Servants in Literature

Some real-life servants are treated badly by their rich employers, but many fictional servants are treated nicely by their authors. A small, wish-fulfilling solace for readers in this time of soaring economic inequality.

Literature’s servants and other “hired help” are often smarter, funnier, and more compassionate than their “betters.” Perhaps that’s partly because they have to work hard for a living, while some of the wealthy get their money the old-fashioned way — inheriting it. Ah yes, the merit system…

Servants in literature also help us judge their masters. You can tell a lot about an affluent person’s decency (or lack of) by how they treat their so-called “inferiors.”

Some stand-out servants in fiction? Jeeves, of course, in the engaging and hilarious works of P.G. Wodehouse. That valet is incredibly bright and well-spoken, and helps his congenial but somewhat dim “master” Bertie Wooster out of many a scrape.

Another famous servant character is Nelly Dean, who’s the pragmatic voice of reason in a Wuthering Heights novel filled with hyper-passionate and/or weak-minded people. Nelly grounds Emily Bronte’s superb book, and helps make the hard-to-believe events in it seem believable. Of course, another servant in that novel is boorish religious fanatic Joseph, but we won’t talk about him… ๐Ÿ™‚

Nineteenth-century English literature also offers us Nanny from the longish short story “The Sad Fortunes of Reverend Amos Barton” in the Scenes of Clerical Life collection George Eliot wrote before embarking on her astonishing career as a novelist. Nanny is the servant who memorably denounces a freeloading countess who overstays her welcome in the Bartons’ struggling household and even endangers the health of Amos’ kindhearted wife Milly.

How about Lee in John Steinbeck’s gripping East of Eden? That servant is an intellectual guy who cleverly deals with anti-Asian prejudice in the American West of the late 1800s/early 1900s and serves as a surrogate father to the Trask sons when biological father Adam is traumatized by a disastrous marriage.

Then there are the underlings/sidekicks such as Sancho Panza in Miguel Cervantes’ iconic Don Quixote and Samwise in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the former book, squire Sancho is a humorous/competent companion to the less-than-practical Quixote. In the latter work, gardener Samwise becomes an invaluable friend to Frodo — who, while admirable and brave, would have been in dire straits without Sam’s help during the Tolkien trilogy’s epic quest.

Speaking of funny characters, and characters named Sam, it’s hard to beat Sam Weller of Charles Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club when it comes to literature’s all-time underlings.

There’s also Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, in which loyal butler Stevens comes to regret a major missed opportunity in his life.

Last but by no means least, we can’t forget the many fictional African-American characters forced into servant work or outright slaveryย  — whether it be in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Alex Haley’s Roots, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and many other novels. “Uncle Tom” became a derogatory term, but Tom in the book is quite courageous in his turn-the-other-cheek way — and is clearly the moral center of Stowe’s story.

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Rita Mae Brown’s Murder at Monticello are among the numerous other novels that have interesting references to the horrific institution of slavery — the ultimate servanthood.

What are your favorite literary works featuring servants, butlers, maids, valets, and others of that station in life? (The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments. But your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area, unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment!)

(Thanks to Eric Pollock for reminding me of The Remains of the Day, to Geoff M./hopper250 for recommending the exciting works of James Fenimore Cooper, and to Carolyn L./giftsthatpurr for recommending Rita Mae Brown’s engaging mysteries.)

I’ve written more than half of a book with a literature theme. But in the meantime, I’m still selling my Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir.

In that often-humorous book, I recall 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors.ย On the personal front, the memoir also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my divorce and remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times.

You can contact me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of Comic (and Column) Confessionalย — which includes a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson and others.

And for three years of my Huffington Post essays on literature, click here.

150 thoughts on “Servants in Literature

  1. I was seeking short, but memorable lines from famous novels that reference a boy servant in some regard (could be a ship’s boy) or a young servant boy. If anyone has any for me to seek out send them on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jacob! This column is from July 2014, so it’s unlikely anyone would be reading it anymore. But good luck with your research. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember any lines relating to a boy servant.

      Like

  2. Dave, not exactly a servant, but close enough to it, the dwarf from Par Lagerkvist’s novel of the same title is an interesting character. He is the right-hand / helper of a local prince in a 15th c. Italian city, and serves his master with both pride and arrogance. He is deeply religious and as deeply misogynist and misanthropic (a perfect exemplification of men who populate today’s so-called Christian manosphere, BTW; look it up at your own risk).

    When I say that he’s interesting, I mean this from the angle of understanding human pathology and specifically evil, which the dwarf embodies with a frightening purity and ease. He’s archetypal in this, and it is a testament to Lagerkvist’s genius to portray this exemplar of human evil in such a convincing and timeless fashion.

    The novel is written from the dwarf’s first-hand perspective, so we get a glimpse at the inner workings of a deeply sociopathic character who nevertheless considers himself to be above the rest of humanity, whose “inferior” feelings and dealings — like love, humility, and pursuit of the truth, for example, which are alien to his sociopathic nature — he disdains. It is an inside-out study of malignant narcissism.

    I read it as a clinical psychology student in my early 20’s, and was struck by its astuteness at the time, thinking that we should have studied it in our psychopathology classes (I still think that). What I did not fully understand then, in my youth, is that people like the dwarf exist all around us and that pure evil comes under such everyday guises like religious and other self-righteousness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bella, such an eloquent and insightful comment — topped off by a spot-on last thought. Evil indeed comes in everyday guises, including that of “perfect”-looking people. I will definitely look for “The Dwarf” when I read Par Lagerkvist again.

      Would answer longer, but have to pack in order to be on the road back home tomorrow morning. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Dave.

        Packing again, oy. I hate packing, of any kind, so you have my sympathy, along with wishes of a safe trip home.

        P.S. I appreciate the “likes” under the comments, and would like to add mine, but it turns out that I’d have to register with WordPress, which I have apparently done in the past (as I’m being informed) even though I cannot access my account for some obscure reasons and reset my password.

        So this is my apology / explanation for not being able to show that I indeed like your and other people’s comments here, even though I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, great website!. It is a lot of “”PageDown-ing” to get here. Servants do run the gambit from serving the wealthy to the poor, principal character to minor character, foil to creepy, and in the latter category, a great servant with infinite possibilities can be found in any Sherlock Holmes story, from culprit to hero.

    Eric

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Eric, for your comment and the praise! Wonderful seeing you here, after seeing so many of your superb comments over at HP!

      Sorry about all the scrolling down to get to the new-comments box. As you know, the comment ends up on top after it posts, but I can’t figure out in my blog’s settings how to get the empty box on top, pre-post. Maybe there’s no way to do it.

      I could change the settings to divide the comments into different, shorter pages — which might bring the empty new-comments box higher. But then the comments couldn’t be seen in one big, no-clicking sweep. And the comments are terrific!

      Anyway, to get to the main point of your comment. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re absolutely right that there’s an immense variety of servants in literature. You stated that so well. I realize, in rereading my post, that I mostly focused on likable/admirable servants of the rich or somewhat rich.

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      • iI remember having a lengthy discussion about โ€œRemains of the Dayโ€ on HP and that the book was made better by having it from the perspective of the principal character, the servant in the household from which he can comment on not only what he was witness to by the wealthy family living on the vast estate, but also commented on his opportunities in life serving the wealthy and his missed opportunities in his personal life when the job was the only thing that mattered to him

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is indeed effective that “The Remains of the Day” is told from the servant’s perspective. Fictional works often benefit from that approach, rather than having things chronicled by the author/narrator. Plus, having things told from a servant’s point of view enables the author to (directly or indirectly) say a lot about class differences and how the rich often are not deserving of their station in life.

          I know I’m stating the obvious. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Thanks for the excellent comment, Eric!

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  4. Hi Dave! It’s Lauren. I’m so excited about this new blog and can’t wait to see all of the things that you write about!

    My first thought about servants was “The Handmaid’s Tale” – certainly an unconventional “servant” in literature, but that’s what makes it interesting (and is very accurate). In all ways, Offred is a slave and servant to the men that control her fate – she is in sexual and emotional bondage. She is forced into childbearing, and also participates in menial tasks that define the word “servant.” To say it’s one of my favorite novels is an understatement, and it should be read in all classrooms for its potent observations on gender, society, and the insertion of fundamentalism in politics.

    Less subtly, “The Servant’s Quarters” is a strange and magical historical fiction that was full of surprises and nothing at all what I expected. I wouldn’t even call it historical fiction, but that’s the closest genre to which it falls into. It’s not for everyone, though. It’s definitely an obscure recent novel that I was surprised that I enjoyed so thoroughly.

    Also, to add to the slave narratives, I would HIGHLY recommend Harriet Jacobs’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” It opened my eyes and was brutal to read. But worth it. And necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lauren, thanks so much for your generous words! Great to see a comment from you again! I remember your insights over at HP about everything from “The Hunger Games” to the work of Edith Wharton (who I will mention in my next post).

      The protagonist of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a depressing but superb novel I reread a few months ago, is indeed a servant in many senses of the word. Excellent insight, eloquently stated. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, who, as you know, has written more than a dozen not-to-be-missed novels in various genres.

      Thanks, also, for mentioning those two other books. I read “Incidents” several years ago; it was indeed a painful read that needs to be read. And Lynn Freed’s “The Servant’s Quarters” sounds very intriguing; I will look for it in my local library.

      Like

  5. Hi Dave … It was so good to receive your email inviting me to your new blog; thank you so much for keeping me in mind. It will be nice to take part in these wonderful discussions again without having to deal with HP! I can’t really think of anything to add to your post. The only servant that popped into my mind was the sinister housekeeper in “Rebecca” and she wasn’t at all endearing (but she was majorly insane and totally fascinating). The main thing I wanted to say was what has already been said here by others: Welcome back, Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Pat! I missed your comments when they no longer appeared at HP, and am very glad to see one here. ๐Ÿ™‚

      My post focused mostly on likable and/or admirable servants, but some of “the help” in literature are not so endearing. You cited a great example of that!

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  6. Hi Dave,
    I was just thinking about you and what happened to your blog, and then I found your e-mail. Glad to see you’re still around, and in a friendlier place. HP is devolving into a collection of junk appealing to the barely literate. Too bad.
    About the servants in literature, I do not have anything original to add to the comments – my first thought was the butler in The Remains of the Day, and I see I’m not alone in that. I deeply felt his regret at having missed the opportunity for happiness, maybe because I’m getting to that age when such thoughts are more frequent with the realization that there aren’t many days left. In addition, I was impressed by the understanding of the upper-class British culture by the Japanese author.
    On a more cheerful note, Jeeves of course stands out — I have read all the books, a couple of them more than once, and yes, I also have all the DVDs. They do wonders to cheer up a gloomy day. I just love the way the British can skewer the pretensions of their upper classes.
    Welcome back, Dave!!! You, and all the wonderful commenters, remind me that there my beloved world of books and thoughts and ideas is still out there — something I forget at times while I’m struggling with a stack of documents waiting for my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kinds words, saralei, and it’s great to hear from you again! I appreciate you taking the time, because I know how hard you work.

      Yes, HP has had more and more “issues” — with its content, its comments format, and more. I guess the site is trying to increase its profits in any way it can, but it made many commenters and bloggers very unhappy. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ And, as you note, those commenters (you among them) brought so much to HP.

      “The Remains of the Day” is in many ways the quintessential “servant novel,” and I’m glad you mentioned it again. Readers can indeed identify with Stevens’ missed opportunity, and I hear you that people getting older (I include myself in that group!) find something like that especially poignant.

