Friday, April 18, 2008

conditions of servitude

Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Challenges: TBR, A-Z (author)
Review: Told from the intriguing perspective of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid, Wilson, this book asks us to look at the relationship between the English upper-class and their personal servants in the nineteenth century. Where close bonds can develop, as they do here, what are the obligations of a maid to her mistress, and what are the obligations of a mistress to her maid?

Here, the Brownings (especially Elizabeth) do not necessarily come off well, at some points seeming to deliberately throw up obstacles to the happiness of Mrs. Browning's maid, even though to help her would come at little or no cost to themselves, and would seem to be no more than she deserves after years of loyal and devoted service. But Wilson also makes poor choices; is she relying on the Brownings for their help inappropriately? That she continually chooses her employers over herself and her family is frustrating, as is the Browning's continuing inability to recognize the sacrifices she makes.

The resolution of the book is not entirely satisfactory. After a lengthy, drawn-out process, Wilson more or less accepts that she is on her own and that the Brownings owe her nothing. But it feels more as though she was forced to this realization, rather than coming to it naturally, and showing some growth as a character.

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