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Spinsters Get Up for Breakfast: Gender Issues in Downton Abbey


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#31

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 11:42 AM

I had wondered why the vote was originally restricted to women over 30, but I can see the logic (if not the fairness). I thought that suffrage had been widened to all men in the UK over the course of the 1800s, but I see from the article that only 60% of men could vote. Extending the ballot after the war makes sense as the act of a grateful nation, and it reminded me of how the US lowered the voting age to 18 during the Vietnam War, with a similar logic. "War has a way of reminding us what is important" - to quote (or misquote) Matthew.
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#32

Constantinople

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 1:51 PM

When the ever-more-useless Robert bitched about Edith's letter, he mentioned something about a Women's Rights Bill. Nope.

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted the vote to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met certain property criteria--or had husbands who did. Property qualifications had denied many men the vote; since they'd shortly be coming back from the war, it was thought fitting to let them all vote. Women had earned respect by doing men's work on the home front. The militant Suffragettes stopped causing trouble; in fact, Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst handed out white feathers to "shirkers." It's said one reason for the female age requirement was the imbalance caused by so many men killed; there would have been more women than men eligible for voting. Another Representation of the People Act in 1928 equalized matters.

So--there was no women's rights bill. And 1921 is an odd time to become conscious of the limits on the franchise for women. While I'm glad that Edith found a cause--I wish Fellowes had done his homework. Or hired somebody who knew about Wikipedia...


I'm not sure I understand.

Edith wrote to the Times about the unfairness of the British election law that imposed stricter voting requirements on women than men. She did this after learning the 19th amendment had been ratified in the United States upon its adoption by the state of Tennessee (which was in late August 1920). The 19th Amendment, in contrast to British law at the time, granted women the vote on equal terms as men.

It's not unusual for people to question something once they have a counter example. Moreover, I believe under the terms of the Act, Edith would not qualify to vote even if she were 30 since she did not pay property taxes, nor was she married to someone who did. The latter might be particularly jarring for someone who was just jilted at the altar.

Moreover, as of the time Edith wrote the letter, Britain had held only one General Election since the Act, in December 1918. At the time, Downton was still be used as a convalescent center. Edith may simply have been too busy to give it much thought beyond a general remark.

But now Edith's convalescent work is long behind her, and her work at Locksley House is never to be. Edith is looking for something to do, and like Daisy, but in a different context, she's asking when a woman is permitted to speak.

Edith is a bit like someone who's lurked at TWoP for a while, but finally decided to post having concluded that her opinion is just as good as another's.
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#33

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 6:59 PM

I was objecting to Lord Grantham's mention of a recent women's rights bill that never existed. Of course her jilting could have snapped Edith out of the fog that clouds everybody's minds in The Downton Triangle; too bad there's no writer who could have put her actions in a historically correct context.

"Gosh, suddenly I want to vote! Gosh, I can't for a few more years! Who knew?" We could have gotten a few phrases from her letter, expressing her thoughts. Or found her another cause--there were plenty!
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#34

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 9:37 AM

It's not as if there are no models for Sybil. There's Isobel (JF's character assassination of her doesn't speak well of his attitudes about women though this may be as much a comment on middle-class officiousness as about women). There is the real life Beatrice Webb who, in addition to getting married, wrote several books, helped to found the London School of Economics & the New Statesman, was a member of a Royal Commission on poverty, etc. The University of London started awarding degrees to women before Sybil was born, and Oxford and Cambridge had colleges or halls for women (though no degrees).


I agree there were female role models for Sybil. But in the biographies and autobiographies I've read about them, they came from families that actively supported (emotionally and financially whenever possible) their intellectual/academic pursuits. The Crawley's, imo, haven't modernized beyond the point that the only worthwhile value of a female are 1. her ability to snag a "good" (read: wealthy, socially connected) husband and 2. produce an heir. sure they tolerated Sybil becoming a nurse during the War---but it was during the War when the entire homefront was supposed to help. Would they have tolerated Sybil's nursing/medical aspirations if there wasn't a War? I would say not because they have that "proper young ladies are only good for marriage and baby-making" idea (refer to Mary and Edith).
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#35

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 9:47 AM

Edith is looking for something to do, and like Daisy, but in a different context, she's asking when a woman is permitted to speak.


Oh, such a good point, Constantinople! Now that you point it out, the whole episode surrounded when marginalized women get to speak. As you note, we have Daisy the kitchen maid (assistant cook) and Edith the spinster wondering when they get to speak their minds. We also get Sybil, who has attempted to cast off aristocracy and side with the revolutionaries, attempting to speak to both her family and her husband. And finally Ethel, a prostitute, struggles to be heard both by her child's grandparents and by the people who purport to want to help her.
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#36

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Posted Jan 23, 2013 @ 4:46 PM

When the ever-more-useless Robert bitched about Edith's letter, he mentioned something about a Women's Rights Bill. Nope.
...
So--there was no women's rights bill. And 1921 is an odd time to become conscious of the limits on the franchise for women.

I believe that the most recent episode is set in 1920. Robert mentioned that the 19th Amendment had gone into effect since Tennessee had passed it. That would place the episode in August 1920, although as TWoP's DA re-capper noted, Sybil would have been pregnant forever by then.

In any case, I found the following Representation of the People Bill, the second reading of which is dated late February 1920. I don't know when, or if, there was a third reading. Presumably it did not pass.

Mr. GRUNDY: I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I feel it a very great honour and pleasure to move the second reading of this Bill, which is designed to amend the Representation of the People Act of 1918. It is to confer the franchise on women on exactly the same terms as it is given to men, first, by removing the age limit of thirty years and substituting the same age limit as applies to men, that is to say, twenty-one years. The Bill also seeks to secure equality between the sexes of all classes, first, by abolishing the occupational qualification and the qualification of women as the wives of local Government electors; and, secondly, by placing the whole franchise for both sexes for Parliament and local government bodies on the single basis of residence, with the exception of university electors.

http://hansard.millb...the-people-bill


February 1920 and August 1920 don't mesh, but I don't know when the bill got killed, and I'm willing to chalk it up to artistic license
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#37

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Posted Jan 24, 2013 @ 11:15 AM

So, what about the men? What made a man?


During the war period, I got the very distinct impression that Robert was eager to do something, anything, to show what he was made of, to prove he was indeed a man and a worthy one at that. That was why he ran for that old uniform and was so quick to look into joining up again. Otherwise, he - like the rest of the Crawleys - seem to simply be. But, like Sybil, Robert seemed desperately unhappy with that. He was clearly looking for an outlet in which he could prove who he was as a person, and as a man. (We've heard Mary lament to Anna about her boring existence sitting around in endless dinners, but we've never seen her actually attempt to change her life in any way.)

Ditto, for why Mary and Edith devoted their adolescence to sniping at each other. Kept at home,not even in school, they had no other venue in which to try out their personalities and test their powers.


I think this is it, right on the head.
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#38

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Posted Jan 25, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

Another thing that men like Robert were supposed to do was to defend the honor of their families. And this was my biggest problem with the way Edith was jilted. What Strallan did was an insult not just to Edith but to her entire family. To put it in the most crass terms, he'd ruined her chance for ever making a society marriage, and with that he had dumped her permanently on Robert and any future Lord Crawleys to support financially. To put it more poetically, when he ruined her reputation, he damaged the honor of the entire family.

Robert may have been ambivalent about the match at the beginning, but once the wedding was planned he had a vested interest in the outcome. It was appropriate for the Crawley women to tut-tut and hover about Edith and attempt to comfort her, but it would have been up to Robert to mount some sort of response along the lines of "See here, Strallan, this simply won't do." The insult was even deeper than it appears to our modern interpretation, and Robert totally failed to defend his family's honor.
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#39

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 8:37 AM

Latecomer to Downton but every bit the addict!

Is this the right thread for what's bothering me still about last night's episode: The attitude of Downton staff toward Ethel.

Was there actually zero tolerance for women who'd been on the stroll among other working people, to the extent that they would be forbidden by their supervisors from entering a respectable home where an ex-pro was employed?

If so, does this mean that the religious mores were so distinctly unforgiving? Or is the situation being exagerrated to spotlight the heroic attitude of a first-wave feminist (old Mrs. Crawley)?