      I agree that Jeeves is such a wonderful literary creation.

      Thanks for the eloquent comment!

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  7. I am so happy to see your blog, Dave! I was absolutely famished for another book piece! Of course, Jane Eyre is the first “servant” that crossed my mind! However, there are many of her genre in literature. I wouldn’t call her work great literature by any means, but one of the best works of an author named Eleanor Hibbert (aka Victoria Holt) in my humble opinion is a book called The Secret Woman about a woman of reduced means who must become a governess to survive. Thus begins the rest of her life!

    Another servant who comes to mind is “My Man Godfrey” which was a fabulous movie with William Powell. However, that screenplay was based on 1011 Fifth, a short novel by Eric Hatch. I never heard of the novel, but I adored that old movie!

    I’m so happy to see you here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mary, for your kind words and excellent comment! I hope to be writing about books more often again (in this blog) — especially from mid-August on.

      As a governess, Jane Eyre is indeed partly a servant, even as she’s sort of “above” other servants in the hierarchy of Rochester’s house. I’m glad you mentioned her — and “The Secret Woman” book, which sounds very intriguing.

      I never knew “My Man Godfrey” was based on a novel. Thanks for that information! As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s interesting how certain movies become much more famous than the novels that inspire them.

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  8. I read something last night that I thought would be appropriate for this topic. I have a copy of The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain at my desk. A Dog’s Tale is short story #9. It starts off as a lovely tale about a dog named Aileen (it’s written from her POV). She’s happy, adventurous, carefree, the servants treat her well, and she is obviously loved.

    A fire broke out in the house. Aileen risked her life to save the baby of her master and mistress by pulling her out of the crib. This was where I almost had to stop reading. Her master inflicted physical pain on her because he thought she was trying to harm the child when in reality she saved the child’s life. Later into the story, Aileen’s master (he was a scientist) conducted some sort of research experiment on Aileen’s puppy, which caused blindness and ultimately death.

    A servant was ordered to bury the puppy. With a heavy heart, he did what he was told. Aileen saw her puppy getting buried. She associated the burying of her puppy with “planting”, and assured herself that new puppies would eventually grow from the ground.

    All of the servants took pity on her. They did their best to comfort her once she realised that her puppy was gone, and that no new ones would be “sprouting” from the ground. But the servant who buried the puppy pointed out the irony: Aileen risked her life to save her master’s child, but her master had no problem with ending the life of Aileen’s child.

    The servants in this short story had compassion, sympathy, and expressed more emotion than their master. And even though Aileen was a dog, she had more humanity than her owner could ever possess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a Twain story I’ve never read, and the content of the tale — and your marvelous description of it — bowled me over. Wow. I’m not sure I can bear to read the story, but it does say a whole lot about the inhumanity of some people and the humanity of others. Thanks for bringing it up here.

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  9. Hi Dave, please let me add my congratulations to you on this new venture, and it’s nice to see familiar commenters from your HP blog. As you know, I closed out my account on HP because of the ludicrous new commenting policy (at the same time they are publishing one of their many critical articles about Facebook)..

    Before I even read your article and just saw the headline, my first thought was of Jeeves, one of my favorite literary characters. This is not only because of reading the works of Wodehouse, but because of the quite wonderful BBC series with Steven Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster. I have the whole series on DVD and have watched them all many times. You’re quite right about who is the adult in the room.. A somewhat similar dynamic exists between Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Bunter, in the mystery series by Dorothy L. Sayers; although to be fair, Lord Peter is a brilliant scholar and detective who graduated from Balliol at Oxford. It just seems that Lord Peter is still better at everything because of Bunter.

    I was glad to see that someone mentioned Jane Eyre, because of the distinction that used to be made (especially in Britain) about a governess, who was neither a servant nor a family member. I must admit that as a young teen (much to the dismay of my English teachers), I gobbled up romantic suspense that usually had a governess end up with the lord of the manor.

    I think your readers are spot on with their comments about “Ethan Frome” and you as well with “The Remains of the Day.” However, I do have a problem with the slaves/servants in “Gone With the Wind.” I loved the book and the movie when I was a kid, but now I find them somewhat troubling

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to see you here, Kat Lib! And I appreciate the congratulations. ๐Ÿ™‚ You are one of many who became dismayed with HP, and it IS ironic that the site has aligned with Facebook while also publishing articles critical of Facebook.

      Jeeves is indeed a wonderful character, and P.G. Wodehouse’s short stories and novels starring that butler are among the funniest and most engaging things I’ve ever read. That BBC series sounds marvelous, too!

      As I also told “little princess,” I must, must, must soon read Dorothy Sayers for the first time. You described Wimsey and Bunter so well.

      Thanks also for your interesting thoughts about “Jane Eyre,” “Ethan Frome,” “The Remains of the Day,” and “Gone With the Wind.” You’re absolutely right that the last novel and its movie version are compelling but problematic. Parts of them make me wince.

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      • Dave, all these books are fictions and so is Gone With the Wind…but it was reality too and I think we need to acknowledge the past to be able move on to the future. Yes a lot have changed since then, now we have Barack Obama as our two term President and he happens to be black.
        We still have a long way to go…KKK still exists to this very day as it did back then.

        A movie I saw was Butler but if there is a book I have not read that…then ” Help” and was mentioned before a well written book.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true, bebe. The best fiction is often based on fact, and some facts — like slavery and the KKK — are very painful. Also, as you note, racism today is still all around — albeit more muted in some cases.

          I haven’t seen “The Butler” movie, but I just checked Wikipedia and apparently the screenplay was based on a Washington Post article.

