Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Book Review: Up and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson

This book examines the life of the country house servant from the Middle Ages up to the present day with a particular emphasis on using the words of servants themselves where available. Musson demonstrates a remarkable interest in his subject and I can't help but wonder how much research it took to put this informative book together. That the bibliography is eleven pages long gives some idea of the breadth of it.

Inevitably, the earlier chapters are not as involving as the later ones, to me at least. The closer the life of service is to the nineteenth-century ideal which I'm personally so interested, the more intriguing I found the chapters. That said, the progression of servants from being part of the family to merely employees kept at arms length was fascinating. Equally, the frequent mentions of country house architecture in relation to servants helped mould the greater picture of this progression.

There are too many intriguing titbits in this book to pick out. Servant/master relationships, servant pregnancy, servants moving up through the ranks: Musson focuses just enough on one interesting segment before moving on to the next. The chapters that dealt with the breakdown of the servant life thanks to the wars were excellent, linked in as they were to changes in our recent past. In addition, the last chapter about the current situation of servants in country houses was extremely good. I think this book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the history of country house servants, whether for research purposes or not.

Incidentally, the book includes some photographs. This painting has been haunting me since I first caught sight of it, no offence to the subject Joseph Florance intended.

No comments: