Manservant in Ann Radcliffe's
When Horace Walpole confessed that it was he, a wordly Augustan man of letters, not a medieval monk, who had authored the popular novel The Castle of Otranto ( 1765), his confession allowed him a preface. In this he skipped over the Gothic castle placed firmly on the literary map, the full moon, storm, and even the somber villain who arrogantly stalked out of his book into Romantic fiction and film; he chose rather to talk about his servants. These, he firmly declared, were no innovation but the heirs of the Shakespearean menial. Yet this Shakespearean lineage is as dubious as the medieval monk, and Walpole's servants belong as much to the eighteenth century as his villain and cardboard castle.
The Gothic novel is the nightmare of the period. In it hidden sexual and psychological fears are allowed to prowl and prance, while rape of body or mind is always about to happen. But the Gothic novel is also a wish fulfillment, a heady fantasy, designed for a complex, subtly decadent, and shiftingly hierarchical age. In this fantasy world, clarity is fixed, noble birth and worth are inextricably one, presumption and baseness synonymous, and masters and servants are partners but never peers. This is the world of the late eighteenth-century Gothic novel, of which Ann Radcliffe's The Italian is the epitome. In the work, the servant is fantastic and feudal, and he provides a touching image of servitude as devotion rather than employment.
The later eighteenth century needed such an escapist image, for it is one of the earliest periods to have a "servant problem." The Victorians never ceased to mock saucy and silly "servant gals" but not until the real decline of service in the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries is there again such an outburst about the uppity ways of menials. In the last decades of the century, the dearth of
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Publication information: Book title: Men by Women. Volume: 2. Contributors: Janet M. Todd - Editor. Publisher: Holmes & Meier. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1981. Page number: 25.
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