Writing during periods of dramatic social change, Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell were both attracted to the idea of radical societal transformation at the same time that their writings express nostalgia for a traditional, paternalistic ruling class. The author shows how this tension is played out especially through the characters of servants in short fiction and novels such as Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, Belinda, and Helen and Gaskell's North and South and Cranford. Servant characters, the author contends, enable these writers to give voice to the contradictions inherent in the popular paternalistic philosophy of their times because the situation of domestic servitude itself embodies such inconsistencies. Servants, whose labor was essential to the economic and social function of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British society, made up the largest category of workers in England by the nineteenth century and yet were expected to be socially invisible. At the same time, they lived in the same houses as their masters and mistresses and were privy to the most intimate details of their lives. Both Edgeworth and Gaskell created servant characters who challenge the social hierarchy, thus exposing the potential for dehumanization and corruption inherent in the paternalistic philosophy. the author's study opens up important avenues for future scholars of women's fiction in the nineteenth century.
Contents: General editor's preface; Introduction: Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Gaskell and servants in the 'good old days'; Servants and paternalism; 'Standing in distress between tragedy and comedy': servants in Edgeworth's novels of manners; 'Submitting to fate': servants in Gaskell's domestic fiction; 'True and loyal to the family': servants in Maria Edgeworth's Irish novels; 'Mutual duties': servants and labor relations in Gaskell's 'condition of England novels'; Conclusion: 'well done thou good and faithful servant'; Bibliography; Index.