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Lady's Maid

Lady's Maid - Margaret Forster Lady's Maid is the fictional life story of Lily Wilson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid. Since all I knew about either of the Browning poets before starting this book was the little bit I remember from high school English, I wasn't sure if this was the book for me; fortunately, it really is the story of Wilson (as she is called throughout the book), and background knowledge about her employers is not essential. In fact, being famous poets, I expected to see them romanticized, but they're not; this is an unflinching tale of the conditions of 19th century servitude, including low wages and the impossibility of starting a family and retaining work as a maid. Parts of the book are likely to leave the reader angry with the Brownings, which may be disappointing for fans of their work.

The book is narrated in the 3rd person and almost entirely from Wilson's perspective, but peppered with letters she writes to friends and family, long enough that at times it feels as if the book is jumping back and forth between 1st and 3rd person. The beginning positively drags, but the pace picks up slightly as the book goes on and Wilson travels with the Brownings and courts several different men. I found this to be an engaging book and well worth reading if you're interested in seeing life from the servant's perspective; somehow all those books where the main characters are served fail to portray the difficulty a servant faces if she dares to want a life of her own. And Lady's Maid is also an interesting study in co-dependency in its portrayal of Wilson's relationship with her mistress. At 550 pages, the book at times feels overlong, although I understand the difficulty in trying to cover 17 years of a woman's life while including enough concrete scenes that we still feel connected to her.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you have the patience to see it through and still think it worth your time. If nothing else, it's an honest look at relationships that transcends any specific time period.