My new historical romance, Listen to the Moon, is about a very proper valet and a snarky maid-of-all-work who marry to get a plum job. So I thought I’d share with you…
My Ten Favorite Fictional Servants (in no particular order)
1.Amy from The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
I loved The Ordinary Princess when I was a kid. And most of all, I loved the part where Amy ran away to be a kitchen maid. I could have listened to descriptions of her job in the kitchen all day (I guess it’s no surprise I became a cook, huh?). I loved details even as a kid—I remember my mom once saying she didn’t like the Little House books because they were all boring details and I was like BUT THAT’S WHY THEY’RE SO GREAT.
The scene where she meets Peregrine and he pretends to be a man-of-all-work (even though he is secretly a prince), and they eat the leftover ice cream from the banquet, was the most romantic thing I had ever read in my life up to that point.
2. Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster.
How do I love Jeeves? Let me count the ways! Honestly when I read the books as a kid I was All About Bertie. Flamboyant weak-willed posh goofballs who talk too much are kind of my jam. (The BFF and I have a potholder that says “A fool and his money is my kind of date,” and, fictionally speaking at least, I really mean it.) But then I watched the A&E series, and Stephen Fry’s skeptical but affectionate little face…
OMG. Jeeves’s character opened up for me like a flower.
Jeeves is just amazing, is the thing. What do I love best: his scheming mind, his ruthless efficiency, his affection for Bertie, his skill at dry sarcasm, or his hatred of flashy hats? Good thing I don’t have to choose!
Everything about Mrs. Danvers, and Judith Anderson’s performance as her, is perfect. I can’t get enough of her voice, her dead stare, her bone-deep love for Rebecca and her bone-deep hatred for pretty much everyone else, and that she gets to burn that fucking house down at the end.
4. Ole Golly from Harriet the Spy
As someone who was raised by a stay-at-home mom and therefore has zero experience of this, I have always been fascinated and vaguely confused by the dynamic of having a child’s primary caretaker be an employee, who can therefore leave or be fired—and who probably will not be able to see the child again once she leaves her job. How much authority does the employee really have? How does she feel when she leaves the child, and how does the child feel? How does it affect the child’s relationship with their parents?
Ole Golly, Harriet’s nanny, was interesting and smart and funny and weird, and she had her own life (which domestic workers in books don’t always), and she understood and sympathized with Harriet but also held her accountable. And she gave great advice. That letter she writes Harriet at the end?
“Little lies that make people feel better are not bad…But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”
Those are words I have tried to live by.
5. Olivia in Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice
The heroine who is incensed to her bones by the chaos in the hero’s house, and brings order despite his protests, is a favorite trope of mine, and Olivia is a particularly wonderful example. She has gotten a job as the hero’s housekeeper so she can steal some papers she desperately needs…only to discover he is having an agoraphobic episode and won’t leave the house so she can search for them. So of course she has no choice but to heal him! In the meantime, she gets caught up in actually doing her pretend job. (The leads in this book, by the way, have some of the best romantic chemistry I’ve ever read.)
I think I might partly love this trope so much because of…
6. Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle
Sophie is turned into an old woman by a wicked witch, runs aways from home, and ends up as housekeeper to the feared Wizard Howl, who turns out to be a cowardly, vain, philandering, kindhearted young man who I fell in love with with all the fire in my soul when I read this book at ten.
He doesn’t really want his stuff messed with, but Sophie cannot help herself. She is enjoying the license to be loud and nosy and obnoxious that being an old woman gives her, and she is going to clean everything, ha! There is a scene where she accidentally messes up Howl’s magical hair dye while cleaning his bathroom, giving his hair a hint of ginger, and he freaks out and oozes green slime everywhere. Aww!
Sophie is great and she and Howl are an all-time top OTP.
Stephen is a BOSS. I just. I love him so much. He is Sir Walter Pole’s butler, he has to deal with constant bullshit and racism even though he is super good at his job, and then on top of all that, a fairy takes a fancy to him and makes him go to terrifying fairy balls all the time! Stephen is one of those characters who just quietly keeps going, making the best choices available to him even in scary, unpleasant, abusive situations. I don’t know what it is about that type of story but it always pull my heart right out of my freaking chest.
And then when [SPOILER SPOILER] at the end, he’s like, “You know what, I’m going to deal with this the best way I know how—like a butler!”
tl;dr: I adore Stephen and want to give him all the hugs.
8. JARVIS from the Iron Man movies
I like to think I would love JARVIS, Tony Stark’s disembodied robot butler, even if he wasn’t voiced by Paul Bettany, but in fact, he IS voiced by Paul Bettany. Yum. JARVIS takes the “impassive butler who shows no emotion” thing one step further by actually being a computer (a program? OS? Whatever). BUT ALSO he totally loves Tony and cares about him a lot (see: Iron Man 2 where he tried to talk Tony into telling Pepper he’s sick). Also you will NEVER convince me that Tony and JARVIS don’t have whatever the disembodied robot equivalent of phone sex is.
9. Martha Sowerby in The Secret Garden
I don’t know, maybe if I reread this book now I would think Martha was a terrible stereotype, but I loved her so much when I was a kid. I loved her Yorkshire accent and her big warm-hearted family and her incompetent lying (“oh, that sick kid sobbing broken-heartedly in a hidden room? Just the wind wuthering on the moor!”) and her matter-of-fact response to Mary’s constant histrionics, like, “Look, kid, I feel bad for you but I’m just trying to do my job here and then go home on the weekend.”
I definitely also pictured her as super pretty. I always shipped Mary/Colin as opposed to Mary/Dickon, but writing this I am starting to wonder if I shipped Mary/Martha also.
10. Dot from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
As the series progresses, Dot’s role is closer to a lady’s companion or personal assistant than a maid, but Phryne meets her when she’s a friend’s chambermaid (it’s love at first sight when Phryne realizes Dot is afraid the telephone will electrocute her!) She hires Dot as a maid after Dot shows up at her house with vital evidence and then proceeds to invisibly darn her stockings and get the bloodstains out of her new gown. And throughout the series, Dot continues to hang out in the kitchen with Mr. Butler, the butler. And I don’t think that Dot’s time in service is unconnected to her skill at undercover work, either!
I love Dot. She’s a joy to watch: sharp, competent, naïve, weird, self-doubting, brave, a fangirl (in one episode her detailed knowledge of theater gossip magazines saves the day), stubborn, sweet. I love her wide-eyed face and her frumpy-chic fashion sense. I love how she will do whatever needs to be done no matter how scary.
And I love her relationship with Phryne. I love their woman-of-the-world-corrupting-an-ingenue vibe from early in the series, I love watching Dot gain confidence and self-knowledge with Phryne (and Mr. Butler!) as a role model/mentor/friend/cheering section, I love how she blossoms into an accomplished detective and goes from being someone that Phryne protects and spoils to someone Phryne relies on absolutely (but still protects and spoils, obviously!).
Thanks for having me! Who’s your favorite fictional servant?
One random commenter will win a digital copy of Rose Lerner’s new release, Listen to the Moon. I adored this book. I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday!