One of my correspondents was searching though the Antiquarian Section of the Library here on this site recently and asked if it was possible to write a series of posts where extracts from the books are presented and commented upon. Your word, my dear reader, is my command. And therefore each week (D.V) or so I hope to take extracts from one book and comment on it. The first book my correspondent suggested we study is The Duties of a Lady’s Maid (1825),as we have not really considered Jane Austen and servants for quite some time.
Lady’s maids are rarely mentioned by Jane Austen in her works, probably on the assumption that her contemporary audience took it for granted that her wealthier characters would automatically employ one. But they are not totally invisible. Where they are mentioned is interesting:Darcy assumes that Elizabeth Bennet is travelling with her maid when she is overcome with grief at the news that Lydia has eloped while at the inn at Lambton in Pride and Prejudice. In Emma, our eponymous heroine has a maid,who is clearly a lady’s maid in its fullest sense, while the impoverished Bates family – mother and daughter employ only a maid of all work, a very different creature. The wealthy Mrs Jennings, with her ample portion, has a maid in Sense and Sensibility with whom she gossips when no other congenial soul is close at hand. Also in Sense and Sensibility poor Eliza has a treacherous lady’s maid who betrayed her plan to elope to Scotland with the brave and sensitive Colonel Brandon, prior to her disastrous wedding to the Colonel’s cruel brother. In Mansfield Park Lady Bertram’s maid, Mrs Chapman,was dispatched to assist Fanny in dressing her for her ball, but of course having sent her to Fanny with her usual characteristic negligence, Lady Bertram ensured that she arrived too late to be of any practical use. Oh,well, at least some semblance of caring thought was there… Also in Mansfield Park Mrs Rushworth senior’s maidservant who had exposure in her power, sold her story with the aid of her employer to the newspapers helping to bring shame and disgrace on the wayward Mrs Rushworth Junior (nothing changes in this world does it?)In Northanger Abbey both the elegant Miss Tilney and the fashoin obsessed Mrs Allen( naturally)have maids.
This is an interesting and rather rare book, its full title is The Duties of a Lady’s Maid with Directions for Conduct and Numerous Receipts for the Toilette . It was published by James Bulcock of 163 the Strand in London in 1825. I think it will be interesting to read it, little by little, and to compare it with other texts relating to the duties of lady’s maids, such as The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams also published in 1825, and with such examples of maid’s duties and conduct as appear in Jane Austen’s six complete novels.
The first half of the book,which contains 328 pages in all, is a conduct book with detailed instructions to the prospective ladies maid as to how to live her life as a servant:how her religion should direct her, how the qualities of honesty and probity ,diligence and economy are essential traits. How to maintain a correct amount of familiarity with her Superiors, keep family secrets and restrain her vanity in dress. It also contains chapters on which amusements are appropriate for a lady’s maid to pursue, how to speak correctly and avoid vulgarity in her manner of speech, how to deal with her current and prospective employers when considering a change of place and how to communicate the news of any little love affairs she may conduct(which, of course, only related to offers of marriage made to the maid, not to any lesser liaisons)
The second part of the book gives detailed instructions and practical information that a girl aiming to be the best possible lady’s maid in the universe might find essential. The subjects covered include taste in the colours of dress,(colour blind maids clearly need not apply), the use of artificial flowers,taste in the forms of dress,the dangers of stays and corsets, how to use padding and bandages to improve the figure, the most advantageous way to display the forehead, taste in headresses, taste in dressing the hair,practical directions for hairdressing, Cosmetics( with receipts), Paints, Rouge, The Use ands Abuse of soap,Dressmaking and Fancy Needlework,Care of the Wardrobe, the Method of taking out Stains and finally, some essential information….the correct Method of Clear Starching
Apart from the frontispiece there are no illustrations in the book; the lady’s maid who depended upon this volume was required therefor to posses a high degree of literacy and imagination if she is to successfully recreate some of the instructions in this book.
Next time we shall look at the actual duties required of a lady’s maid, and how her religion might help her in performing her tasks.