BOOK REVIEW: Servants by Lucy Lethridge

Review of: Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethridge

Genre: Nonfiction, Historical

With the recent popularity of period dramas like Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs generating interest in the Gilded Age of Britain, it stands to reason that a plethora of history books on that particular era are the subject of more general interest than perhaps ever before. I fully admit that I am a victim too. If I hadn’t been soaking up period dramas on Netflix, whether I would or would not have picked up a book about servants in Great Britain is debatable.

Nonetheless, it really was fascinating. Lethridge provides a very comprehensive look at the widespread use of servants through Great Britain over a period of more than 100 years. Apparently back in the day it was not uncommon for even lower middle class people to have a general maid or cook. Now I know, the main point of this book is more of a study on why domestic help went the way of the dodo bird. However, I found myself wishing more than once that it hadn’t. I could seriously use a maid, people. Not saying I’d make her work for pennies more than room and board, or discourage her plans to better herself (both relatively common practices apparently), but it would be so nice to not be the only person constantly picking up legos and doll clothes… just saying.

Servants is a curious look at the past, and how much our basic social structures seem to have changed in less than a century. Lethridge conducted a great many interviews, and spoke with people who had heard their grandparents tales of living the life of a domestic servant, and the text is punctuated with their exact words.

It is nonfiction, but I found it quite easy to read. It reads like a documentary, if that makes any sense, but it flies right along and certainly kept me interested!

If you’ve enjoyed the period drama genre, especially tv shows like Downton Abbey, definitely read this book. Knowing the real history makes the show that much more intriguing!

I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars.