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In his introduction to one of the best accomplished studies on the literary house servant, The Servant’s Hand: English Fiction from Below, Bruce Robbins synthesizes the narrative roles in both theater and fiction that have been conventionally imposed on servant characters. In the English novel specifically, a major portion of actions and roles assigned to servants have been conditioned by a certain “repertory of comic gestures and devices,” which Robbins describes as follows: “Expository prologues, flashbacks, oracular messages, and asides; the verbal entertainment of conscious punning or unconscious bumbling; a pointed ‘doubling’ of the protagonist, for example as foil or parody; an instrumental role in complicating and resolving the action” (6). Because of their predominantly rhetorical function, in Robbins’s opinion, literary servants allow us to examine the forms and politics of social representation without caving into the temptation of treating the lowly as purely historical figures. After all, domestic servants—not only in art but also in real life—have been perceived as signs: “signs of their masters’ status” (15).
KeywordsHouse Servant Domestic Servant Domestic Chore Cultural Mediator Literary Servant
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