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18. Up and Down Stairs: The country house servant, Jeremy Musson


After a terribly disappointing book on a similar subject earlier this year, I was determined to find some real scholarship, real history, on the lives of servants in the UK. This is an obsession of mine, and now I feel I've read perhaps the most definitive book on it, and can lay the obsession to rest somewhat! Musson begins with the 1400s, and each chapter moves forward to a distinct period of time, cataloging the changes in architecture, the family (in its oldest definition, meaning everyone linked to an estate, including servants), jobs, needs, entertaining, uniforms, social expectations, etc. It is very thorough and very satisfying, with lots of primary source material. He takes as his premise and conclusion that no matter what form it took, these relationships between rich people and poor people relied on a great deal of trust and their lives were, of course, deeply intertwined. But this is just the underlying premise, the majority of the book is concerned with the more meaty details of how jobs were performed, how the belowstairs hierarchy was managed, how they interacted abovestairs, how servants lived, how they weathered change, what they thought of their jobs in terms of prestige or duty or simply a wage. If this area of history is at all interesting to you, I highly recommend this book. It's readable, not dry, and I trusted the author throughout, he never came off as sloppy, making too many assumptions, as some writers of history do.
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