'Experienced and skilful servants need no direction; but such are not always to be found. A mistress ... must be able to instruct her servants; without this it is impossible that they can know the wants incident to a respectable family. The necessity of doing what she advises has been forced on the Authoress during a life of much experience.'
Preface to The Young Housewife's Daily Assistant (1864)
Chatsworth December 12 1866
'To my inexpressible relief and comfort, my odious little maid went off, and gentle, pleasant looking quiet little Miss Parry came, who will probably turn out a Felon.'
From the diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish
Stifling conventions separate the two main families, the Dosetts and the Tringles, in Ayala's Angel, particularly the conventions of class and of money. The Dosett household, where respectability reigns supreme, would have little need of the Assistant's advice; indeed, the stringently economical Mrs Dosett could have written the book herself. Lady Frederick Cavendish's comments, meanwhile, have far more in common with that literary behemoth, Lady Tringle: with a limitless household budget, the nouveau riche Lady Tringle can afford the 'skilful servants' advocated; but she can also afford the luxury of dismissing them.
The beauty of Ayala's Angel lies in its simplicity, tight plotting and most importantly - the vividness of the world it sets out to describe. Taking two orphaned sisters and dividing them vastly different family homes, Trollope examines the inadvertently create, something roughly equivalent to inviting a hurricane indoors. To appreciate full effect which the two Ayala and Lucy - have upon the Dosetts and it is worth examining the dense Victorian world in which they move and the sometimes absurd social and domestic with which they collide.
The Assistant suggests that the of the mistress of the house should visit the kitchen and larder daily to keep an on economy, and it helpfully provides a suggested budget for a month's housekeeping for four persons, (although it grudgingly allows that the calculations 'admit of an occasional visitor', perfect for the solitary Dossetts). In the budget, the Baker's and Confectioner's bills come to £1.0.1/2d; Fish, Poultry and Grocery bills amount to a similar sum, with the Dairyman's bill totalling a low 9s 5d. The Butcher and the Pork Butcher, however, are budgeted at £4.0.1d., and the Assistant concludes that its estimate is 'tolerably accurate'. Taking inaccuracies into account, the sum total for a year's provisions comes to £157 4s Od. By way of contrast, a bill for provisions at Chatsworth for the year 1865 comes to £2,074. Such is the size of the financial gulf between the Dosetts and the Tringles.
However modest the Dosett house is in comparison to the vast Tringle mansion, rigid etiquette is still observed, and contemporary literature bears this idea out. The Assistant, and the more expansive and lavishly-produced Servants Guide and Family Manual both offer broadly similar advice on housekeeping, although the Manual is obviously intended for a much larger household such as the Tringle's at Queens Gate. They both offer the occasional remedy. This for 'Fainting Fits' comes from the Assistant:
'If fainting be caused by an over-heated room or excitement, administer quickly a wineglass full of camphor julep .. if from disease of the heart, half a tumbler of rather strong brandy.'
For 'Tooth Powder':
'3oz of prepared chalk, loz of orris root in very fine powder, and 3oz of myrrh.'
However, in the Manual, some of the receipts are more exotic; elderflower water is recommended for eradicating unsightly freckles, damp tea leaves and beer for sweeping carpets. One passage suggests to servants that:
'books may be dusted as far as a wing of a goose will go.'
The Manual also includes instructions for cleaning marble:
'Take a bullock's gall, a gill of soap lees .....
and a recipe for boot polish lists 'the finest champagne' amongst its ingredients. This would not have appealed to Mrs Dosett with her own methods for 'the development of a leg of mutton, the stretching of a pound of butter, the best way of repressing the washerwoman's bills.'Her reliance on Hashed Mutton is in no way extraordinary, even if it is amusing: both Mrs Beeton and the Assistant contain recipes for such a dish.
Little mention is made of the servants in the gloomy Dosett household, but the Assistant states that 'in small establishments where only two house servants are kept', the housework was usually divided between the cook, who cleaned every room from the hall downwards to the kitchen, and the housemaid who dealt with everything above the hall. The book also urgently recommends that servants should 'answer bells immediately', but should never answer the door to strangers, and it concludes the chapter called 'Hints to Servants' thus:
'Early rising will be found to add much to the comfort both of employers and servants.'
The cook in such a house could expect to earn about £20 a year, the housemaid somewhat less. In the Tringle mansion, the cook's wage would have been something nearer £50.
A monthly publication, Servant's Magazine, would have been unfamiliar in the small Dosett household, but it would undoubtedly have been circulated amongst the much larger Tringle staff, along with others such as Domestic News, and Manners & Tone. One issue of the latter lists at great length the proper procedure for making beds. The bed which Gertrude Tringle refuses to leave after her abortive elopement with Frank Houston was apparently not at all the easy-to-make affair we are familiar with nowadays. A Victorian bed had three mattresses, a heavy bottom one stuffed with straw which was turned once a week, a middle one made of wool, to be turned daily, and a thinner mattress of feathers on top which was beaten flat every day. With work like this to do, the considerable staff is more understandable.
Before we come to some of the specifies of etiquette within which Ayala and Lucy try to survive, it is worth looking at some of the members of staff who helped to maintain the household conventions; in particular those who make brief appearances in the novel. The footmen who accompany Lady Tringle when she goes out in her carriage, and who turn the sculptor Isadore Hamel firmly away from the door, would have been chosen with exceptional care. Ideally nearly six foot in height, they tended to be selected in matching pairs, similar in build and age as well as height so that they would look all the more impressive in public: the taller the footman the more he was paid. They were given full dress livery twice a year, and when travelling with their masters they would carry their precious garments in large protective steel trunks. Their duties inside the house included the carrying of coals and the cleaning and trimming of lamps third and fourth footmen did some of the rougher outside jobs like chopping wood and fetching water. The Footman's Guide explains in great detail how a footman should carry himself as well as describing how to stay balanced upon the thin platform at the back of the carriage, and how to hold a cane without scratching the paintwork. It even includes advice on how to get the better of dishonest toll gate-keepers. When a gentleman came to the house without his own servant, as Jonathan Stubbs does at Stalham Park, a footman would be sent to him to act as valet.
