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|Plight of the poor but genteel; invisibility of the servant class
Written by Kay S
(3/10/2003 1:48 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, JA and large incomes., penned by donald s. taylor
] Is JA protectively ignoring the economic bases of the gentry lifestyle. She doesn't ignore it, as Auden so strikingly noted, in matters of marriage. There she is beautifully clear in all the books, and in fact the materialism of the class is the gridiron on which the marriage games are played.
While it's true that Jane Austen didn't write about the plight of the desperately poor, a central theme of her comedy is the plight of the poor but genteel women in Regency society.
As for the 'invisibility' of servants in Jane Austen's novels - I think this reflects the attitudes of the time, and we should be careful before passing judgment on Jane Austen for not focusing on servants. Contemporary values - mine included! - are egalitarian and stress the value of all people regardless of income, religion, country of origin, occupation, etc. In Regency society, however, people did not think this way. I suppose a servant who swept the parlor floor at Pemberley every morning would arouse no more notice from the Darcys than today we would regard a vacuum machine. That sounds very harsh to our modern sensibilities, but I think that's just the way it was.
I remember as a child looking though old family picture albums from the late 1800s and early 1900s at my grandparents' house in Sweden. The dates, names of the people in the pictures and the and occasion are carefully noted below the pictures - but where there are servants in the pictures, the servants' names are never mentioned! I remember one picture of people sitting in an open carriage on a picnic outing, and the horses' names, but not the driver's, names are recorded! Attitudes were very different back then.
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