          Thanks for your spot-on comment!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Good afternoon Dave…I was trying to read some of your wonderful blogs elsewhere…found ” An Appreciation of George Eliot ” has only one comment that was your`s.
    I just hope you had a chance to save them somewhere all those excellent comments totally wiped out for no good reasons.
    Who do they operate this way ?

    Good for all of your readers and fans that you started your own blog so you no longer have to post some via your e mail.

    Thank you and Cheers !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good afternoon to you, too, bebe!

      Yes, HP wiped out all the comments (well over 100) under my George Eliot post from April. I (politely) emailed HP about that, and was unfortunately totally ignored (as is often the case when people write that site). I didn’t save the comments — all gone, and there were some great ones (from individuals and even the England-based George Eliot Society). ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      It is indeed wonderful that everyone can now post their own comments again!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don`t I know that.?
        You have a humorous way of making your grand entrance..so you and Love it.
        Signed once a badge-less Gypsy now a bebe…the same nomad kind.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Servants didn’t always work in the homes of aristocrats and the elite. Some also worked in homes of the underclass. Mattie from Ethan Frome falls in the latter category. She was hired to do domestic duties and look after Zeena Frome, a woman with serious hypochondria who thrived on attention.

    Once she realised the feelings that her husband was developing for Mattie, the humiliation started. She critised Mattie’s cooking, her ability to keep house, and everything about her. Zeena was doing more than just belittling Mattie; she wanted to break her down spiritually and emotionally. And I know adultery is wrong, but you can’t help but to cheer on the blossoming relationship occurring between Mattie and Ethan.

    The servant/master/mistress dynamic in Ethan Frome is a little different because of the familial relations between Mattie and Zeena (I believe they were cousins), and the Fromes’ financial situation. They were lower class people, not exactly the type you’d think would have a servant/maid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point about servants not always working in upper-income households, though I imagine it’s less frequent. And servants in that case might be less-well-off relatives, as you noted with Mattie being the cousin of (the very unlikable) Zeena.

      Reminds me a tiny bit of “Mansfield Park.” Fanny was by no means a servant in Jane Austen’s novel, but she sometimes was treated almost like one in the Mansfield Park household of her relatives. Of course, those relatives were more affluent than the Fromes!

      “Ethan Frome” was the first Edith Wharton novel I read, and it’s a fantastic, heartbreaking book.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!

      Like

    • Sorry to append this comment to yours, but just now I can’t seem to get a comment window going here– just a reply.

      Happened to finish “The Emperor’s Tomb” by Joseph Roth last week and in it, an even more extraordinary master-servant dynamic– housed in one person!

      “…I went first to Chojnicki in the Weiden.
      He was sitting in his old drawing room in his old house. He was barely recognizable because he had had his moustache shaved off. ‘Why? What for?’ I asked him.
      ‘So that I look like my own servant. I am my own servant. I open the door. I polish my own boots. I ring when I want something and then come in myself. “What does the Herr Graf require?” “Cigarettes!” So I send myself to the tobacconists.”….

      Liked by 2 people

      • Append away! Very sorry you couldn’t get a comment window.

        Wow — what an amazing passage from “The Emperorโ€™s Tomb,โ€ and so relevant to this discussion. Master-servant in one person!!!! Thanks, jhNY.

        (A few minutes ago, I emailed you again about the “like” issue.)

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  12. The passing of South African Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer leads me to reflect that while this topic may trend towards comic ,comedy of manners, type writings it also raise some serious moral quandaries. Her 1981 novel July’s People in particular bears discussion. A post revolutionary SA in which the power structure has been reversed and the former ruling class is in exile or being hunted has a young conflicted liberal couple being hidden among various bush relatives of their former servant July. Like all of Gordimer’s work nothing is black and white, questionable pun intended. The wife in particular seems determined to erase the very nature of their former relationship while July at one point asks if he still gets paid. The book is remarkable in it’s portrayal of a somewhat pampered couple learning to survive in the outback. The question of a new fully reversed relationship between servant and “master” is not as obviously resolved as one might have expected. Necessary choices balancing out the need to survive with at least choosing the lessor evil punctuated by inevitable misunderstandings leavened by the occasional act of common decency or even nobility appears to be the best we can do. I think in the end what the book’s theme may have in common with some of the lighter classics discussed above such as Pickwick and Jeeves is that who and what makes for servant and master is a lot more ambiguous than appears on the surface. I also should add that I can’t begin to do justice to the sophisticated and nuanced nature of Gordimer’s writing.
    Postscript, I also found my browser freaking out as I tried to “like” comments as another poster said. It’s a shame because there is a lot of great stuff below, I think you’ve got something here Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donny, first I’ll respond to the “like”/browser issue you’ve had along with a couple of other people. I wasn’t having that problem on my 2012 Mac laptop, but this morning when I went on a 2007 Dell laptop (that I use when my wife is using the Mac), I had that “like” problem. So, I wonder if using an older version of a browser (in my case, Firefox on the Dell) is what causes this. Perhaps some other kinds of older browsers work better, I don’t know.

      I did ask WordPress tech support about this, and will relay what they say after I hear back.

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    • And now, Donny, to reply to your marvelous comment about Nadime Gordimer. I blush to say I’ve somehow never read her work, but I need to give it a try — soon! “July’s People” sounds like a fascinating/multilayered read.

      Indeed, some novels featuring servants are as serious as can be — the amazing “Wuthering Heights,” for one, is low on the humor quotient.

      And I totally agree that the servant-master relationship can be ambiguous. Certainly, Jeeves in Wodehouse’s work and Lee in “East of Eden” are basically running the households. They’re the adults in the room!

      Lastly, thanks so much for the kind words about the blog! I agree that the comments have been absolutely terrific. Perhaps even better than under my HP columns, because people here don’t have to worry about over-the-top moderation — or any moderation! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

      • One last note, Donny. Despite the “like”/browser issue for some people, I’ve found WordPress very easy to use in terms of setting up the blog, commenting on the blog, etc. I also like the way the blog looks, which I owe to WordPress!

