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Servants and hands: Representing the working classes in Victorian factory novels

Servants and hands: Representing the working classes in Victorian factory novels

Dorice W. Elliot

VICTORIAN LITERATURE AND CULTURE, 2000, 28(2) : 377-390

Abstract

Early in Frances Trollope’s 1839 novel The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy, the Factory Boy, the title character is introduced into the kitchen of Sir Matthew Dowling’s home. The assembled servants, rigidly organized into their own hierarchy of status and position, react with horror and derision at the very idea of a factory boy joining the household on any terms. The only way in which they can explain such a preposterous idea is to speculate that the boy is Sir Matthew’s illegitimate son; only by inventing a hidden genealogy can they imagine a place for a factory worker in the genteel British home.





The servants depicted in Michael Armstrong derive their sense of position in Sir Matthew’s house not only from their current situations, but also from their past employment by, and hence familiar association with, other aristocratic or wealthy masters. Their allegiances and loyalties, therefore, lie far more with their employers and fellow servants than with other groups of working-class people. In fact, Sir Matthew’s servants define their own identities in opposition to other kinds of workers, especially factory workers. On Michael’s first appearance in the kitchen, the servants perceive him as an alien, even non-human form: “at least half-a-dozen servants had assembled there, all of whom were gazing at little Michael, very much as if he had been caught in a forest, and conveyed thither to gratify their desire of studying natural history” (25; ch. 3).

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