Silliest servant blunders

Actually, I’m not talking about the mistake of taking on a career tightening Prinny’s corset, though I think this poor fellow deserves combat pay for his efforts.

I’m talking about the more egregious mistakes regarding servants I’ve seen once in a while in Regency-set romances.

This past weekend I listened to a children’s song by Tom Chapin in which a royal footman sang in an imitation Cockney accent. But what I can deal with in a children’s song I find harder to take in a historical romance. I have read stories in which a butler or valet spoke Cockney and I have to admit that grates. It’s as if the author felt it was necessary to clarify the differences in social status.

Yet some authors make the opposite error. In one book I read a scene where the hero, on returning home, warmly and publicly greets a man on the stairs using his first name. For a moment I thought there was a brother or good friend the author hadn’t mentioned before. It turned out to be the butler. It didn’t ruin the book for me but it did confuse me for a scene.

Yet I think this is something that is easily researched or even just absorbed through enough reading in the period. It’s not hard to learn the names and roles of various servants. Maybe the relationship between them and their masters is a bit more of a subtle thing. The way I understand it, servants often took their tone from the households they served. In a respectable household, the servants who dealt most closely with the family members (and as you can see some of them had to deal quite closely!) and also those who dealt with guests were expected to be respectable and well-spoken themselves. Of course, in a more ramshackle household the servants could run amok, too. It’s all part of the characterization.

Georgette Heyer wrote some of the strongest servant characters in her novels, like the domineering old Nurse in VENETIA, or Keighley, the groom in SYLVESTER. I don’t think I’ve read a romance in which a servant had a romantic role but I’ve read a few in which the heroes or heroines pretended to be a servant. Probably my favorite of those is Loretta Chase’s THE SANDALWOOD PRINCESS.

So what are some of your favorite servant (or pretending to be) characters? Do you like it when an author plays with class differences in a romance? Are there errors in depiction of servants that grate on you?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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