Sunday, 28 February 2016

Writing - In service

The title is a bit of a pun in the respect that the change in laptop has rendered me 'out of service' but it also has family and literary connotation as well.

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My Mum was orphaned at the age of 11 a couple of days before Christmas Day. She had two brothers who were found homes with relatives immediately but Mum was passed round the relatives until her uncle and his wife took her in on Christmas Eve 1934. Up until that point her new 'mother' had been in service. I heard this term through my formative years without really understanding what it meant. Later I discovered my aunt had been a pastry cook below stairs.

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Secret Garden

Then as a teacher I had the opportunity to choose a book to read to a class and chose Burnett's Secret Garden. Once again there is a back story about one of the girls in service in the house.

Both in the real and fictitious situation there is a degree of sympathy to be elicited. Life in service wasn't easy. On a simply human level there is an element of the free-thinking animal which has to be suppressed if one is to take orders from someone. Some people are more inclined to accept their lot, while others may rail against a life of subordination. My aunt was one of the latter and did we know about it at home.

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Martha bottom right

Martha Sowerby is the long suffering maid who has to cope with the tantrums of the young master, Colin Craven, and the temper of her new charge Mary Lennox. It is a brilliantly told tale not just of relationships between children but of people from two different classes.

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One of the situations that stood out was the fact that it was only on her birthday was the willing, young Martha given permission to go and see her family, and when she was there all she did was clean. A real busman's holiday.
Well author Graham Swift has delved into the domestic service world for his latest novel Mothering Sunday (for those who aren't sure it is next Sunday). Again this is a story of a girl who has her day off and the things that happen to her.

On Mothering Sunday, 1924, with one war not long past and a second waiting over the horizon, young Jane Fairchild – foundling, maid to the Niven household in the green home counties, and the narrator and protagonist of Graham Swift’s enchanted novella – has no mother to go to. Instead she has “her simple liberty”, along with a book and half a crown in her pocket bestowed by a kindly employer who, his sons dead in France and his domestic staff reduced, is inclined to be indulgent to her youth.

I find it interesting that there is so much literary 'meat' in the servant/master situation. One only needs to consider the plethora of TV dramas, full length period films and classic novels on the subject to acknowledge this as fact. Perhaps it is the fascination of one person having power over another.

God Bless