The Lady's Maid who is sent to Ayala at Stalham should not be mistaken for a 'young ladies' maid': here there was quite a distinction. As Trollope says, she is not 'a chit of a girl ... but a well-groomed .... powerful woman.' Good Lady's Maids were much-valued, more often than not asked for advice, and the one who attends Ayala recognises instantly her inexperience and takes charge, even insisting that she wears her new dress. She proves right in predicting Ayala's marriage to Colonel Stubbs, even if her comments are somewhat obliquely framed. The daughter of Lord Coke of Norfolk was given a list of qualities to look for in a Lady's Maid. It included these observations:
'She may gather as much gossip as she likes, but never tell any .... she must not have a great appetite ... or care when she dines.'
'Below Stairs in the Great Country Houses'
and the list also adds bluntly:
'She must also be a first-rate vermin catcher.'
A good Lady's Maid was expected to be able to prepare lotions for spots and wrinkles, shampoos and soaps, and always travelled with her employer. Lady Albury's maid is obviously highly-qualified and thus much valued, though perhaps not as much as the real Lady William Russell's Swiss maid who, in exchange for promising never to leave her mistress, was allowed to keep 'as many cats as she liked' in the basement.
The Parlourmaid would have been no less important in the Dosett household. The ubiquitous Assistant exhorts maids never to drop matches round the house, and unnecessarily adds that they shouldn't strike them on the walls either. Doors are to be closed by the handles to avoid damaging the paintwork, but the overworked parlour maid would still be expected to observe the strictest of conventions when visitors called. Frank Huggett, in Life Below Stairs, states that the parlour maid would be expected to take visitors' names, and enter the drawing room (never knocking, which was considered extremely vulgar) to announce them. Should two visitors arrive at the same time they would be announced either as 'Mrs Cook and Miss Jones' if they were friends, or as 'Mrs Cook, Miss Jones' if their joint arrival was merely coincidental. A gentleman's hat would never be taken: he was expected to dispose of it himself only after he had shaken his hostess' hand.
Indeed, the whole system of paying calls was rigidly controlled so that social relationships could be carefully regulated. When Lady Tringle makes her afternoon calls in her carriage, she would be attended by two footmen whose duty it was to inquire at the front door whether the mistress of the house was at home. If she was then Lady Tringle would enter, otherwise she would leave three cards: one of her own, and two of her husband's, one each for the absent master and mistress. The cards themselves were made of paste-board approximately 3 1/2 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches deep, always engraved in copperplate, and usually carried in ivory, gold or silver cases. These cards could express several different things: if Lady Tringle called at a house of mourning, as she would have just after the death of Lucy and Ayala's father Egbert, she would have written 'to inquire' on the card, simply expressing sympathy for her two nieces . If she was told that a certain mistress of a house was not at home, she could leave a card with the corner turned down to signify she had called in person. However, if it was a higher-ranking lady she would make no inquiry for fear of being snubbed, and would simply leave the card. Similarly, when the Tringles leave London for Rome, Lady Tringle would have sent many cards to the members of her social circle inscribed 'p.p.c' (pour prendre conge) so that they would know she was away for a while. Huggett summarises the conventions of card-leaving very precisely: 'a card for a card; a call for a call.' Only higher-ranking ladies could call unannounced (as Lady Tringle does on Mrs Dosett). Such a visit was supposed to be seen as a compliment.
The rules for mourners were just as strictly delineated. For a parent or child, mourners were expected not to appear in public for three to six months; for an uncle or aunt the period was shorter, only two weeks. But for a spouse, a whole year was not an uncommon period. Black crepe was the prescribed attire, and although Trollope does not mention how long it is since Lucy and Ayala's father died, they do appear in crepe at the beginning of the story. Presumably Augusta and Gertrude only wore theirs for the appropriate fortnight.
The conventions for eating dinner were also very precise. According to Huggett about ten minutes after dessert had been eaten, the hostess was expected to bow to the highest-ranking lady, and all the women would leave the room, in order of rank. The men would remain with the port, though the host was advised to lead them out when he observed 'a general indication of restlessness on the part of the guests '. In the novel, dinner at Stalham, for example, is always at eight o'clock, and the guests are expected to be gathered in the drawingroom at 7.30 for the obligatory half-hour of small talk. When Ayala is waiting for Colonel Stubbs to arrive, Sir Harry begins to get impatient as dinner is held up. His wife persuades him to wait for the Colonel, who finally enters not at all apologetic to have delayed the meal. His one purpose is to propose to Ayala again, this time successfully, and the scene pinpoints the way in which Trollope works out his plot. By setting up a rigid grid of mid-Victorian convention, and propelling Lucy and Ayala from one fixed point to the other, he is able to invent all kinds of mayhem for the sisters to attract around them.
Like a Jane Austen novel, the outcome is never really in doubt; what is important is the method of reaching that outcome. Ayala's Angel is about movement, from house to house, town to country, Britain to abroad: and because movement necessarily involves change, by the time the two sisters have been married, both the Dosett's and the Tringle's worlds have been altered by the chaos they unwittingly invited indoors. It is no coincidence that the world of painting, art and music from which the sisters come is only reflected towards the end of the novel; and though Ayala does not find her fanciful 'Angel of Light', she has made sure that some of the absurd conventions she has had to endure have been sweetened by a little real life.