Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Christopher Wortham

Second Supervisor

Doctor Ainslie Robinson

Third Supervisor

Professor Joan Wardrop


Despite the fundamental role of the servant in the historic English country house, servant representation within the country house genre lacks depth and detail. Rounded servant figures do not feature prominently throughout the accumulated textuality surrounding the country house. Yet, servants, and the symbiotic community of which they are a part, comprise an integral part of the country house ideal. As articulated by Malcolm Kelsall and others, the country house ideal informs the representation of remembered and imagined country houses, equally reliant on a servant community. The ideal may be described as an often-ambiguous composite of historical practice, cultural perception, and literary corroboration, containing sufficiently identifiable elements to demarcate its parameters. Adopting Jeremy Rosen’s approach to elaborating minor characters using the bounds of a defined genre, this thesis turns to the literary and historical development of a “country house genre” to contextualise servant absence. The pastoral and georgic antecedents of this genre are examined, alongside the cultural antecedents informed by the feudal, communal organisation of the medieval great house. In Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians (1930), and Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928) contrasted with Brideshead Revisited (1945), retrospective renderings of the English country house negotiate apposite moments of contemporary instability through the maintenance of the country-house ideal. Servants therein tend to evoke, support or participate in the perpetuation of a reciprocal, symbiotic community that retains a lingering feudal sense of continuity and tradition. These representations of servants are necessarily mediated by their privileged authors. Thus, the final chapters turn to servant memoirs as a complementary and largely affirmatory companion to the upper-class representations of servants. Written by a selection of country house servant memoirists, they too are retrospective and nostalgic, a meeting point perhaps of experiential fiction and mediated memory with the country house at their centre. Responding to the original perception of servant absence, this thesis amplifies the servant experience and contextualises their meagre representation within the constraints of genre. It finds that the servant presence contributes to the preservation of the imagined, English country house, and that a servant presence may be sought in the memoir texts that complement the genre.