Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age by Carolyn Steedman - review by Lucy Lethbridge

Lucy Lethbridge

Class Myths

Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age


Cambridge University Press 262pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and at the turn of the twentieth, more women were employed in domestic service than in any other area. Yet the lives of servants present a difficulty for social historians, because they rarely left written records; their presence in households is more often indicated by their inclusion on a census, in household accounts, or even complaining letters written by a mistress to her friends. The question of their relationship with their employers is awkward too – in some cases it was abusive, in others it was a deeply affectionate union of mutual dependency. Eluding generalisations or even definitions, they have slipped through the cracks of modern historical narratives. As Carolyn Steedman, in this fascinating book, puts it: ‘they are simply not already in the story that social historians are telling’.

Professor Steedman has attempted to redress this balance by looking at the case of Phoebe Beatson, a maidservant in the West Riding during the last decade of the eighteenth century. In so doing, she has studied the very same region that provided the backdrop for E P Thompson’s The Making

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter