April 30, 2003

Notes: Edwardian Manor House

Watching the "Edwardian Manor House" miniseries on PBS. I keep expecting a Jacquerie--a full-fledged servants' revolt. The businessman who is playing the role of the master of the house insists on the most stringent standards of Edwardian behavior, decorum, and fingers-to-the-bone labor from the "servants," yet he does not do his own part: he refuses to eat his offal for breakfast.

The other thing I had not realized was how tightly constrained the Edwardian upper class was. It's true that their servants did lots of things for them, but they had to show up at the right place at the right time to be served--the idea that one might decide to do anything at the spur-of-the-moment was almost inconceivable, because it would throw the whole social mechanism of ten to twenty people into disarray (as opposed to simply turning off the microwave and putting the stuff back into the refrigerator for one extra day while one goes out for dinnfer).

Posted by DeLong at April 30, 2003 09:21 PM | TrackBack

Comments

It is excellent. I didn't realise you were only just getting it. I also enjoyed the Frontier House series, which just finished screening in Australia, but not as much as the original Edwardian House.

Posted by: Claire Bickell on May 1, 2003 05:57 AM

What's interesting (and pretty much historically accurate) is the way the butler polices and enforces the codes.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on May 1, 2003 06:08 AM

In many ways, the Manor House series is a recreation of Milgram's famous "prison" experiment in which students were put into a mock prison - some as prisoners and some as guards. Within days the students had taken on their roles to a frightening degree - so much so that the experiment had to be called off.
The same thing is true here. The Butler especially is mad. But notice also how the maids become so excited about how elegant the family looks when it arrives and how quickly the family finds it natural to be overlords.

Posted by: Alex Tabarrok on May 1, 2003 07:02 AM

Question - why could the master of the house do things like blow off a dinner, if it's a private, family-only dinner? If the servants did a bunch of work for nothing, oh, well. Their purpose is to work hard all day long, anyway.

BTW - I'd expect in the case of blowing off dinner that the chef and his staff would probably eat most of it. The butler would proabably get a generous cut. It might make the servants happy; they could chuck their bowl of whatever, and have some good food.

Posted by: Barry on May 1, 2003 07:23 AM

I happened to catch the show last night, and quickly concluded (not for the first time) that anyone who romaticizes the good 'ol days is utterly out of their minds. Good gawd, what a pain the ass!

Posted by: Will Allen on May 1, 2003 07:35 AM

In many ways, the Manor House series is a recreation of Milgram's famous "prison" experiment

You mean Zimbardo's prison experiment. Milgram is the electrocution guy. Oh for the days before Human Subjects Review boards.

Posted by: Kieran Healy on May 1, 2003 07:39 AM

In many ways, the Manor House series is a recreation of Milgram's famous "prison" experiment

You mean Zimbardo's prison experiment. Milgram is the electrocution guy. Oh for the days before Human Subjects Review boards.

Posted by: Kieran Healy on May 1, 2003 07:42 AM

Barry - with regards to skipping dinner. My reading of stories by Saki suggests that you wouldn't want to do it because the cook would be insulted, and good cooks were like good sysadmins today - notoriously bad tempered, temperamental, and in short supply.

Posted by: Sam Dodsworth on May 1, 2003 09:02 AM

O.K., Sam. So it basically comes to the demmed reformers, and their abolition of character-builders like the lash? :)

Posted by: Barry on May 1, 2003 09:46 AM

I haven't seen Manor House, but Salon had an good article about it: http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/review/2003/04/28/manor_house/index.html

I also thought of its similarities to the prison experiment.

Posted by: Luke Francl on May 1, 2003 10:22 AM

"She was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go, she went." Saki. Sam, i think this is what you are referring to?

Posted by: John Isbell on May 1, 2003 04:00 PM

John - that, the one about the dreadful consequences of music at dinner, and the one where Sir Lulworth (I think) remarks "a common murderer perhaps, but a most uncommon cook". I'm also thinking of "Diary of a Provincial Lady", which is upper-middle class and happens in the 1930s but shares many of the same stereotypes.

Posted by: Sam Dodsworth on May 2, 2003 01:49 AM
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