Dear Author has links to a couple of articles about the current wave of interest in the “below-stairs” part of upstairs-downstairs stories here and here, with a little bit of discussion in the comments on the American intersection with British portrayals of a servant class, and the high interest in historical fiction (in books or on TV).
It sent me into a nostalgia about various moments and missteps of the past. About umpteen years ago, I was intrigued/surprised/amazed when I found out that a very young guy (whom I had an enormous crush on) had trained to become a butler with one of those extremely butlery, old-school butlers (the consultant on one of those butlery movies–I’m going to say Gosford Park). It hadn’t occurred to me that there would be young men aspiring to the profession and with the same sort of air about them as you’d see in someone from a previous generation, and even if so, I didn’t expect I’d ever meet and get all starry-eyed over a butler. I mistakenly thought he was starry-eyed over me too. Said young guy had been hired by a family in the US and took his butlering very seriously, with an almost OCD level of attention to detail. He took what I considered enormously nitpicky tasks from his employers in stride.
Crass young idiot that I was, I often found myself thinking (though not saying, thank goodness), “Why do you have to do that–don’t you just hire someone for that?” Of course, when I thought of hiring someone, it meant looking up someone in the phonebook or online, not having staff. My family’s aristocratic days are a long, long time past. Although I still only vaguely ever know where the vacuum cleaner is.
The crush fell apart when he expressed surprise that there were actually women in the US (not me) who were refined (apparently not me) by going to finishing schools and who had a high level of class and sophistication (unlike, if I’m honest I should admit, me). Ironically, my high school was originally one of those finishing schools for ladylike refinement, but by the time I got to it they must have been leaving us ladies rough edged and half baked.
If I had been a proper Romance reader back then, I think I’d have handled the whole thing better, or at least would have had a good quip in reply. And it would be something better than “I’m classy! I don’t know where the vacuum cleaner is, or how to use that nozzle attachment thing!”
I may also have wondered if this was the part of the novel where the couple has the Misunderstanding.
But instead, the experience enters the “maybe it will inspire a novel someday” idea book. The heroine will have a good quip–and if she’s coarse and unrefined and says unintentionally insulting things about a respectable and hard-working profession and reacts to having a crush by drinking herself silly at a party and obsessing over vacuum cleaners…that’ll all be part of her appeal.