        Like

  13. Although its a screenplay decades later adapted for the stage, the very dark Sunset Blvd. Devoted to Norma Desmond, Max,her servant,confidant, one of last true friends had an allegiance to her life above his own. They lived in the silent film world,not in the world that was their present tense. It was safer there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ironically, the chauffeur/butler/manservant was played, as noted, by Eric Von Stroheim, who had previously directed Swanson in “Queen Kelly”, just as his fictional character had once directed Desmond. “Queen Kelly” was difficult for all concerned– Joseph Kennedy was Swanson’s backer and love interest— and he loathed much of what Von Stroheim had filmed for his money. As did Swanson….

      In all fairness, Von Stroheim did seem to offer up egregious outrageousness to keep the pot boiling.

      I don’t think anything like a complete copy of this film still exists.

      For a wonderful Von Stroheim film, see “Foolish Wives”– I have, five times at least, though it’s silent, and over three hours long!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for all that fascinating information, jhNY! Other than the Kennedy-Swanson connection, I learned several things I hadn’t known. Definitely some life imitating art/art imitating life there! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. Hi Dave and all the others! Good to be here.

    Jeeves, of course, and Sancho Pansa. But I can’t believe nobody mentioned Bunter yet, of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels, the classical dedicated servant, quietly running the show around the show. And that is so typical, the loyal and well treated servant as a sidekick in the story. I tried to think of a servant-centred book, and the (already mentioned) Uncle Tom story was the only one I can think of at the moment. I read the book as a kid, and I didn’t feel (then) that was anything derogatory about him, I guess he was another grown up to me, so to be respected, since he was knowledgeable.

    Okay, I keep it short and see how this works, first. (trying to “Like” a comment got my browser go mad)

    Liked by 2 people

    • littleprincess, so great to see a comment from you again!

      I have never read Dorothy Sayers but, after seeing your second paragraph, I resolve to try a book of hers sometime in 2014! Great description of Bunter.

      Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book is really heroic in a Gandhi/Martin Luther King type of way.

      Sorry about your “like”/browser situation. Not sure what could have caused that. (I’m not low-tech but also not high-tech — sort of middle-tech!) You’re very welcome to try to avoid browser problems by not liking any of my comments. (Seriously.)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. For literal servants, I am drawn to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I read the book first. The film version with Anthony Hopkins was excellent. Very sad when the aging father of the main character (head butler) is kept on as servant, but his abilities are failing. And when he dies the main character must suppress his emotions and carry on with his duties (this I recall from the film, not sure about the novel).

    Then there are the metaphorical servants, or slaves to the “system.” A good example is the American dream. Take Willie Loman’s (Death of a Salesman) 40-year long delusion about the rewards he expected from the company he worked for and in the role of servant to a corporate master achieved little, if anything.

    Speaking of delusion, take Ned Merrill in John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” a fantastic short story I came across only a couple of years ago when teaching a summer class. Ned’s upper-class affluent circle is revealed when he decides to swim home across his neighbor’s pools (this class society is the thing that Willy Loman might have aspired to). The only problem is that Ned has been cast out, having lost his job, his marriage, his children, and his home, but he maintains everything is just fine–until he arrives home, disoriented, to find his property long-abandoned.

    If we read the story or watch the 1966 film with Burt Lancaster, as Ned encounters his neighbors along his “swim”, we feel we have met these people, shallow like their pools, before. Try The Graduate. We all know the Dustin Hoffman film, which has a scene in which the character, Ben, is being harassed on his birthday at poolside by insensitive parents and, well, clones of Ned’s neighbors. Ben gets off the path his parents and the Ned Merrills took before it’s too late. The Graduate was originally a 1963 novel by Charles Webb.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Remains of the Day” was quite a novel, wasn’t it? So subtle, yet so emotionally powerful.

      Terrific point about metaphorical servants, and Willy Loman is a prime example.

      That John Cheever story sounds fascinating! Will look for it.

      I had no idea “The Graduate” was originally a novel! One of those stories that became more famous as a movie than a book.

      Thanks for the exceptional comment, Joe!

      Like

    • I really appreciated that you included the last of the Mohicans, a favorite tale I was introduced to as a young child. Not the best story for a child, but I learned a lot about our nation, via this story. It’s a good thing. Nice reflections today, Dave!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the congratulations and kind words, HopeWFaith!

        As you eloquently note, “The Last of the Mohicans” is an excellent and at times heartbreaking novel that’s also a real history lesson. GL Meisner below recommended I read James Fenimore Cooper a few months ago, and I’ve now finished the first three (chronologically) of The Leatherstocking Tales, of which “The Last of the Mohicans” is the second and “The Deerslayer” and “The Pathfinder” are the first and third.

        Cooper is a bit wordy, as many 19th-century novelists were, but so compelling and page-turning. And his Native American and women characters are more nuanced than one would expect from a guy writing in the first half of the 1800s.

        It was also fun to learn that his father founded Cooperstown. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

        • Your enthusiasm for Cooper may be tempered by the written opinion of Mark Twain, which I feel sure was less extreme than remarks he might have made on his subject in private. Worth a read if you need a laugh or three.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, jhNY! I’ve heard about Twain’s disdain for Cooper, though I’ve never read the specifics. Cooper is certainly open for criticism, and I like Twain’s writing better, but the three Cooper novels I read held my interest from start to finish. I’ve also heard that many 19th-century European readers, critics, and authors (including Balzac) were Cooper fans.

            Twain certainly had a number of authors he disliked, including Sir Walter Scott. But, late in life, Twain did like the wonderful “Anne of Green Gables”! ๐Ÿ™‚

            Like

  16. Most of classics have been covered. I missed seeing the house elves in the “Harry Potter” series, they are perhaps the most solid example of servanthood and they fit the old Victorian ideal of “seen but not heard.”