What with The Magdalen Project and other rehab programs in place now, and many of them supported by faith-based organizations here in USA, it's just a jaw-dropper for me that supposedly uber-civilized British society could have been so coldly cruel.
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#40

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 9:20 AM

Was there actually zero tolerance for women who'd been on the stroll among other working people, to the extent that they would be forbidden by their supervisors from entering a respectable home where an ex-pro was employed?


Well, the home wouldn't be 'respectable' because the whoever was in charge knowingly hired the former prostitute, which would raise the question of morality about that person.
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#41

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 10:12 AM

Well, the home wouldn't be 'respectable' because the whoever was in charge knowingly hired the former prostitute, which would raise the question of morality about that person.


Good grief ... sick as it makes me to admit it, I see the convoluted logic.
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#42

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 11:12 AM

For those of us who have the latest version of iTunes and who can access iTunesU there is an interesting short talk by Rosemary Wall of Oxford University in the series First World War- New Perspectives.

In her talk, 'Surplus Women: the First World War and its impact on Emigration, Work and Marriage' she discusses efforts made to deal with the surplus by encouraging emigration. One of her points is that because a higher percentage of officers were killed as against working class men, the surplus women were largely of the middle class. They had skills and training, particularly nursing, wouldn't go into domestic service by then seen as demeaning, and who found both useful occupations and often marriage in Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand
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#43

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 11:17 AM

It's not really that convoluted, as it follows the "birds of a feather flock together" idea or more accurately the Spanish version which states "tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are" idea: a respectable person would hire respectable people; a respectable home will have a respectable family and respectable servants, etc.
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#44

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 11:36 AM

Milz, I take your point, but it still baffles me that there would be no notion of redemption, nor of contrition or repentance in the cases of reformed prostitutes.

I googled the topic and found that prostituion was a raging problem related to the Industrial Revolution, and that it cut across all ethnic lines. Not sure how TPTB here feel about links, but Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was a reformer back when Isobel was still in short dresses*; the fate of prostitution even ravaged the Jewish population (http://jwa.org/encyc...e/white-slavery) [ETA that I certainly don't mean to sound totally ignorant about women's history -- I guess this surprised me because I'd always had the notion that Jewish communities were so tight-knit that they would always find a way to take care of their own. Please: I mean no offense and hope none is taken. Apologies if I've mis-written.]

My point being that I hope the story goes on to show that Mr. Carson's cautious conservatism in toeing the line of the times was offset at least partly by well intentioned folk like Mrs. I. Crawley.

*Forgive me if I overstate the case. I realize Isobel may be nearly a contemporary of Mrs. Butler, need to look at some Wikis to round out my newby knowledge of the cast of characters. ;)

Edited by MoosieMac, Jan 28, 2013 @ 11:39 AM.

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#45

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:12 PM

One book I've read about British feminism (not only the vote) pointed out that there was already a slight surplus of women before the War. Mostly because of the number of men who left for the Dominions--everybody from aristocratic Younger Sons to poor guys looking for work. Then things got worse...

I'm still looking for references about the belief that a former prostitute would always ruin a household. Mrs Crawley is well rid of that judgmental old prune--who must have saved a ton of money over the years & can go to an employment registry to look for a new job, armed with a good reference. Famously, Gladstone rescued Fallen Women back in the mid 19th century.

I was disgusted by the reactions of the Carson & Molesly to the "scandalous" news Mrs Bird insisted on spreading before she left (no doubt to find a dour Puritanical household suited to her morality). Those two eunuchs chose a profession that forbade a natural family life, with rare exceptions. If either of them had ever touched a woman, they probably paid her. (Or maybe they were gay, closeted forever & glad the hormones were slowed down to a drip.) But they were salaciously eager to emphasize just how much the Crawley household must be forbidden to everybody from The Big House. I've already mentioned one Victorian belief--that Fallen Women chose the life because the enjoyed sex; Good Women grimly fulfilled their marital duty. Mrs Hughes wasn't as enthusiastic about their condemnation; she knew Ethel as a woman with no resources who had made some foolish decisions--not a temptress....

Edited by not Bridget, Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:22 PM.

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#46

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:30 PM

Essentially, there was no redemption because the woman was at fault for her "fall". Woman got raped: it was her fault. Woman ends up in prostitution: her fault. Woman got pregnant outside of marriage: her fault (and this was a reason for firing a maid during the Edwardian era.) Because she was supposed to guard her purity with all her vigor and vim, otherwise she was morally corrupt or corruptible.

