A comparative study of the Dress, Food and Leisure of Domestic Servants in France and Britain, 1900-1939
My research uses a sample of British and French female servants’ autobiographies to bring into the spotlight by a comparative method facets of servants’ identities between 1900 and 1939. In the first half of the twentieth century, new employment opportunities in developing sectors as well as changing attitudes regarding the social hierarchy meant that fewer women wanted to enter domestic service, which was viewed as an outdated and paternalist system of employment. This phenomenon, which contemporaries called ‘the servant problem’, has stood as a vehicle, both then and now, through which to question the class structure of twentieth-century Britain and France. However, servants cannot be solely defined by their relationship to their employers or their class consciousness. As such, my thesis adopts a more holistic approach to service which focuses on the individual instead of the worker. By doing so, it presents the servant problem, not as a clash of class or lifestyle, but instead as the growing assertion of servants’ subjectivities and the breakdown of idealised fixed servants’ identity.
Supervisor: Jane Humphries and David Hopkin
Funding: Economic and Social History Research Council Doctoral Studentship/ Oxford- Sir Colin R. Lucas Graduate Scholarship