Tuesday, 2 September 2014
A Pamphlet From History
On Inducting a Girl into the Household –
By the Celebrated, Major Alistair StJohn Allois Perskin
The Control, Discipline and Chastisement of the Recalcitrant Young Maid or Petulant Servant Girl:
Modern Methods, Hints and Tips.
Being a Pamphlet Detailing Thoughts on Uniform Considerations and Choice, Duties, Assessment and Training and Featuring the Author’s Celebrated Outspoken Views Countering Current Progressive Liberal Thinking on the Subject
From the outset, on entering the household, a girl should be encouraged to immerse herself in – and be satisfied by - solely occupying herself with feminine occupations. There is a proviso one should consider here; while I say she should be encouraged, at the same time she should not be made to feel she is held in particularly high regard, nor allowed to consider the same. In the latter vein: one should never hesitate to remind her of her limitations; and if a task or imposition may be designed as an exemplar of a particular inadequacy, so much the better.
That being said: there is one important caveat, the master or mistress of the household should be aware of, which is that it is vital such an assignment or chore is not repeated on such a regular basis as to allow practice to make perfect, which is to say, to allow the girl the satisfaction of herself marking any improvement. As much as is possible, then, she should be encouraged to recognize that advancement is beyond the means of her meagre intellect. By this in effect you are doing the girl a service; it is a kindness which ultimately will lead to less frustration, less resentment, on the girl’s behalf by aiding her in her eventual acceptance of the unalterable fact that her life is now under the rigid rule of the household, and that every action, every thought running through that pretty snub-nosed tousled head, is beholden to the gentleman or lady of the house.
To this latter end it does no harm for a girl to overhear her shortcomings discussed with others, particularly as pertains to her intellectual development or lack of it. In actual fact a criticism received in such a manner will be more readily incorporated in to a girl’s persona than if she were to be directly confronted by it or berated face to face. This latter point is especially true in a situation wherein it is the stranger or visitor who initiates the discussion or points out the problem, whether it be perhaps clumsiness or some demonstration of the girl lacking ‘common sense’, and is even more especially true if reinforced by sufficiently frequent exposure to such third-party criticism.
A girl constantly and consistently told she is stupid, will in time become stupid; not in that she will be tempted to mess around, but rather in that she will come to believe herself incapable of arguing back, standing her ground or making decisions for herself and instead will tend to capitulate without struggle to whatever new restriction or stipulation one might care to impose. Consistency is the key here; once knocked off balance she must not be allowed to regain her footing. But you do not stamp on her, you do not trample her under heel. you must not seek to break her in a single step, in one full-blooded blow, as if smashing some unwanted vase in a fit of pique against the wall or in the drawing room fireplace. The human spirit is a resilient thing – even the apparently fragile spirit of a self-conscious and bookish teenage girl – and can bounce back surprisingly quickly from such a direct, dare I say brutal, assault; and bounce back even stronger as a result!. No, for a more permanent result her shy little spirit has to be crushed, slowly, lovingly, little by little and step by step. And never forget; the carrot can be as effective as the stick; though the stick should never be spared where needs must.
One may envisage the process as akin to plucking the petals from a rose. You twist off each off, one by one, each one some new rule or stipulation she must adhere to, some new, perhaps even quite minor, indignity she must suffer. But you do not leave behind just the stem; rather the time to stop is when just sufficient of the bloom remains to still be recognisable for what it once was. In that manner, by tempering one’s hand short of total personality collapse you leave the poor blameless lamb with sufficient wherewithal to assure she truly appreciates the shame inherent in the lowly station she has been brought down to; it is in that constant realisation that true humility lies.
To the latter end I would say there is no harm at all in from time to time reminding her, or contriving to have her reminded, of what she may have become had she not fallen within one’s employ and come under the control of the household. For example; if taking to the stage had once been an aspiration, however lofty or out of reach – but so much the better, if once realistically within her grasp – then a couple of theatre posters or handbills decorating the walls of her room may be in order. Alternatively, why not let her have a programme to read from time to time, procured during some visit to the theatre?
Under such circumstances as I have outlined above I would see nothing wrong with the mistress of the house sitting down with the girl and flicking through the pages with her; in fact I would think it a most instructive exercise. I make a point of suggesting the mistress of the house rather than the gentleman for such a diversion. For it is she - sharing empathy as a fellow member of the fairer sex - who is best suited to perhaps sorrowfully pointing out the pretty lead actress and how prettier still ‘her girl’ is by comparison - or would have been had circumstances been kinder - or discussing the sumptuous costumes, while commiserating over the functional dowdiness of the uniform the poor thing wears, as necessitated by the day-to-day tasks of the common domestic servant girl.
