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Woolf and the Servants opens with some shocking anecdotes about 19th-century life: "Even the most liberal-minded mistress could be autocratic: when Elizabeth Barrett Browning's devoted maid, Lily Wilson, married and had a child, Lily was obliged to send him back to England, so as to concentrate properly on the Brownings' own ringleted boy.

People, in general, "believed the meaning of life could be found only in the dedication to something beyond oneself, in work and in family, however transitory that meaning might be. Domestic servants, too, found dignity and pride, and sometimes an affirmation of their religion, in doing their jobs well.

Besides Farrell, Light discusses more than a score of other people who worked for the households of Virginia Woolf and her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell.

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While neither of Leslie Stephen's daughters was taught to cook, they were at least slightly more accomplished than their friend Lytton Strachey's sisters, who "couldn't boil an egg. The idea of independence may have been central to Woolf's life, feminism and aesthetics, but it was nonetheless "Nellie who drew the curtains, brought the lemonade and the trays, who tempted Virginia's appetite with invalid foods, and presumably emptied the chamber-pot which continued to reside under the bed at Monk's House.

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Wells's Morlocks : "For Woolf, as for many others growing up in nineteenth-century urban culture, the topography of the house lent itself as an inevitable metaphor for bourgeois identity, with the lower orders, curtained off, relegated to the bottom of the house or to its extremities, like a symbolic ordering of the body in English slang, 'back passage' and 'below stairs' have scatological or sexual connotations.

She recreates the world of late Victorian workhouses and orphanages, as she traces the faint outline of the early years of Lottie Hope, who spent her adult life working as a maid for Woolf and other Bloomsbury households. Like many of the domestics discussed in the book, Hope passed from one Bloomsbury to the next, along the way becoming close to Nellie Boxall, with whom she spent her later years she died in The two were, apparently, just friends, unlike their famously promiscuous, and sexually complicated, overseers: Vanessa Bell, for instance, was married to art critic Clive Bell, but fell in love with the primarily homosexual painter Duncan Grant, who was at that time involved with bisexual novelist David Garnett.

They all lived together, and Vanessa Bell later gave birth to Duncan's daughter Angelica, who grew up to marry. David Garnett.

ISBN 13: 9780670867172

Woolf and the Servants makes clear that the novelist's "public sympathy with the lives of poor women was always at odds with private recoil. In The Waves the empty rooms which shimmer in the sunlight are miraculously free of dust. The ideal room, like the ideal body, would be free of dirt and waste.

In a sketch scribbled just a month before her death in , she surprised herself by wondering about quite another sort of woman and her special room: Having gone to the loo at the Sussex Grill, Woolf noticed the lavatory attendant. What, she thought, is her life like?


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Woolf and the Servants, Light imbues her sentences with a depth of feeling and lived experience just slightly beyond what is expected: "Everyone who talked about Lottie lit up and laughed at the thought of her. If a life should be judged by what it generates rather than what it accumulates, then maybe Lottie Hope knew the secret of success.

How we tolerate our inevitable dependence, especially upon those who feed and clean and care for us, or take away our waste, is not a private or domestic question but one which goes to the heart of social structures and their inequalities. We rely constantly on others to do our dirty work for us and what used to be called 'the servant question' has not gone away: how could it?

The figure of the servant takes us inside history but also inside our selves.

The women behind Mrs Woolf - Telegraph

Woolf and the Servants is no dryly academic sociological study. It is an inquiry into the fundamental nature of human intimacy. Copyright , The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Fig Tree, Condition: Brand New. In Stock. Seller Inventory zk More information about this seller Contact this seller. Condition: New. Never used!.

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All listings for this product Buy it now Buy it now. Pre-owned Pre-owned. See all 9. About this product Product Information Explores the volatile, emotional territory which is the hidden history of domestic service. This book is a study of one of Britain's greatest literary modernists. It is a testimony to the ways in which individual creativity always needs the support of others. Additional Product Features Author s.

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She is a contributor to the London Review of Books. Her grandmother worked as a domestic servant. Show more Show less. No ratings or reviews yet. Be the first to write a review. Best-selling in Non Fiction See all.