Sunday, 24 April 2011

In praise of maids


The main character of the novel I'm writing now is relatively unknown. She was the daughter of a theatrical star and a maid to Madame de Montespan, the Sun King's mistress (the woman we all love to hate).

As part of her duties, she was required to have sex with the King when Montespan was out of sorts.

This is not one of the duties mentioned in The compleat servant-maid, a 17th century book by Hannah Woolley on the work of maids, and dedicated to "all young maidens."

I just obtained this invaluable guide for maid of all sorts: the Waiting-Gentlewoman, House-keeper, Chamber-Maid, Wet and Dry Nurses, House Maids (in "Great Houses"), Cook-Maids, Scullery-Maids, Laundry-Maids and Dairy-Maids.

Clearly: a lot of maids. "And they all hated me," claimed my main character Claude, defending herself against accusations of murder and other indecencies.

I adore leafing through guides of this sort; one learns so much:
Do not put any Soap on your Tiffany...
To clean Points and Laces: Take white Bread of half a Day old, and cut it in the middle, and pare the Crust round the Edge, so that you may not damage your Point or Lace when you rube them...

Plus essential recipes for taking away freckles and making teeth white "when very foul or black."

But nothing about sleeping with your employer's lover ... not one word. Much less what to do when you bear him a child or two. Tant pis. 

{Painting: Madame de Montespan in her chateau at Clagny, near Versailles.}

2 comments:

Anita Davison said...

As someone who uses Hannah Woolley's 'Queen Like Closet' as a resource, I found this post fascinating.

Sandra Gulland. said...

Yes, isn't Hannah great? I'll have to look into "Queen Like Closet," Anita. (Such a great title.)