatal "We're all friends" approach which more often than not led to servants who did little or no work.

There used to be a GREAT series of books you could buy on eBay. They were reprints of about 15 scrapbooks, each labeled 'death,' kept by a rather morbid Victorian who, each day, would clip the most appalling stories from the daily papers and paste them in. I bring it up because an excellent theme within the books was "servant troubles." Whether it was the Lady of the (middle class) House finding her (pregnant unmarried) scullion hanging from the steam pipes behind the boiler (Man of the house proved to be the proud pappy); or the Servant of the Place getting liquored up and raping the homeowner; or the staff absconding en masse with literally every item of value from a home, there were a HUGE number of such incidents. And, they always took place in the homes of the Not Quite Manor Born.

In NYC, the former Home for Respectable Indigent Women Who Have Not Worked as Servants still exists.

The middle class and newly rich tended not to have long term relationships with their 'hired families.'

So, keep this in mind, Ben. "Distant and formal" did not necessarily translate to "unpleasant work envirnment," and "We're like family" tended to foster strained relationships between all concerned.
 
May 27, 2007
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or the staff absconding en masse with literally every item of value from a home, there were a HUGE number of such incidents. And, they always took place in the homes of the Not Quite Manor Born.
In the Early 19th Century they called it giving French Leave according to Thomas Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp Crawley found out the hard way when her maid took all she had and she was to the "Manor born" by marriage only.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Witney
Hello Ben,

I believe that you are confusing "nurse maids", who would invariably be young girls, with nannies, who were older and would often be of middle class origin. You may have seen the recent British TV programme "The Lost Prince" (2003), in which that fine actress Gina McKee plays “Lala”￾, the royal nurse. Lala is a socially-superior character (a bit like Violet Jessop?) who directs the other servants, but acts a servant when dealing with the Royal Family. I think the social dynamic at work in that relationship would be fairly typical of the situation that pertained in a patrician household of circa 1912.