Wednesday, 2 August 2017

An Ideal Servant

I've explored the topic of servants before, and they're very evident in A Family Romance too. There's the Mannings' Miss Lawlor (an ideal servant: she barely speaks), and Dolly's Annie Verkade, who, like 'a butler in a grander establishment', takes a pride in 'expressionless efficiency' (ch. 4). Brookner admits it's unusual for someone to have a live-in maid in the period, which we have to be reminded is actually the 1980s. And indeed it would have been most surprising. But this is the Brookner world, cushioned from at least some of the harsher realities of life.

In David Copperfield Peggotty, like Miss Lawlor, is inherited, and ideal in her way. In Henry James's story 'Brooksmith' the eponymous butler is so perfect he's an 'artist'. The tale is, however, powered by an unspoken queer dynamic; it doesn't end well for Brooksmith.

But none of these writers, not even Dickens - the least conservative of the three, and hailing from a section of society only a little above what James unblushingly, at the close, depicts as 'servile' - ever truly questions the status quo.

Frank Reynolds
'Peggotty and Little David', 1910

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