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The Female Servant and Sensation Fiction

'Kitchen Literature'
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E. Steere
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The Female Servant and Sensation Fiction: 'Kitchen Literature' explores why Victorian sensation fiction was derided as literature fit only for maids and cooks and how the depictions of fictional female domestics, from Jane Eyre to Neo-Victorian novels, reflect contemporary social concerns about the blurring of the boundaries of class and gender.
Introduction: 'Kitchen Literature' 1. 'Let nothing ever induce you to read novels': Servants and Sensationalism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 2. 'Merely telling the truth': Servants' Stories in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights 3 'No human being ever was created for this': The Servant Victim in the Works of Wilkie Collins 4 'Privileged spies': The Criminal Servant in Lady Audley's Secret 5 'She had her rôle to play': East Lynne and the Servant Actress 6 'We will still be husband and wife': The Servant as Spouse in Gaskell's The Grey Woman 7 'The stuff of lurid fiction': Sensation Fiction in the Twenty-First Century Notes Bibliography Index
The Female Servant and Sensation Fiction: 'Kitchen Literature' explores how the sensation fiction genre popular in the 1860s fits into the canon of nineteenth-century literature and considers how its depiction of gender and class reflects a context of social change. Contemporary critics derided the genre as 'kitchen literature' because of its popularity among the newly literate servant classes, but this term also suggests the prominence of the genre's servant characters. This study reveals the female servant as a key figure who embodies the most 'sensational' aspects of the genre, particularly through her subversion of the Victorian boundaries of class and gender. Examining texts from authors such as Wilkie Collins, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and Elizabeth Gaskell, it explores the recurring tropes of the servant as a victim, criminal, actress, and spouse or lover. Ultimately, it suggests that, far from the fad of a single decade, sensation fiction has clear canonical origins and its influence is still felt today in Neo-Victorian literature and popular culture.

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