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Faculty Mentor

Julie Barst

Abstract

The servants within 18th- and 19th-century English literature play an undoubtedly vital role within everyday life. Elizabeth Langland highlights this point in her discussion of the middle class: “Running the middle-class household, which by definition included at least one servant, was an exercise in class management, a process both inscribed and revealed in the Victorian novel” (291). In Victorian England, especially, class and rank were everything. While during the Romantic period servants were common, rising concerns for their role in the household becomes more apparent during the Victorian Era. Gothic novelists take their concerns for these domestic issues and use the servants as easy targets to become scapegoats in the novel themselves. In both the The Castle of Otranto and Wuthering Heights, the fear of exploited power and class position leads the authors to use servants as ignorant tools in order to heighten the suspense and terror, thereby exhibiting the concerns for their role in society. Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights, for instance, interferes with dealings between the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights so much that some critics see her as the “villain.” When she has a chance to stop Isabella from entering Wuthering Heights, she neglects her duty and instead follows her inside. Other servants, such as Joseph, increase the terror by releasing the dogs to attack Lockwood as he leaves Wuthering Heights. In The Castle of Otranto the servants, especially Bianca, enhance the terror by telling of the horrific sights they encounter, like the giant hand. While it is true that they manage daily household duties and often care for children, they also have the opportunity to abuse their power, which causes anxiety among the ruling classes. [Page 1]

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