Friday, January 20, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Servants, or ‘Friends’

via email from Betty van den Betsy:

Betty by the Numbers: Servants, or ‘Friends’


They have more servants than pets!!! Probably very sensible, really... but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I look around the mess that is my home, or crawl around the socking-ungreat Honda with a tire-pressure gauge, or pull the pretty lights off the insanely-spiky fir tree by the driveway on the coldest day in January, and perhaps most especially when I stagger through the front door at 11:30pm, after a 16-hour work day that involved three airports and two regional jets, ricochet off the giant pile of laundry into the kitchen and contemplate pulling a slice of bread from the frosted-over freezer and throwing it into the toaster, only to decide I’m too tired to cook, I sometimes wish the Jonkheer were the kind of full-time helpmeet-type who would organize the Christmas lights and leave some soup in a crock pot once in a while. I know people who have such spousal units – these people are almost always men, and often my boss, and they have a wife at home to pick up the dry cleaning, bear and rear the kiddies, get the trash collected and the cars to the inspection station, change the sheets and scrape that stuff out of the sink. These lucky folks seem to climb corporate ladders with élan, clean socks and home-cooked lunches. I want one – I want a wife!

Hmm. A wife. Useful, but may be emotionally demanding and potentially quite expensive ($20 million for Mrs. Wendt in the divorce settlement, including$10k/month for clothing, but much less than the $50 million she sought).

Perhaps a nice ‘treasure’ or ‘friend’ instead, like Henrietta Nesbitt, a housekeeper at the White House in 1939...



For an interesting look at the value and history of the ‘corporate wife,’ try this link.

Yeah, maybe. But consider, for a moment – wouldn’t a clutch of devoted family retainers be even better? Goodness knows, Betty thinks so! In her world, wives are mostly useful for flower arranging, tatting prettily by a pink-shaded lamp, and listening to tales of grisly illnesses and operations; and once in a while helping deliver a baby, amputate a limb, or save a family from a raging inferno. Husbands do a lot of driving, drop mail on the floor, and provide funds for shopping excursions and housekeeping. Servants, who are also valued friends (the kind of friends who sleep in the basement and don’t join you for meals or come to your parties), do the yeoman’s share to keep the home fires burning, and the grates cleaned between times.

But this is Betty by the Numbers, not The Betty Philosophy of Household Maintenance and Friendship, so I shall get to it. There are a total of 516 (!!!) treasured friends over 135 books, from the concentration-camp survivor Jan, who is butler, cook, housemaid and eyes to Benedict van Manfeld in Cassandra by Chance (1973), to Mrs. Drew, who is really past it, but still lingers in the Cresswell home in Last April Fair (1980). (Because that’s what ‘friends’ do?) Anyway, quiz question: who pays for more household helpers, heroes or heroines? Too hard? Give up? Or did you shout out immediately: “the men!”

Ayup, the heroes sponsor 434 domestic pillars: 3.2 per doctor (or engineer, businessman, academic). And what’s more, 100% of heroes have professional support at home, every ruddy one of them. Over on the distaff side, just 42% of heroines get a hand with the dustpan; fortunately, 100% of them marry into a life of maids and gardeners! (I think it worth noting that, pre-marriage, the ladies have just ½ of one servant/treasure/friend to every household pet, while the gents have 1.5 servants/treasures/friends per animal. It makes a difference, you know.)

William Hogarth had six or so household-staffers in the 1750s, and chose to paint them. Portraits of servants were not the norm in his day.


As it ever was, women do more of the household chores; 64% of treasures are female. The heroines are more in need of diversity training, as only 21% of their home aides are male. The heroes generously employ 39% valets, butlers, housemen, boys to help in the garden, etc., and 61% housekeepers, maids, former nannies, etc.

Speaking of nannies: both Esmerelda (1976) and Leonora Crosby, the Daughter of the Manor (1997) count Nanny amongst their mainstays, whilst heroes employ eight of these staunch guardians and former guardians of British infancy. These are minute percentages, but you can’t measure love.

Nannies come in many forms...

