Nannies, Servants & Such

Recently, through the wonder of Netflix, we discovered a captivating program that first aired on BBC in 1998. berkeley-square Set during the time of King Edward VII’s coronation, London 1902, Berkeley Square tells of three nannies and the wealthy families they served.  As we watched the first few episodes, we were reminded of the Masterpiece Theater classic Upstairs, Downstairs and its revelations of the British upper class and their servants’ lifestyles.

Although nannies were among the more privileged of servants, their lives were wholly dependent on their employers. Berkeley Square touches on some social issues not often seen in popular film – child neglect, the use of laudanum and baby-farming.  The depiction of children and their caretakers was both thought-provoking and sad.  The movie shows strong visual images in the costumes and settings.

As a writer of historical romance, I’ve long been fascinated with newport-ri-0171servants during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Two years ago, my husband and I toured a few of the summer mansions in Newport, Rhode Island.  We especially enjoyed seeing The ElmsThe tours – both of the main house and the special behind-the-scenes servants tour – revealed two different worlds.  The contrasting tours were like entering the kitchen of an exclusive restaurant; we saw both the glamorous facade and where the potatoes were peeled.

Studying how people lived – cultural history – helps to better rwa-national-2008-sf-0114 create and shape our characters.   That’s what I find most valuable in my writing research, discovering what folks wore (both day and night), what they ate, how they dressed, and what they valued.  Last year’s History Conference at RWA National included workshops on dressing our characters, a Regency period Soiree, and samplings of foods from different time periods.

Movies.  Books.  Websites. Conferences.  Old house tours.  Civil War re-enactments.  They all reveal needed details that breathe life into our characters.

→ Have you seen Berkeley Square?   What movies, books, or other events have helped you to enrich your knowledge of cultural history?

3 thoughts on “Nannies, Servants & Such

  1. Hi,

    Who’s got time for Netflix? 😦

    Great post. When I took my major in history, I always focused on the cultural/social elements that drove historical movements. Sometimes, that drove my professors nuts since they were far more versed in the economics of it. But I kept telling them, both items were harnessed together, to drive events forward–or not.

    Anyway, one more item gets added to my what to do when I have time on my hands list.

    I gave my hubby Netflix for Valentine’s Day. He’s loving it, catching up on Rumpole at the Bailey and Cadfial (sp) and other great PBS/BBC series.

  2. I ordered it for him…also a Valentine’s Day gift…great minds and all :). Then he signed up for his movie queue and chose 42 dvds in as many minutes. Berkeley Square was near the top. How could I NOT find the time? 😀 I’m looking forward to the last disc.

    We loved Rumpole! There’s nothing like BBC.

    As for cultural history, I think its a woman thing. Men like hunting and battles leading to dates, places, and economic history. Women like home and babies leading to…cultural history.

  3. Debra –

    I loved reading your newsletter! I was a big fan of the old Upstairs Downstairs (watched it as a child with my mother) and was intrigued by Berkeley Square and your description. My husband’s looking it up right now on Netflix. Good luck on your journey. I’m on the same path, working hard and hoping to get published. I look forward to future newsletters…

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