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Title:High life below stairs: Servants and masters in eighteenth century fiction
Author(s):Soliday, Mary Anne
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Dussinger, John A.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:This study examines how servants invert and reverse two symbolically opposed realms, above and below stairs, that order the domestic space of many eighteenth-century fictional houses. Because servants may confuse the normal vertical distance between high and low characters, they have the potential to relativize the emotional, social, and linguistic hierarchy that structures domestic relations. Traditionally associated with the threshold, servants cross between geographic realms, upstairs and downstairs, house and street, parlor and kitchen, which consistently represent social difference in eighteenth-century novels. Liminal or hybrid figures who temporarily negate distance between the ruler and the ruled, servants thus suggest moments in the text where characters experience class struggle.
The focus is chiefly upon the dominant literary form of the period, the novel, because it expressed or mediated a historically particular version of domestic privacy that servants often complicate. Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Smollett, Godwin, Edgeworth, and others often use servants to verbalize what the high characters cannot say and to make central those issues, such as women's sexuality, that might otherwise remain peripheral. A focus upon the servant's linguistic and social space in the novel enables the audience to invert the reading of a text from the high character's position and to see how the minor characters often shape the identity of their masters. This interaction between dominant and subordinate characters creates reciprocal identities, thus temporarily parodying the idea of a private narrative self in the eighteenth-century novel.
Issue Date:1990
Rights Information:Copyright 1990 Soliday, Mary Anne
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9026324
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9026324

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