Domestic Servants and Apprentices in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Social History (seminar)

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This was a fall 1999 semester seminar led by Kristina Straub.

This seminar examined the cultural politics of domestic service and apprenticeship in the period 1700 to 1830. Both institutions-which have considerable and increasing overlap over the course of this period-were central to important struggles and conflicts in British class formation and relations. Both institutions underwent rather troubling changes over the course of the long eighteenth century, and both were the subject of considerable public attention from philanthropic reformers, educators, and theorists and practitioners of criminal justice. The theoretical focus of the seminar was on how popular representations of servants and apprentices are figured in terms of gender, sexuality, and race. Its working hypothesis is that these terms of difference are important to how class differences-and, often, conflicts-are both expressed and "managed" in culture. The seminar's readings included writings by philanthropic "projectors" such as Jonas Hanway and Sarah Trimmer, "conduct" and instructional literature for servants, and texts having to do with criminality, such as popular biography and pamphlets concerning notorious criminal cases. Participants also read works of literary imagination such as Lillo's The London Merchant and William Godwin's Caleb Williams. Visual representations of servants, as in Hogarth's popular prints, also served as resources. While most of the reading was primary materials, the seminar also sought to situate those materials in relation to cultural and social histories of service and apprenticeship in the period.

Director: Kristina Straub is Associate Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (1992) and Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy (1988). She recently edited Fanny Burney's Evelina (1997).