    Also congrats Dave. Hopper250/Geoff M here.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I too thought about Dilsey in ‘The Sound and the Fury,’ who is a companion character to Mammy in ‘Gone With the Wind.’ Actually, one could write a metafictional novel drawing on both of those and make Dilsey the daughter of Mammy (?) and link the two stories together. But getting back to servants, I am thinking of the fools in Shakespeare’s plays as servants of a sort, especially the Fool in ‘King Lear.’ The fool is the wisest character in the entire play and, by virtue of the fact that he is such a fool, he can get by with saying things that would be hanging offenses if others said them. He stays with Lear as much as Sancho stays with the Don so in my opinion he’s a manservant that happens to be a wiseass. Can’t think of other servants that haven’t already been mentioned but I know they abound. Glad to see you here, Dave, and I’m also glad to see many of the usual suspects appearing as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian, thanks for your fascinating thoughts about the fools in Shakespeare’s work, and about other characters in other works! It is indeed true that “fools” can often say insightful and controversial things others can’t get away with. In a sense, that’s also the case with stand-up comedians.

      I appreciate the kind words at the end of your comment, and I’m glad to see you (and other past and present HP readers) here, too!

      Like

  18. Robert Walser’s “The Assistant” features, natch, a hired helper, who like everybody else who does anything for his employer, gets no pay for his troubles, which are many, and only mostly self-imposed. His ineptitude as an assistant dovetails nicely with the basic inanity of his master’s inventions and inventiveness, so that their combining of powers guarantees no good outcome for either, or for any in the household.

    Jacques,the aged servant in Joseph Roth’s “The Radetsky March”, representing, however creakily, continuity of the old order, dies after polishing a row of boots for his master, who in gratitude for a lifetime of service gives him “a first-class funeral, with four back horses and eight liveried footmen.” The master, District Captain Von Trotta, is his only mourner.

    Caleb Williams, servant to Rochester in the William Godwin novel “Caleb Williams”, pursues forbidden knowledge (without exactly knowing why, or for that matter, himself)) among his master’s private papers, for which industry he is rewarded with a lifetime of persecution, though in the end what was hidden has come to light. The limitations of each class– servant and master– and their unequal means of exercising themselves as exemplars of their respective classes, form the heart of this novel.

    I would have listed Dilsey (“She endured.”), but it’s been done.

    Liked by 1 person

      • jhNY, “The Assistant” is a perfect example of the underling in literature. Fascinating novel, which I had the pleasure of reading after you recommended it!

        There was also Bernard Malamud’s “The Assistant,” a very good novel, too.

        I’ve had Joseph Roth and William Godwin (Mary Shelley’s dad!) on my list for a while, and will try to get to one or both soon.

        Thanks for the VERY eloquent comment!

        Like

      • Very happy to be here; happy to see you and many others who once gathered under Dave’s columns at HP, and may again, should he choose to write for them again.

        I can’t be among that happy band, as I am with out facebook and interest in same.

        Glad to have someplace to go!

        Liked by 1 person

      • My favorite Roth:

        “The Rudetsky March”, followed by “The Emperor’s Tomb”, which is a companion piece.

        Both concern themselves with the destruction if the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

        He writes beautifully. Hope you have opportunity to enjoy him!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. The first servants who sprang to my mind were the no-longer-among-the-living sinister valet Peter Quint and the sobbing governess Miss Jessel, whose spirits appear to haunt the susceptible replacement governess, Miss Giddons, in Henry Jamesโ€™ atmospheric โ€œThe Turn of the Screw.โ€ Iโ€™ve read the novel, but Iโ€™m much more familiar with the story its movie form as โ€œThe Innocentsโ€ โ€” a movie that has been scaring the daylights out of me โ€” and Lily! โ€” since we first saw it at the age of 9 ca 1962. The scene where Quintโ€™s knowing face leers through the glass at Miss Siddons gave me nightmares.

    Another memorable member of the governess class is Nana, the devoted Newfoundland nursemaid to the Darling children in James M. Barrieโ€™s โ€œPeter Pan.โ€ I was probably reading *that* book for the umpteenth time under the covers the same night I woke up screaming over Peter Quint.

    (This is the first time Iโ€™ve posted to you, but I used to read your blog on the HP and Iโ€™ve read your wonderful book. Congrats on your new site!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your terrific comment, Esmeralda, and for bringing a memorable Henry James novel into the discussion! Definitely a prime example of servants in literature.

      Very relevant to mention the “Peter Pan” book, too. I recently moved, and unearthed an old video of Mary Martin’s famous TV performance as Peter. But, like most people, I don’t use a VCR anymore. ๐Ÿ™‚

      As for your last paragraph, thanks so much for reading my past HP pieces, for your kind words about my book, and for your congratulations on this new site.

      Your sister is a very knowledgeable and very friendly person, and I can see you’re the same way!

      Like

      • Dave,thank you for you kind words too!
        Hey, I still use a VCR.(g) In fact Lily and I watched her tape of Mary Martin’s PP this past winter.

        Are you familiar with British novelist Winston Graham’s Poldark books? This was a series of novels set in Cornwall in the late 1700/early 1800’s featuring dashing Ross Poldark and his family, friends and enemies. (It was dramatized and aired in the U.S. as popular Masterpiece Theater series back in the day and is being remade now.) Anyway, Ross employed a pair of memorable servants, the usually pickled Jud Paynter and his wife Prudie.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re very welcome, Esmeralda.

          Wow — great that you still have a working VCR!

