marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

servitude, and oaths

Servants have long been a pervasive part of life.  Even among prosperous farmers, the children of less prosperous farmers could be hired.  Often girls looking to earn their dowries.  Higher up there were a lot more.  A lot more if you went up high enough.  Dukes even would have swarms of hundreds in the Middle Ages.  Somewhat helped by the way that many of them would be the children of other nobles, and entitled to their own servants.  (And it was not unknown for one of those servant to have one of his own.)

Even by the Regency, there would still be swarms, ala Northanger Abbey:
They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about—from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.
Though the point of the Gothics is hard to miss.  After all, all these servants appear here and nowhere else in the tale.  More characters=more clutter.

That can be really fun with the servants that would be logically expected and hard to miss.  Partly because modern audiences would not necessarily expect them -- except for those in the know, who would know it would be insane for a young woman, even a married one, of gentle birth to go on a trip without a maid-servant, who would bollix up the plot.

And the attitude of everyone about servants.  One flaw in the Harry Potter series was that Dobbie was introduced, and not until the next book did we see that his attitude about being a house brownie was abnormal.  It must have choked a lot of readers, who were unaware that you can take pride in service, and could not work out why Hermione's reactions were greeted so disdainfully.  Servants, even slaves, can reject the notion of leaving a family they serve; fear of the unknown is one cause, or factor, but loyalty can be another.  There is, in fact, a Chinese ideogram that once meant "prisoner of war" and now means "prime minister" by passing through a stage where it meant "slave" -- though no doubt it helped that given you had peasants to farm, it meant working in the household.

Then, loyalty tends to get a short shrift in the eyes of modern audiences.  And oaths.  Indeed I have read modern readers ridiculing characters who do something because they said they would do it.  Perhaps it didn't help that it was all contemporary to the author, this ethos, and so wasn't given any world-building to back it up, but then, I have read people ridiculing the notion of one's word meaning anything nowadays.

Tags: ethos, minor characters, motivations, orchestrating characters, world-building: servants, world-building: social bonds

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