Domestic intimacies: Servants and secrets in the Victorian novel

Karina Jimenez Everett, Fordham University


"Domestic Intimacies" examines the intersection of intimacy and secrecy in portrayals of domestic workers in mid-Victorian novels to argue that servants' labor takes on a new meaning in this particular period. In taking the confidential housekeeper as my focus, I show how her work corresponds to what sociologists term affective labor, as it involves managing emotions and fostering emotional connections within the household. I deploy archival research, nineteenth-century domestic service history, and critical studies on servants to illustrate how Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (1855), and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) challenge Victorian middle-class ideology to assert the intimacy inherent in the act of confiding in a servant. In both household literature and in these mid-Victorian novels, writers employ the rhetoric of trust and confidence to convey how the work of domestic secret keeping reformulates the Victorian domestic economy and exposes the pressure that professionalizing the housekeeper's labor places on the Victorian domestic class hierarchy. In conceptualizing a role for the secret-keeping housekeeper within the bourgeois novel, therefore, Gaskell and the Brontës complicate the novel's development by positioning the working-class servant as a professional for the middle-class family and, ultimately, as a significant voice for their story.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Everett, Karina Jimenez, "Domestic intimacies: Servants and secrets in the Victorian novel" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600972.