This week I'd like to focus on the period details of The Servants. Mark has already journeyed into a bygone era of domestic workers who lived and worked in the basement of the homes of the wealthy. The smooth running of the house (and the lives of its owners) depended on their working in tandem. The life of the servants below stairs was strictly structured and hierarchical — the butler, the housekeeper, the cook, and the kitchen maids all observed the traditions and the rules.
If you find these details interesting, you may want to check out Margaret Powell's book Below Stairs. The movie Gosford Park is a great introduction to life in the huge estates seen through the eyes of those below the stairs. The television show Upstairs Downstairs focuses on the lives of servants in a London townhome before WWI. For more recommendations, see "Waiting for Downton Abbey."
Questions for Discussion
- Do the period details in the book feel authentic? Are they interesting?
- What do you think about Mark's encounters with the people from the past? How does the first encounter affect him? Why does he feel he has to go back?
- Meanwhile, what is happening upstairs? What is Mark slowly and gradually realizing about his mother? His father? David?
- Why does the old lady say that somebody must watch the starlings (146-47)? What does that mean?
- As we keep reading the book, do we notice a correlation between the chaos in the kitchen and Mark's mother's health?