Also as someone mentioned above regarding Robert and protecting the honor of his family...these women were a black mark on the honor of the family. As a result, they were disowned. Never to be mentioned again.

So for these women, there was no redemption: they were the cause of their own predicament.

I have a fascinating book called "The Barbary Coast: An Informal history of the San Francisco underworld". I have the 1933 edition. Anyhow, the book has chapters specifically concerning prostitution in San Francisco from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century. And the reasons for women turning to prostitution then are essentially the same reasons we hear today: bad home environment, deception (promised a respectable job, that wasn't), etc. Some of them became madams and whorehouse/saloon owners themselves. Some of these saloon girls married and lead "respectable" lives as married women. But how much of their past was known to neighbors, friends and family (I mean, what "respectable" family would want to receive a letter from their son "Dear Ma and Pa, I'm marrying a saloon girl."?) I don't know.

Most likely, probably not much. In James Jones novel "From Here to Eternity", set in 1940s Hawaii, the prostitute Lorene, planned to make money as a prostitute, then go back home and live the life of Reilly. As far as Lorene's family knows, she's a secretary at a big pineapple plantation.
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#47

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:53 PM

Kim Bassinger's prostitute in L.A. Confidential also had plans to return to her home town and open a dress shop, after she assembled a nest egg. She was bringing her husband home with her in the last scene. The more things change ....

Edited by susan sunflower, Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:54 PM.

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#48

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 1:31 PM

Woman got raped: it was her fault. Woman ends up in prostitution: her fault. Woman got pregnant outside of marriage: her fault


That pretty well sums it up. Add in the few jobs available to women, the pitiful wages, and it's easy to see how a large percentage of them (compared to now) became prostitutes. Ethel sees it quite clearly when she tells Isabel that she hasn't thought it out. What would make more sense would be if Isabel knows someone in another city - Manchester or London, who could hire Ethel.

I wonder how much of Ethel's problem is her seeming lack of a family? They may have rejected her, or been unable to help, but if she'd had more help than just Mrs Hughes' occasional groceries, perhaps she could have had a better life.
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#49

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 2:13 PM

What would make more sense would be if Isabel knows someone in another city - Manchester or London, who could hire Ethel.


That would seem the more plausible solution: put the woman in a new location where no one knows her and her past, so she can get a fresh start. And put her in a job that's small first (like a maid of all work in a well-to-do family) so then she can build work experience and get character references BEFORE moving to a larger, prestigious household.

As for jobs, it would be interesting to see the kinds of jobs available to women. We know that there was service (maids, nannies, governesses), nursing/medicine, teaching, working in shops, factory work, and some secretarial work.
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#50

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 3:40 PM

Ethel's job performance before she got knocked up does not recommend her to any position of responsibility (like being a cook) particularly one for which she's had no training. Isobel doesn't need a scullery maid, but that might well be an appropriate re-entry position for Ethel. She talked loosely and I believe in front of several people, including Anna, about fraternizing with officers to get ahead. Anna likely would have told Mrs. Hughes at some point. Ethel's extreme ambivalence and wasting of Mrs. Hughes' time and efforts doesn't speak well for her sense of gratitude, not to mention that she did not approach Isobel for help, but to get in contact with Mrs. Hughes. Definitely not a promising candidate nor particularly "deserving" imho. She's still benefiting from having served at Downton and trading on her associations there. Absolutely, let her be a scullery maid somewhere else where she won't be missed when she scarpers.
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#51

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 5:12 PM

Ah, info on Ethel that sheds light! Sadly one can be less forgiving of a mare's ass than they would be if someone whose descent was really sad and less ... karmic? ;)
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#52

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 5:19 PM

As for jobs, it would be interesting to see the kinds of jobs available to women.


