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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Celebrating the Missing Maidservants

Camille Pissarro 1857 The Maidservant
As you know, I like to write fiction about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. No Kings and Queens for me, but the hidden, often unseen, lives of the ordinary people. The missing maidservants so often ignored by historical biographers, but loved by historical novelists as the ideal witnesses to great historical events. With this in mind, my post on recommended books featuring feisty maidservants is over here at One Book at a Time along with a chance to win The Gilded Lily. Why not go over for a look to see which books I've chosen? Have you any historical fiction books you would recommend featuring interesting maidservants?

Below: A Woman and her Maidservant feeding a Pancake to a Dog.
by the Dutch artist Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667)In The Gilded Lily Sadie and Ella cook pancakes or griddle cakes in this way, although their surroundings are not nearly so lavish!

Below: Lady with her maidservant holding a letter by Jan Vermeer

Below: My favourite - The Chocolate Girl by Jean Etienne Liotard

The story behind the commissioning of this painting sounds like a fairy-tale romance. The girl in the portrait, Anna Baltauf, worked as a maidservant in one of the Viennese chocolate shops which had become hugely popular during the 17th and18th centuries. She had little chance of good marriage as her father was too poor to give her a good dowry, however in the summer of 1745, a young Austrian nobleman - Prince Dietrichstein - came into the shop. He fell in love with the Chocolate Girl and asked her to marry him, despite objections from his family As a wedding present to his 'chocolate girl' he commissioned this portrait of his wife wearing the maid’s costume she was wearing when he first set eyes on her. Is this true? I guess we'll never really know.
Ella Appleby from The Gilded Lily would have loved this story. It was what she dreamed about for herself! Sadie, her sister, would have gently told her to stop dreaming and to deliver the tray to the customer before the chocolate went cold.

Maidservants spent a lot of time fetching and carrying, but also a large proportion of their time cleaning - here is an interesting post about buttermaking and cleanliness in 17th century. Food for thought!

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