Lucy Lethbridge

Upstairs, Downstairs

Mrs Woolf and the Servants: The Hidden Heart of Domestic Service


Fig Tree 376pp £20 order from our bookshop

For the children of Leslie Stephen, growing up in the late nineteenth century in their large house in Hyde Park Gate, servants were inevitable cogs in the complex social and practical machinery of the upper-middle-class home. Lighting fires, producing meals, cleaning and polishing, their work was for the most part as intensive and back-breaking as it had been for their predecessors. Leslie Stephen considered installing new-fangled running hot water – but decided that having servants heat it and then laboriously carry it upstairs was the cheaper course. Yet by the standards of their age, the Stephens were enlightened employers. Julia Stephen was one of the ‘slummers’, that band of women who devoted much time to visiting and helping fallen women or the poor and other philanthropic projects. They were fond enough of their servants to take photographs of them. But while her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron photographed the young Mrs Stephen in the pose of a heavy-lidded Madonna, the model of the Victorian ideal of ethereal womanhood, a photograph of their cook Sophie Farrell, with her stout, aproned frame and thick labourer’s forearms, portrayed her as the ideal cook (if there were such a thing), her destiny to be nothing else.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • . is next week! The programme is excellent and there are free copies of Literary Review, to boot! ,
    • 'Britain's spy chief in the Congo replied to a fellow peer who asked her whether SIS played any part in its prime m… ,
    • This month Lucy Popescu covers the plight of poet Galal El-Behairy and activist Wael Abbas in Egypt's crack-down on… ,
    • 'I fear that defending an 18th-century agrarian economist against – well, against whom exactly? – is not the best u… ,
    • 'He lacks empathy with all but the wealthy and has no grasp of the struggles faced by the majority of his concitoye… ,
    • Here's Richard Vinen's review of A Certain Idea of France by Julian Jackson: ,
    • RT : James Crabtree's 'Billionaire Raj' - my review for . "...For sheer chutzpah, India’s billionaires provid… ,