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|JA, Servants, and Social Commentary
Written by Captain Everett
(3/9/2003 11:37 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, JA and large incomes., penned by donald s. taylor
However, any of her contemporaries, reading her novels would know that. It was a simple fact of life. The numbers would only be mentioned if there were not enough to perform all their duties, or too many to earn their keep. In either case, it would be a comment upon their master, not about how society was run.
Quite simply, I'd say they are not mentioned because it would not be relevant to the story. From time to time an individual servant might help move the plot along, or reveal something in how a character interacts with them. Otherwise they have no impact upon how the story is resolved. She rarely tells us things like hair or eye colour, or specific details of dress. They simply do not matter.
This "simplicity" is one reason why Austen's work is so easy to read, and can transcend two centuries of time.
Far too many modern critics want to "make something" of how JA fails to condemn common aspects of her time period. They point out how servants are almost like wallpaper, widespread poverty is barely hinted at, slavery is not vehmently condemned, etc., etc.
As you said, Donald, material concerns are strikingly clear. She may not have written about teeming slums or shocking rural poverty, but for many of the heroines, a life of genteel privation was a very likely possibility. Nor did she write about the lack "real" democracy in Britain, or of the Napoleonic dictatorship - but she could excellently detail the petty tyrannies of an Aunt Norris.
Jane Austen wrote that she was only telling the story of a few families, and their interactions, in a small country village, nothing more.
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