In 1960, presiding over the British obscenity trial of D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Judge John Mervyn Guthrie Griffith-Jones inadvertently shed light on another cultural issue altogether. After he asked the jury whether the book was something “you would even wish your wife or your servants to read,” he was greeted with laughter from its members, many of whom represented segments of English society very different from the one he inhabited. Their reaction revealed how radically British attitudes toward hired domestic help had changed since the end of World War II. Improved standards of living and access to education in England had caused a disruption of hierarchies and a relative decline in social difference. The judge’s words became an example of how out of touch the old guard was. Servants indeed!
When Robin Maugham, nephew of the writer W. Somerset Maugham, published his novella The Servant in 1948, it was more common for paid staff to be living in cramped quarters, working long hours—for them to be people who knew their place. In the book, a young man named Tony returns to London from the war. His parents are dead, and he feels alone. On the advice of a friend (the narrator of the novella), Tony decides to employ a manservant named Hugo Barrett, who speaks “in a prissy, affected voice” and pronounces “sir” as “sahr.”
Maugham introduces Barrett’s physical appearance in odd and ambiguous detail: his “shoulders were narrow, and his hands were long and bony. One expected his mouth to match his features. But in the middle of his sallow face were stuck a pair of rosebud lips, which gave him the look of a dissolute cherub.” Slowly, he becomes indispensable: “He does everything for Tony. He cooks, he sweeps, he makes the cocktails, he turns on the radio, turns on his bath, takes off his shoes.” Barrett also begins to take control, so that it eventually grows unclear who is the master and who is the servant.
The Trial: Crime of the Century
In the film he once called his best, Orson Welles found a cinematic language equal to Franz Kafka’s distinctive effects, creating a vertiginous experience that accentuates the writer’s subterranean perversity.
Drylongso: A Refuge of Their Own
Cauleen Smith’s debut feature celebrates the bond between two young Black women and the ways that they imaginatively, collaboratively choreograph their lives in the face of their common vulnerabilities.
Bo Widerberg’s New Swedish Cinema: Another Sweden
While frequently drawing from the depths of his private life, the writer-director also sought to shake Swedish cinema out of a state of complacency by engaging with the country’s turbulent social landscape.
Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart: Family Style
For the first of several domestic melodramas in his filmography, Wayne Wang drew on the influence of Yasujiro Ozu and the talent within his own San Francisco community to explore the relationship between a mother and her daughter.
You have no items in your shopping cart