It would. I suspect that a lot of the factory jobs dried up after the war ended, as men returned from France. It must have been a bit like the end of 'Rosie the Riveter' after WWII, but I don't have any real info. We're, what, a couple of years before the big General Strike? There must have been plenty going on in the workplace leading up to that.
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#53

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Posted Jan 29, 2013 @ 8:25 AM

Maybe factory jobs in the munitions industry declined, but factory work like the garment industry (weaving, sewing---the New York City Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire occurred in 1911 most victims were women. etc.) and any other factory/assembly line job like some foods (candy for instance), boxes, cards, etc. probably remained steady. In the US at least, there were "mail order catalogs" like the Sears & Roebuck catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog that offered factory-made items ranging from foods, to patent medicines to clothing to household goods to even houses. I could be wrong, but I don't think the jobs for females differed much between the two countries.

I doubt the department stores, like Harrods, had male clerks working in the ladies' department back then. That would be too scandalous to have a male clerk advise a lady on the newest trends in stockings and corsets and help the ladies with any clothing fittings. ;-)

Edited by Milz, Jan 29, 2013 @ 8:26 AM.

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#54

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Posted Jan 29, 2013 @ 1:57 PM

That makes sense. I was just reading Below Stairs, by Margaret Powell. She is clear that when maids went out looking for fun, they generally pretended to work in factories, as secretaries or in stores, because servants were at the bottom of the pecking order. Ethel's other choices would have included the workhouse, until the 1930s or so, but that was only for the completely desperate.
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#55

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Posted Jan 29, 2013 @ 5:35 PM

Completely off topic but isn't Below Stairs wonderful. You can totally hear Margaret's voice!
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#56

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Posted Jan 29, 2013 @ 8:05 PM

She must have been a real character!
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#57

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 @ 11:05 AM

While I agree that Ethel's behavior/work ethic prior to her "fall" were much less than desired, I also believe that due to what she's experienced - post Downton has made substantial changes to her attitude and will affect her work going forward. She's gone hungry to provide a roof for her child and she's given up that child who I think we can all agree she loved very much, to insure HIS future while she no longer cared about her own. Her genuine shock at the idea that Isobel would be willing to employ her was understandable - she was for all intents and purposes considered an "untouchable". So I think out of shear gratitude for being given a chance, she will work her fingers to the bone to redeem herself.

Most of my knowledge of the world of prostitution in this period or the fear and dread of the "fallen" woman is informed by reading and having seen Upstairs/Downstairs, The Forsyte Saga; The House of Elliot and The Duchess of Duke Street. All of these series touch at some point on the "dreadful fate" that befalls a girl in service who is seduced or raped. There was no social safety net at that time. Yes, the baby could be put up for adoption - but without references, the girl would never get another "respectable" job. And her only alternative to starvation was prostitution.
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#58

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 @ 3:08 PM

Completely off topic but isn't Below Stairs wonderful. You can totally hear Margaret's voice!


Terrific! I have something to look forward to reading next week! I reserved Below Stairs and Servant's Hall at my local library and they're ready for me to pick up!

And her only alternative to starvation was prostitution.


Did working as a shop girl or in a factory require character references in he UK? IIRC "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" which was set in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, factory work didn't.
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#59

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:07 PM

I think in the Victorian Age, because of the very strict guidelines for social behavior and morals, if you were seeking employment without a reference, you'd be dead in the water.

Plus, I don't know how you bridge the gap from being "in service" to being a shop girl or factory worker.
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#60

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 @ 5:09 PM

We're past the Victorian age, although some of the characters seem stuck there.

Getting a factory job wasn't that hard. If there were factories in your area. And you had somebody to keep the kid. Female factory workers generally earned less than men. The work was hard & sometimes dangerous. Labor was getting stronger; but that's not one of Lord Fellowes' areas.

Remember Pygmalion/My Fair Lady? Eliza Doolittle wanted to learn to "speak proper" so she could get a job in a shop. Decent clothes, a ladylike manner & references were preferred. After all, you'd be handling money.

It would help if we had a "map" of the area--or if Fellowes had created one for his own use. Highclere Castle is near London, not in Yorkshire. Its farms & villages were long ago destroyed to create more picturesque parkland. The Dower House, Crawley House & the village are actually locations fairly far from Highclere. How many farms are there? What do they raise? How many livings does the estate support? Where's the village, exactly? And the train station? Any largish towns nearby? How far is York? Oh, well, I think too much....

Edited by not Bridget, Jan 31, 2013 @ 3:16 AM.

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