Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil, by S. Roncador

By S. Roncador

Drawing from numerous historic resources, thought, and fictional and non-fictional creation, this ebook addresses the cultural imaginary of family servants in sleek Brazil and demonstrates maids' symbolic centrality to moving notions of servitude, subordination, femininity, and domesticity.

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Such values, as Jurandir Freire Costa argues, related to the feelings of mistrust and fear that the employers had toward their domestic servants. In this context, “familial intimacy” was many times confused with “withdrawal from the environment,” meaning an imposed change in the servants’ movements and access within different areas of the house as a solution to the fear of contagion from them, or as an answer to issues such as robbery, physical violence, and access to private information (Costa, Ordem médica 86).

The maid’s double role in her signed chronicles presents specific challenges, while serving as one of Lispector’s most effective means of developing and promoting her ethical values as a Latin American intellectual. In some of her chronicles, Lispector tries to compensate for her ethical conflicts by revealing a maternal impulse to “take care of” her (former) maids. However, this gesture never materializes in any effective action aimed to change her maids’ humiliating social conditions, thus reflecting a truth expressed in her other writings about maids: conflicts may be attenuated, but they will never be fully resolved.

These experts made use of print popular culture (most notably, newspapers, medical guides, and housekeeping manuals) to scare the population, alluding to the infected water from the slums where laundresses normally worked and lived, as well as the impure milk from black and mulatta “mercenary” wet nurses. In a way, these women served in public discourse to assuage the doctors’ and urban authorities’ predicament before the nineteenth century’s tragic epidemic eruptions of yellow fever, cholera, and syphilis.

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