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Monday, 28 March 2016


Ladies expected their female domestics should be clean and tidily dressed in muslin (not lace) caps, cotton and stuff gowns and petticoats, sturdy shawls of demure colours, and straw bonnets when going outdoors. In Persuasion, Mrs Musgrove complained that her daughter-in-law Mary’s ‘nursery-maid... is always upon the gad, and...she is such a fine-dressing lady, that she is enough to ruin any servants she comes near.’

And in Mansfield Park, Mrs Price was discomposed if she saw her servant Rebecca 'pass by with a flower in her hat' when out walking on Sundays.

A good master or mistress ensured that their servants received good, plain, plentiful food, and paid their medical expenses if ill. Servants were permitted to visit their friends and relations occasionally; Sunday was usually the most convenient day.
Ladies took great care to select servants with good references, and if possible hired those recommended by friends or family. A careless or slovenly maid could cause havoc in a household.

In January 1802, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, 'We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side'.
Illustrations: 'High life below stairs'. George Cruikshank, 1799.
‘Work for the plumber’. Thomas Rowlandson, 1810.  Both courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hugh Thomson illustration for Mansfield Park. Author's collection.  

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