          I’ve heard of the Poldark books, but never read them. I enjoyed your alliterative last line about those two servants. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Like

          • An amazing coincidence (as so often happens with your erudite readers, Dave): I am currently viewing the Poldark series (1975+) and have but three remaining discs of 15 total, each containing two episodes. I have never seen any Marilyn Monroe “impersonators” who appear as Marilyn in various biopix as much as the late, whimsical actress who starred in Poldark, Angharad Rees. More than Monroe, she was just about the spitting image of the original Marilyn: Norma Jean.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Synchronicity and books just go together, don’t they? Lily and I were lucky enough to meet Robin Ellis (Ross Poldark) last year when he visited DC (near where we live). Robin had announced on his own blog when/where he would be in DC — a local bookstore’cafe, natch — and said to drop by and say hello. We did, and our long-time fanship was totally rewarded because Robin Ellis was every bit as lovely and gentlemanly as you would want the portrayer of Ross Poldark to be!

              Many years ago, in 1980, we also met Angharad Rees and her then-husband Christopher Cazenove, in NYC, totally by coincidence, when we went to a play that CC happened to be appearing in. (We were also fans of his, after seeing him in a great BBC series called “The Duchess of Duke Street.”) Again, talk about synchronistic! We had no idea we were going to end up meeting either much less both of them when we went to NYC that weekend. They were both also lovely to us.

              And to bring this back to the topic of Dave’s post, Angharad Rees played Demelza Carne Poldark, another servant in Ross Poldark’s house before she became his wife.

              Liked by 2 people

                • Now this is getting spooky! I’m pretty sure that Robin Ellis was in DC for President Obama’s second inauguration. He mentioned that his wife Meredith (who is American and whom we also met there) is the head of a Democrats Abroad group where they live in southern France (or something like that!), so that was the implication, anyway. Robin was informally hanging out at the bookstore (Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle) and not promoting his book there, although I think he may have been doing that in NYC the day before, prior to coming to DC… maybe not the Poldark book but a diabetic cookbook he had just written (can’t recall for sure).

                  The new Making Poldark book is an update of a book that Robin wrote in the ’70’s, which Lily and I had bought copies of at the time, and although Lily took a copy of the new Poldark book for Robin to sign, she mentioned that we also had the original. He seemed really surprised we still had them!

                  Liked by 1 person

          • I also have a working VCR and scores of videotapes. But then, I’ve got 1500+ lp’s and a few hundred 78’s– and players too. The rest of my tiny NYC apartment is overrun with books. Having no yard, I anticipate no sale….

            Liked by 1 person

            • Wow! And a hilarious last line!

              I can’t even begin to approach your impressive collection, jhNY. A few dozen videotapes (but no VCR), about a hundred LPs, a couple hundred 45’s, and no 78’s — unless I glue a 33 LP and 45 single together. ๐Ÿ™‚

              Like

              • Feel free to ship some of those 45’s to me. I’m always looking to beef up my music collection. I’ll take classic rock, R&B, and pop. Throw in some dance hits too so I can get my party on.

                Liked by 1 person

                • LOL! Loved your comment! I will ship those 45’s to “Anonymous, USA.” ๐Ÿ™‚

                  My 45’s are mostly from 1963 to the early ’70s — with many of the usual suspects: The Beatles, The Who, The Moody Blues, Sly and the Family Stone, Lesley Gore, etc., etc. But I couldn’t seem to find a Taylor Swift record back then…

                  Like

    • “The Innocents” was derived from the play of the same name, published 1950, by William Archibald, and was itself of course based on Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw”. You may find the play (which I’ve got around here someplace) more closely resembles the movie.

      I too was taken too early to see this haunting thing, age 9ish, in the company of my little sister and my mother, who having read James, might have been expected to know better. Only subsequent viewings over the years have allowed me a bit of distance from the abject fear I sunk into during my first viewing. Now I actually consider it occasionally hokey….

      Incidentally, Archibald contributed to the screenplay too, as did: Truman Capote(!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your very kind/very clever words, Cathy!

      I might still contribute to HP here and there, but this blog will be my blogging focus. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I eagerly await your new real-estate-humor book!

      Like

  20. Exiting blog Dave love the page layout looks so neat.

    Thought about ” The Help”, “Driving Ms. Daisy” but they were covered already.

    The servant with no name comes to my mind is Mammy the ever faithful one in ” Gone With The Wind”, she was always at Scarlet`s beck `n call but dared to speak up at Scarlet`s self absorbing personalities and repeatedly scolded her. Mammy also showed her intense dislike toward Rhett Butler but eventually wore the red Petticoat Rhett presented her with to celebrate the birth of his child. .
    When tragedy sets in Rhett won her heart..

    Then there was Prissy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, bebe! WordPress gets the credit. ๐Ÿ™‚

      “Gone With the Wind” — definitely! I forgot about that novel when writing my post. I appreciate your excellent description/summary of the relationship between those three characters.

      Such a shame that a fine actress like Hattie McDaniel was mostly forced to play servant roles.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi dear, well said, I like the layout, too, easy to read font. And commenting is easy, i guess I keep from liking comments for now).

      Well done, Dave.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Gone With The Wind was the first thing I thought of too. I figured that after this long, someone would have already mentioned it. I think everyone should have a Mammy

      Liked by 2 people

    • Great addition, Bob! How could I have forgotten that novel? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for the excellent/humorous comment.

      As I also just mentioned in a Facebook reply to you, I’m almost finished with your new “Here’s Clare” novel. Terrific book — especially for readers who love politics, humor, and a little romance.

      Like

  21. Dave ,Great to see you started your own blog and are now not only an official HP refugee but are to be running a virtual refugee camp. First thing that came to mind as I read through your essay was the inimitable Sam Wellers servant and Savior of Mr. Pickwick. Nineteenth century literature is of course chock full of “servants” on their way to higher things Jane Eyre as an obvious example . I plan on dropping back in later and shall see if I can hunt down our well read friend named after an obscure pitcher .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loved your first line, Donny! (And the rest of your comment, too.)

