A touching portrayal of life as a female servant in Georgian England
The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies is a heart-breaking but inspirational read about the perils faced by women in service in Georgian England.
Our thanks to the author and Sharpe Books for the advanced reader’s copy.
Title: The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies
Publication Date: Sharpe Books (April 23, 2020)
Language: English | 338 Pages
Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.
Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries – with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has little power but – unknown to her employers – she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.
Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?
Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.
She must act alone, but at what price?
From the Publisher’s Blurb
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Hannah Hubert was the granddaughter of a French merchant who lost his business when he had to flee his country. Her family was impoverished but educated.
When her father died, her stepmother sent Hannah, then a ten-year-old child, to a poorhouse. Destitute and friendless, Hannah had to use her intelligence and the education she received from her mother to find her way in the world.
But a poorhouse girl was not master of her life, and after a few years working as a servant for a widow, Hannah was sent to work for a mysterious and unscrupulous couple, the Chalkes.
The story is well-researched and very engaging. I felt an immediate connection to Hannah. It was heart-wrenching to accompany her through all disillusionment, abuse, hard work, and pain.
I love the fact that, despite being fifteen, Hannah had the strength of a lioness. She was smart, compassionate, and had a remarkable sense of self. She was relentless in unveiling the secret kept by the Chalkes.
The author explores some hard themes. I don’t want to give spoilers, so I will not enter in details, but there is violence, sexual abuse, and other triggers, which, unfortunately, were the reality of so many women of that time.
As a counterpoint, it was very inspiring to find kindness, friendship, and hope amidst all the poverty and abuse.
In the background, there is a little bit of romance. A triangle between the young and charming bookstore apprentice Jack, Hannah, and Thomas Graham, a widower local farmer in his mid-twenties.
The story feels realistic and touches the soul. It always saddens me to know how precarious was the situation of women in service not that long ago. Luckily, in this case, there is a happy ending.
Great read. I highly recommend it!
I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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About the Author:
Maggie Richell-Davies was born in Newcastle and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University. She lives in Kent with her husband. The Servant is her first novel.