Samira's Reviews > Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light
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's review
Dec 19, 09

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in December, 2009

So there is a ridiculous Bloomsbury industry, of which I am a (relatively) unashamed consumer, though I try to keep a sense of proportion. This book is a wonderful look at the changing class lines in England in the first half of the 20th century, and it is really there that the book is at its best. In someways, it is nothing more than a gimmick to use Virginia Woolf as a foil. By talking about Woolf and HER servants, Light ensures that people will buy her book, and in many ways, any middle to upper class English household would work.

That said, there are some good reasons to use Virginia Woolf. First, her copious diaries and correspondence, much of which is preserved, gives insight into her relations with her servants and her fame means that there papers are more likely to exist than those of most women who went into service. Additionally, the Bloomsbury group, being a very intelligent and aware crowd, had somewhat avante guarde attitudes towards servants and housekeeping. In many ways, this means that Light exposes their hypocrisies, but in other ways, it means that one can get at some of the ways that ideas and habits do not line up, which is always interesting.

And besides, in the end, I can't fault Light for using Bloomsbury. I thought this was a great look at a changing culture, but even as a history nerd, I doubt I would have bought it without the Virginia Woolf hook.
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