Menials explores major changes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British culture and society by examining how writers used representations of domestic servants to characterize and observe those changes. This book contextualizes fiction with economic theory and conduct texts, periodicals, and estate papers to demonstrate how “the servant problem” enabled Britons to work through a larger crisis in the representation of social and national subjectivity.
Menials argues that British writers of the long-eighteenth century projected their era’s economic and social anxieties onto domestic servants. Confronting the emergence of controversial principles like self-interest, emulation, and luxury, writers from Eliza Haywood, Daniel Defoe, and Samuel Richardson to Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and William Thackeray used literary servants to critique what they saw as problematic economic and social practices. A cultural history of economic ideology as well as a literary history of domestic service, Menials traces the role of the domestic servant as a representation of the relationship between the master’s ideal self and the cultural forces that threaten it.
Introduction: Becoming Nothing: Writing the Domestic Servant
Chapter 1: Literary Servants and the Trouble with Self-Interest, Part 1
Chapter 2: Literary Servants and the Trouble with Self-Interest, Part 2
Chapter 3: “Within Proper Bounds”: Domestic Servants and Emulation Anxiety
Chapter 4: Domestic Idylls, Exotic Fruits: the Luxury of Foreign Servants
Coda: Downstairs at Downton Abbey
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