Servant and Mistress: The Case of Domestic Service

Part of the Women’s Studies at York/Macmillan Series book series (WSYS)


In her introductory letter to Life As We Have Known It Virginia Woolf recognised the profound division that existed between women who could ‘stroll through the house and say, that cover must go to the wash or those sheets need changing’ (Woolf, 1931/1977, p. xxiv) and women who actually undertook the physical tasks of washing, ironing and cleaning, either in their own homes or in the homes of other women. For Woolf, the divisions she identified between those who kept servants and those who carried out the tasks of servants were too great and the gulf thus separating such women was, for her, unbridgeable in anything but the most superficial way. Equally Celia Fremlin, an Oxford graduate who found employment as a domestic servant during the 1930s in order to understand better the ‘servant problem’, concluded, in similar fashion to Woolf, that the social differences between women made any kind of friendly or informal relationship between mistress and servant impossible (Fremlin, 1940, p. 158).


Private Life Cultural Narrative Servant Problem Specific Social Group Female Servant 
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Copyright information

© Judy Giles 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College of Ripon and York St JohnUK

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