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Response to Review no. 814

First, I want to thank the journal for reviewing my book. While I work for an English department, my historian colleagues are often my most useful – and toughest – critics, and I am pleased to have merited their attention. Second, I want to apologize to Dror Wahrman, for the repeated (and uncaught) typographical misspelling of his name. Finally, I thank Sarah Lloyd for her careful summary and astute critiques of the book. I agree with her that the history side of the argument is thinner than the literary. I am trained in literary rather than historical analysis and the former is what I do best of the two.

I can do nothing but cheer at her call for more work on domestic service. What I have offered is a sketch of the relationships between domestic servants and their employers, drawn from a body of texts that stood out as a vector for people’s imaginings, their hopes and their fears. I was also concerned with understanding our own received notions of relationships between employers and servants, which is why canonical texts and enduring stories, like the Canning episode, tend to predominate as objects of study. The book might tell us a little about servants’ lived experience, but that is not its primary intention, and I am not surprised that Lloyd finds it disappointing in this respect. The task of understanding the unwieldy but fascinating category of servants’ lived experience is ably but newly underway in the hands of Carolyn Steedman, Tim Meldrum, and others, and Dr Lloyd’s interest in the tangible, day-to-day quality of human experience is also badly needed in the task. I look forward to her book on Charity and Poverty in England, 1680–1820.(1)

I would like to offer one corrective to Dr Lloyd’s criticism of Domestic Affairs. She states that I buy wholesale into Nancy Armstrong’s theory of domesticity and the separation of public and private spheres. I must not have been clear enough in my arguments, because that is hardly the case. Indeed, I think a careful reading of Desire and Domestic Fiction (2) suggests that Armstrong herself does not invest unproblematically in the historical emergence of separate sphere ideology, although she is, certainly, often read in that way. In fact, I’m disappointed that I was not able to clearly communicate my view that the formation of public and private sectors is anything but a done deal during this period, so I will make it explicit for the benefit of future scholars working on domestic service: neither historical evidence nor literary evidence, read carefully, supports the stern hegemony of separate sphere ideology in this time period.  My ‘worl’d was not meant to be, as Lloyd claims, one of ‘adamantine’ structures, but one premised on the many and varied meanings assumed in specific times and spaces that Lawrence Klein has pointed out and that Lloyd, rightly, values.

I participated last Spring in an American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies panel with literary scholars and one historian considering the importance of Carolyn Steedman’s difficult but riveting Master and Servant, mentioned by Lloyd in her review. What that book seems to reach for is both the hard evidence of tangible experience, lived in time and space, and the imaginative, creative ways in which that experience comes alive for both historian and literary scholar. I think that Professor Lloyd shares in these aspirations, and I would very much like to join her in this endeavor.

Notes

  1. Sarah Lloyd, Charity and Poverty in England, 1680–1820 (Manchester, forthcoming).Back to (1)
  2. Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction (Oxford, 1990).Back to (2)