      Yes, Sam Weller was quite a literary creation. Hilarious, and he essentially launched Charles Dickens’ amazing career.

      Definitely layers of servants in “Jane Eyre.” The title character was a governess, of course, and then there were servants sort of below her in the Rochester-household hierarchy.

      Thanks for seeking out that early-20th-century Cubs hurler! ๐Ÿ™‚ I fortunately have contact info for many former HP commenters, but there are many former ones I don’t know how to reach. (Olderandwiser55 being one of numerous examples.) Oh well.

      Like

  22. Dave, your post made me think of “Driving Miss Daisy” but then I realized it was a play (and movie). And that brought up the question as to whether or not a play (albeit Pulitzer price winning) qualifies as Literature. Love the new blog idea, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, energywriter!

      I’ve only read a few Agatha Christie mysteries, but I see what you’re saying about how crucial the servants in them can be to the stories.

      British literature of a certain age has a number of excellent servant characters!

      Like

  23. Howdy, Dave!

    โ€” What are your favorite literary works featuring servants, butlers, maids, valets, and others of that station in life? โ€”

    My autobiography, of course. Actually, the first novel to flash across my brainscreen today was William Faulknerโ€™s โ€œThe Sound and the Fury,โ€ which featured among those who endured the character of Dilsey.

    Besides being a classic of the authorโ€™s Yoknapatawpha County oeuvre โ€” Say it with me: Oeuvre! โ€” the book is memorable because of all the narrative shifts that had me coming and going my initial time through it, adrift in multiple streams of consciousness.

    If I had not read โ€œThe Sound and the Furyโ€ when I was a kid, then I most likely would not have misspent all those years since the third quarter of the last century of the last millennium torturing the American language.

    Of course, Joseph Hellerโ€™s โ€œCatch-22โ€ was quite a bit funnier, and its Nately had a โ€” er, uh โ€” domestic helper of a sort.

    Congratulations on your new digs online!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree, Maggie. In fact, Lee is one of the most compelling characters in all of John Steinbeck’s novels — ranking up there with Ma Joad of “The Grapes of Wrath,” among others.

      Thanks for commenting, and for the insight!

      Like

  24. This is a wonderful subject – sometimes, servants can have more of an emotional impact on me than the lead characters do and that’s definitely the case in two novels by L.M. Montgomery that don’t get as much recognition as some of her others.

    In Pat of Silverbush, the family’s housekeeper Judy Plum is an Irishwoman who to me is the central character of the book. She is very maternal and is a huge influence in Pat’s life. She is full of stories and wisdom and is probably the only character in the Pat books who made me cry.

    In Anne of Windy Poplars, no-nonsense housekeeper Rebecca Dew is treated with kid gloves by the two women who own the house (to whom she is a distant relative) while Anne, who while she lives in the house is never sure where she stands with Rebecca Dew (Anne always calls her by her full name), gets a simple but such a heartfelt meaningful farewell from Rebecca that it also always brings me to tears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the superb comment, Lily!

      I know what you mean about how one can get more attached to the “servant” than the “master” in a novel. The former is usually just easier to relate to.

      I’m so glad you mentioned, and skillfully described, characters in two novels by the terrific L.M. Montgomery; I’ve read the second book you cited but not the first.

      Part of Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” also has an interesting sort-of-servant dynamic when the protagonist takes care of a dying girl and is treated more like an equal than a caregiver by the dying girl’s father.

      Like

  25. Hi, Dave,

    This was an interesting column! And to add to the list of notable servants in literature, there’s also Dorine, in Moliere’s Tartuffe. A very funny play, and she steals the show more than once.

    Best —

    Liked by 1 person

      • First servant to come to mind is Mrs. Danvers, who scared the pants off me when first I read DuMaurier’s “Rebecca.” I tend to love the psycho servants over the kindly, wise ones. For instance, even more frightening than Mrs. Danvers was Richard in Robin Maugham’s “The Servant.” Richard was hired by Tony as his manservant but little did Tony know that Richard’s mission was finding and using people’s weak spots to destroy them. It’s a sinister tale of one man’s personality taking over another’s. Servant becomes master.

        One should never flashread, as I did the title of your fine article, Dave. I was halfway through a comment about savants in literature (think Daniel Tammet) when I realized my error and had to begin again. Oy!

        Love your unencumbered new site absent ledes about warring politicians, deformed kittens, and colostemy-bagged bikini-clad women. It’s a relief to be off that site and again have the pleasure of pure Astor.
        Your obd’t servant,
        Maggie

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mrs. Danvers — absolutely! “Psycho servants” (great phrase by you) are indeed compelling. Sometimes, they have legitimate reasons for their “psycho-ness.” ๐Ÿ™‚

          “Savants in Literature” — hmm, might be a topic!

          Last but not least, thanks for your kind words, Maggie! It IS more comfortable to be part of a non-tabloid-y format, and to not feel exploited.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Maggie, I didn’t want to intrude anymore into your conversation with Esmeralda, but I was impressed with the coincidence you cited about ordering the making-of-Poldark book!

          Speaking of coincidences, I was asked yesterday — the day I started this blog — to appear on HuffPost Live (as you skillfully did several months ago). It was on a topic I had written about in a (non-literature) HP post from 2009. I declined, for various reasons.

          Liked by 1 person

            • It was one day advance notice, which is not great but more than you received! I was just too busy yesterday, as well as tired of doing stuff for that site for free, as well as irked by such things as having every comment (100-plus) wiped out under my spring George Eliot post and then being ignored when I emailed them about it. Guess they only email when they want something. ๐Ÿ™‚

              Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right, thepatterer! Wil Haygood DID write The Washington Post story that inspired “The Butler” movie. Thanks for the information. ๐Ÿ™‚ I remember that conference, that talk, and seeing you in Grapevine!

        Liked by 1 person

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