Monday, September 10
The Housekeeper as Guide to a Great Country Estate
At the top of the servant hierarchy stood the butler and the housekeeper, who ruled their domains belowstairs.
Jane Austen gave Mr. Darcy's housekeeper a prominent role as she escorted Lizzie and the Gardiners through the great rooms of Pemberley, talking fondly and familiarly about her master. Her kind recollections were so opposite Lizzie's, whose confused mind and bewildered emotions were unable to take in all that conflicted with her prejudiced opinions of Mr. Darcy, that it set up the scene in which she unexpectedly encounters him in the gardens.
In reality, the role of tour guide was not uncommon for the housekeeper of a great country estate. In this portrait painted by Thomas Barber of Mrs. Garnett, the housekeeper of Keddleston Hall, and which hangs in front of the house to this day, she holds a guidebook. Ever since Keddleston Hall was built in the 18th century, it has been open to visitors. In fact, Samuel Johnson described his encounter with Mrs. Garnett (see linked post above)as he visited that great house.
In Regency Manor, the role of the upper servant as guide is described as thus:
...upper servants, in particular the housekeeper, served as tour guide on days when the houses were open to the public that “The fees derived from this source (the charge for seeing the house), by upper servants in some principal show-houses in the kingdom must amount to a handsome income; and I am told on good authority, that a late housekeeper in this castle, left by will, to a younger son of the family, at the close of a long service, a fortune of many thousand pounds, chiefly accumulated this way.” The castle in this instance was Warwick castle.
View Kedleston Hall here