Only the men employ married couples, but they employ them in legions. Almost half – 41% - of their staff are united in bonds of holy wedlock, like Joop and Jette in the der Huizma household of Discovering Daisy (1999). The most famous of the married couples, of course, are the not-yet married Trottie and Dodge of Fate Takes a Hand (1995). You remember Trottie and Dodge! She’s Miss Trott, the ‘retired’ housekeeper for the Warburton family who still lives with and does lots of work for Eulalia Warburton and her young first-cousin-once-removed. He’s the super-handy houseman and delivery boy for orthopaedic consultant Fenno van Linssen, UK division. (Married couple Pete and Anneke care for Fenno in Hilversum, with the help of two gardeners and a boy.) When Fenno secretly buys Eulalia a cottage and gives her £56,000, Dodge spends a lot of time helping Trottie get everything set up and meals on the table, etc., and they fall in love. Awww. Sweet. (Spoiler alert: so do Eulalia and Fenno!)

Household help became more expensive and harder to find as the 60s progressed to the 00s, but not so’s you’d notice in the Neels Novels – or maybe her gents just got richer. Adelaide Peters’s family has Nellie to help around the house; Coenraad Blankenaar van Essen has Tweedle and Mrs. Tweedle plus a chauffeur named Henk back in 1969’s Sister Peters in Amsterdam. In 2001, An Ordinary Girl like Philomena Selby’s home is blessed with Mrs. Dash coming twice a week to oblige, while James Forsyth has a treasure in Jolly at the London house, and another treasure in Berkshire, where Mrs. Willet does all the work. On the distaff side, we do see more of the twice-a-weekers as the decades mount, but as late as 1998 Claudia Ramsay’s great uncle manages to keep on butler Tombs, housekeeper Mrs. Pratt, maid Jennie and old Stokes to help in the garden.

Incidentally, whilst heroines’ jobs are a whole topic unto themselves, it is worth noting here, I think, that 12 of our heroines, or 9%, themselves hold domestic positions at one point or another.


Matilda Beatrice can still find work in The Lady, especially given her fluency in English and “willingness to help out in all aspects of our busy lives.”

So I did a little scouting about on computer, and managed to find a few salaries listed for domestic help in the U.K. The Eden Private Staff agency has an opening for a child-friendly chauffeur/handyman/gardener, living out in London, for £30-40,000 per year. An assistant butler in Aspen, Colorado can get at least £45,000 for what seems to be a live-in position. A live-in nanny/cook/housekeeper, working five and a half 12-hour days per week commands £400/week and shares a bathroom. Staff of Distinction clients are willing to pay £600-800/week for couples working 40-50 hours per week, with self-contained or separate accommodation. (And they have one listing for an Amsterdam-based position!) So lucky thing Gideon Aderik has means beyond his surgeon’s salary, as his staff salaries run north of £50,000 a year, plus at a very rough guess another £5,000 or so to keep three people in sole and hot water. At current rates of exchange, that’s a minimum of $85,000/year or €66,000 – a very simple answer to the question of why I don’t have a nice Cork to wait up with cocoa and turn the compost pile for me.

Oh, and incidentally it looks like, for the most part, domestics no longer work from 7am until 10pm daily. At least on paper, they’re mostly down to 40-50 hours/week. I wonder how that works out in practice...

Servants’ names may someday get their own, dedicated report. For now, let’s just note that in England, male domestics are called by their last names: Butter, Breeze, etc. The exception is Roel van Rakesma’s Fred, in Marrying Mary (1996), whom I recall being a rescued Cockney, not raised to ‘service.’ Senior women are Mrs. Butter and Mrs. Breeze. Maids are called by their first names, and gardening boys are generally unnamed. Village women doing the rough every few days are also Mrs. Buckett (perfect! if it’s cleaning, and it requires a bucket, it’s rough!). In the Netherlands, it’s mostly first names, with the occasional Juffrouw Boot full-time or Mevrouw Boot coming in for the rough.

Plenty of people, some still alive today, will tell you that for Europe’s upper-crust, staff really were (maybe still are) treasured friends. Revolutionary-types have often been frustrated by the willingness of the downtrodden poor to side with the wealthy landowners they serve. Betty Keira can tell you all about primogeniture, which plays a serious role in rigid-ifying a class structure. I am just glad that The One True Betty has taught me to shake hands and say how-do-you-do to the butler.

Incidentally, the Duchess of Devonshire is looking for a personal assistant; applications by 22 January. Chatsworth also requires two seamstresses...