It all helps to act as a constant reminder to the girl of her station within the household, and within society as a whole. As does her uniform. And unlike some, I do not see having a household servant wear a uniform as a ‘thorny question’ or ‘problem’ whatsoever. In fact there should categorically be no question of a serving girl not wearing a uniform. There should be none of this namby-pamby nonsensical advice advocated in certain ‘enlightened’ ‘modern’ pamphlets and ‘household guides’ about how if one ‘provides an attractive uniform, little trouble will be encountered in it being worn’, to quote from one such journal.
The old queen may have passed, God rest her soul. But the Empire remains sound, the Union Jack once more flutters proudly over the Palace of Westminster, and I'm pleased to say that in this King Edward's England we have yet to buckle to women’s suffrage, thank the Lord! Well established traditional values still hold sway in polite society, despite the 'upheaval, turmoil and change' certain mischievous factions within 'the third estate' had predicted for this 'new century'. More to the point: there remain a far greater number of unplaced young women and girls wandering the streets and alleys and facing the workhouse than there are positions available within good, well structured households.
Hence whatever gripe or grumble a girl might have regarding her employer's choice of her wardrobe or other stipulation, the employer holds the whip hand in the matter, never forget that; just as one should never forgo an opportunity to remind the prospective serving girl of that fact. Nor should one ever hesitate to remind the girl how with but a single word whispered in a friendly magistrate’s or councillor’s ear, albeit perhaps eased by means of a little financial consideration, a place for her in a suitable workhouse, or even the equivalent of the old Clink, can quickly be found. The single fact remains: there are still a good few men of conscience within the legal profession and judiciary of these islands today who believe it is better to provide for a secure and structured detention than risk a pretty young innocent, if left to her own devices, descending to the level of a painted-faced young hussy or streetwalker.
With such considerations foremost in the mind, a line should be drawn under the young thing’s previous existence from the very moment she sets foot in the house. It is the author's modest, yet considered, opinion that the most efficacious path to follow in order to achieve the latter aim is to be reached by way of some contrivance or other ultimately resulting in divesting the girl of her own old togs, the aim being to get the winsome young filly placed in her employer's choice of uniform as soon as practically possible. Of course it goes without saying that the well prepared householder will have had the requisite uniform prepared, correctly sized, ready and waiting for her prospect new employee well beforehand; and in this matter the services of a good, reliable dressmaker or seamstress can prove a godsend!.
Now, should a girl arrive on the doorstep bearing luggage, then that should be taken from her before she is shown up to her room. At this early stage it is perfectly acceptable to offer some words of explanation, and a good way forward is to mention laundering or storage elsewhere ‘for the time being’. In her room a washstand with a jug and bowl should have been readied so that she might wash and a linen basket left on her bed to collect her old clothes. If you employ a housekeeper I see nothing wrong with having the woman wait outside the girl’s room to take the basket once she has changed. If not, then the gentleman or lady of the house can perform the same function. The aim is the same. The girl should have to present herself soon after, and while it is perfectly fine – a good thing, in fact – to praise her if she has made an obvious effort in arranging her personal appearance and in her timely arrival in the parlour or wherever it has been agreed to receive her, it is also the perfect moment for the householder to begin to assert his or hers authority, especially as regards to the girl’s uniform.
Some might think the latter be best served by something plain, servile, hard-wearing and serviceable and of some suitably subdued hue; in short, apparel best suited to the efficacious performance and fulfilment of those more distasteful base menial tasks one might think well below the station of housekeeper let alone the mistress of the house.
On the other hand in some households there may well be call for sumptuous layers of satin and lace, most appropriate should a coquettish demeanour be considered pleasing to perhaps indulge a whim on some rainy or snowy afternoon.
In terms of her continuing education, if such should be your wish, she might – at one’s pleasure – in addition to keeping house, be taught the more genteel arts of music, singing, drawing, sewing and poetry. But she need learn nothing whatsoever of the world of science. Nor need she know of engineering, economics or mathematics and she should be actively discouraged from any form or school of philosophical thought. She should, however, be taught all manner of those – one is to hope - strictly feminine arts as might pertain to providing satisfaction of a more, personal, nature, even if destined to fulfil the most demeaning of scullery maid’s tasks or to fill the lowliest of menial positions, perhaps to make a tweeny at most.