May 01, 11
Read in September, 2008
Alison Light clearly does her homework. "Mrs. Woolf and the Servants" is absolutely loaded with the products of her very thorough research. Not only does she tell us as much as humanly possible about the various servants who worked for Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and others of the Bloomsbury set, but she tells us about the lives of their parents, as well. Light strives to create a clear picture of these servants, including where they came from, how they lived, and how their lives drew to a close. In addition, she pays a good deal of attention to the conditions of life and stratification along class structure in England during the early 1900's. Initially, I was worried that the book would prove to be too dry, as some books which prove to be information dumps can be. Thankfully, Light paints vivid portraits of these famous (and not so famous) figures, bringing them to life while keeping the reader's interest.
My main criticism of the book consists of there being occasionally too much information. We don't necessarily need to know the smallest details of the lives of these servants' parents. In addition, Light does stray away from the main topic of domestic servants and simply focus on Virginia Woolf for a good portion. Since my main attraction to this book was my thirst for all things Virginia Woolf, I appreciated that. However, those looking simply for a critical analysis of domestic service might not be as pleased. Light certainly goes above and beyond in her approach to discovering exactly what Woolf's view of domestic service was. Not only does she turn to diaries, correspondence, and interviews for her information, but she goes so far as to do her own interpretation of servants in Woolf's literary work in a manner that is well thought out and truly revealing of the famous writer.
Whether you're interested in England's history of household servants or solely here for the Virginia Woolf insight, I definitely recommend this book.