Paperback review: Servants, By Lucy Lethbridge


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The Independent Culture

Frederick Daniel Hardy’s 1871 painting After the Party seems to strike more of the truth about a servant’s life than any Downton Abbey episode, and Lethbridge’s account of servant life at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th reinforces that impression.

Aristocratic resistance to new technologies meant that servants were required for menial tasks much longer than they needed to be, kept in unsanitary conditions, and humiliated by the class distinction (maids could not wear hats to church,  but “identifying bonnets”, lest someone mistake them for a member of the family). Crucially, she explores the complexities of servant life, how servants were increasingly regarded as “class traitors” by their peers, while many were deeply nostalgic for the old days that the First World War destroyed for ever.