“How to Treat a Maid?”

Misencounters with Servants in Clarice Lispector’s Journalism
  • Sônia Roncador


If you, my dear reader, don’t know how to “turn a maid into a responsible assistant, a housewife’s friend,” then you don’t know how to create and maintain the highly desired dream of “domestic tranquility” (Kaufmann, Aventura n.p.).1 You must learn to “not lose the battle of doing the maid’s work while you leave your normal activities behind” (121). Therefore, here are some of the tips, and “astute tricks” (125) needed to “soften,” “tame,” and finally, “dominate the wild animal” (22), that is, the maid. Above all, “if your maid doesn’t have her own radio, get her one” (52). “Give your maid orders in a calm, yet firm tone of voice… to avoid waking the savage that exists in each of us” (52). “Use the stimulating we form.” For example, say “today, we need to buy fish,” or “it’s been a while since we made a casserole,” or “we need to clean up this kitchen” (54). Tricks like these, along with many others, make up the “independent woman’s practical guide,” A aventura de ser dona-de-casa (dona de casa vs. empregada) (1975) [The Adventure of Being a Housewife (the Housewife vs. the Maid)], written by Tania Kaufmann, with the possible help of her sister, Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.2 Other contributors included feminist lawyer Romy Medeiros da Fonseca, founder of Brazil’s National Council of Women (1949), whose preface to this housekeeping manual includes the following affirmation: “Women who work outside of the home are the best ones to evaluate this manual, and to benefit from these precious lessons… I am already using Tania’s advice in order to not lose my maid.


Domestic Servant Signed Column Fictional Author Domestic Woman Domestic Tranquility 
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  1. 3.
    Several feminist scholars have already noted the ideological inconsistencies within hegemonic Brazilian feminism from the 1960s to the early 1970s, when intellectuals like Romy Medeiros led middle- and upper-class women to such important civil rights victories as “The Married-Woman Statute” (law 4.121/1962), while they supported colonialist mechanisms of birth control imposed on lower-class women, or even included in their meetings class-biased topics, such as “the nanny problem” (see Moema Toscano and Mirian Goldenberg’s A revolução das mulheres: Um balanço do feminismo no Brasil [Rio de Janeiro: Editora Revan, 1992], 31).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    For more analysis on domestic workers’ political history in Latin America, see Joaze Bernardino Costa et al., eds., Tensões e experiências: Um retrato das trabalhadoras domésticas de Brasília e Salvador (Brasília: Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria, 2011);Google Scholar
  3. Kia Lilly Caldwell et al., eds., Gendered Citizenships: Transnational Perspectives on Knowledge Production, Political Activism, and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009);Google Scholar
  4. Elizabeth Quay Hutchinson’s “Shifting Solidarities: The Politics of Household Workers in Cold War Chile,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (February 2011): 129–61;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Isabel Laura Cardenas’s Ramona y el robot: El servicio domestico en barrios prestigiosos de Buenos Aires (1895–1985) (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Búsqueda, 1986), 124–26;Google Scholar
  6. Merike Blofield’s Carework and Class: Domestic Workers’ Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For a study of the history of the Brazilian women’s press, consult Dulcília Helena Schroeder Buitoni’s Mulher de papel: A representação da mulher pela imprensa feminina brasileira (São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 1981) and Imprensa feminina (São Paulo: Editora Ática, 1986). Among some recent studies, particularly those focused on women’s magazines in Brazil in the years following the Belle Époque period, seeGoogle Scholar
  8. Carla Bassanezi’s Virando as páginas, revendo as mulheres: Revistas femininas e relações homens-mulheres, 1945–1964 (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1996); “Mulheres dos anos dourados,” in História das mulheres no Brasil (São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 1997); andGoogle Scholar
  9. Leoní Serpa’s A máscara da modernidade: A mulher na revista O cruzeiro (1928–1945) (Passo Fundo: Universidade de Passo Fundo, 2003). To my knowledge, there is only one book-length study of Lispector’s women’s columns, entitled Clarice Lispector jornalista: Páginas femininas & outras páginas, by Aparecida Maria Nunes (São Paulo: Editora Senac, 2006). Although she approaches these columns from a different perspective than the one I am proposing in this chapter, Nunes offers some useful information on the editorial politics of the three distinct newspapers for which Lispector worked, as well as the different personas she adopted in each of these journals.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    For an analysis of the controlling purposes of maids’ sexuality in the manuals or primers made for this group, see Maria Suely Kofes de Almeida’s study Mulher, mulheres: Identidade, diferençae desigualdade na relação entre patroas e empregadas domésticas (Campinas: Editora da UNICAMP, 2001).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    For an analysis of Lispector’s use in her fiction of the narrative devices and recurrent themes of her journalistic chronicles (which she used to call “self-plagiarism”), see Sônia Roncador’s “‘Clarice Lispector esconde um objeto gritante’: Notas sobre um projeto abandonado,” in Poéticas do empobrecimento: A escrita derradeira de Clarice (São Paulo: Annablume, 2002), 60–72. Also seeGoogle Scholar
  12. Vilma Arêas’s “A moralidade da forma,” in Clarice Lispector com a ponta dos dedos (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005), 21–45.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Among the few studies of the development of the chronicle in Brazil, I would mention A crônica: O gênero, sua fixação e suas transformações no Brasil (Campinas: Unicamp, 1992). For its history in other Latin American countries, read Susana Rotker’s La invención de la crónica (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Buenas Letras, 1992) andGoogle Scholar
  14. Viviane Mahieux’s Urban Chroniclers in Modern Latin America: The Shared Intimacy of Everyday Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995) initiated an important discussion of the ethical implications of maternal care services, despite its controversial arguments or proposals, such as the one to disassociate maternal work from the biological mother and the social-class- and race-biased notion of this work. According toGoogle Scholar
  16. Peta Bowden, in Caring: Gender-Sensitive Ethics (New York; London: Routledge, 1997), “Ruddick attempts to ‘identify some of the specific metaphysical attitudes, cognitive capacities, and conceptions of virtue… that are called forth by the demands of children [adopted, surrogate, or biological children]’ (MT 61), with the aim of ‘honoring’ ideals of reason that are shaped by responsibility and love rather than by emotional detachment, objectivity, and impersonality. Her claim is that the practices arising from mothers’ responses to the ‘promise of birth’ have the potential to generate and sustain a set of priorities, attitudes, virtues and beliefs that inform an ethics of care and a politics of peace” (24–25).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    See Renato Franco’s “Literatura e catástrofe no Brasil: Anos 70,” in História, memória, literatura: O testemunho na era das catástrofes, ed. Márcio Seligmann-Silva (Campinas: Editora da UNICAMP, 2003), 357.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    See Ferréz, “Terrorismo literário.” In Literatura marginal: Talentos da escrita periférica (Rio de Janeiro: Agir, 2005).Google Scholar

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© Sônia Roncador 2014

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