This was one of the most prestigious jobs a 19th or early 20th-century woman could want – and also one of the toughest. The housekeeper of an English country house might manage a hundred servants and a domestic budget on a par with a small bank. She had no need of a home of her own – or, for that matter, a husband. But for all her importance, she has been invisible to history.
The Housekeepers’ Tale draws on entirely new sources to tell the extraordinary stories of the women who ran some of Britain’s most prominent households. There is an unwanted pregnancy, a forbidden love affair, a prison sentence and several cases of summary dismissal. Far from the cosy, complacent world of Mrs Hughes in Downton Abbey, real housekeepers worked surprisingly hard, often in humiliating circumstances, for very little financial reward. This was not, as it turns out, such a cushy job.
Kathryn Hughes, Times Literary Supplement
Liz Braun, Toronto Sun
Roger Lewis, Daily Mail
Did servants suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder? The Victorian diaries of
V&A Lunchtime Lecture, WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER 1pm, Hochhauser Auditorium: ‘Bird Hats and Murderous Millinery.’ Whole birds, half birds and birds’ wings decorate dozens of hats held in the V&A’s fashion archives – evidence of a craze that gripped women for half a century, from the 1870s to the 1920s. Join me to hear the intriguing untold story of women, birds, hats – and votes.
This lecture dovetails with the current Fashioned From Nature Exhibition.