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|Brought Up To It
Written by Jack Cerf
(3/14/2003 3:36 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, To be fair to the more egalitarian side, penned by helena6
And so respectable folk believed at the time. When Burns wrote, "a man's a man for a' that," he was expressing subversive sympathy with the French Revolution.
] Elizabeth Bennet's defence is that she is a gentleman's daughter and therefore Darcy's "equal". The message is not that she is his equal because she is a person or intelligent or even chosen by Mr. Darcy - but based on her birth rank.
Well, yes. There are certainly gradations of rank within the landowning class (witness Sir Walter truckling to Lady D), but all members of it have a rough equality among themselves vis a vis the rest of English society. As the daughter of a landowner with £2,000 a year Elizabeth may not be a good match in terms of money or connections, but she is as much a lady as any duchess. Her mother was not, until her marriage portion bought her way into the gentry, and it shows. While it was incredibly crass for Mrs. B to rejoin that none of her daughters had anything to do with the kitchen, it was equally or more so for Rev. Collins to have implied that one of them prepared the meal. A lady to the manner born would have shriveled him to a cinder with one of those "looks" in which the English once specialized. Mrs. B doesn't know how because she can't take her own position for granted, as she should. Elizabeth, I like to think, will do rather better at Pemberley.
The basic assumption of JA's society is that while there were exceptions based on merit, most people would and should stay pretty much in the station to which God had called them. Most climbers in JA are unattractive people. Wickham and Mrs. Elton are the worst, but Mrs. Bennet, who has married up, is no prize either, and even Mrs. Jennings is a pretty rough diamond, with money but without breeding. Emma is wrong for trying to raise Harriet above where she belongs. The Bingley sisters are not as blatantly nouveau riche as Mrs. Elton, but they are not as well bred as they'd like to think either. Only Wentworth is postively portrayed, and he seems to have started out from the official class at the lower fringe of the gentry, with a brother in the Church and a sister married into the Navy.
] I sympathize with Jane Fairfax and her having to go into service. But I am never asked to sympathise with Hill, Jessima, Mrs. Reynolds, Hannah or countless other mentioned servants.
That's because JF was raised as a lady, and becoming a governess would be a degradation. Hill et al. were only women. They were "brought up to it," like the professional actresses Edmund Bertram doesn't mind going to watch doing things his sisters could not properly do.
Domestic service was absolutely necessary to the comfort of evryone who could afford it and was therefore taken for granted. Until long after JA there was a fundamental line in English society between the classes of people who had servants and the class who were servants.
The servant threshhold was roughly the boundary between the lower middle class and upper working class, the point at which a household wouldn't have a woman in during the day to "do for" the housewife. In one of C.S. Forester's WW2 novels, one character is a RN chief petty officer who has been promoted to officer rank thanks to the war. He deeply loves his wife, and what makes him happiest about his commission is that it is now both appropriate and affordable for him to hire a day maid for her. Not only will the maid take some of the work off her hands; more importantly, having a maid to serve will allow her to "queen it over" her social circle of enlisted men's wives when they come over for tea. Forrester, who is writing wartime propaganda, presents this attitude quite positively, albeit with a sort of affectionate amusement at the man's delight in his new status as a gentleman.
Before the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, gas stove, telephone and ready to wear clothes, everybody who could wanted someone else to do the grinding work of cleaning, cooking, sewing and running messages. It was certainly easier and more comforting to believe that some combination of nature and nurture made the people who did this work a different order of beings from the people who employed them.
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